Bicheno Farm Shed looking relaxed and convivial. Image supplied.
Devils Corner East Coast panorama … stunning views.
Bangor Vineyard Shed’s Matt and Vanessa Dunbabin. Image supplied.
Freycinet Vineyard harvest. Image supplied.
Cellar door open by appointment only.
Seen that printed on a Tasmanian wine label or tourism brochure?
That’s disappointing if you like to buy wines from the people who grow and make them. But travel through the State’s south and east on March 2-3 and you’re in for a pleasant surprise. It’s the wine industry’s annual Southern and Eastern Vineyards Open Weekend.
Regular visitors to northern Tasmania’s Tamar Valley Wine Route often take cellar door tastings for granted. The stark reality is that the tyranny of distance makes commercial cellar door operations financially unsustainable for a significant number of producers on the East Coast and along the Southern Wine Trail.
Many are small and family-owned, and do not have the wherewithal to look after winegrowing, winemaking and wine marketing on the scale required to attract reliable visitor numbers to a tasting room. They’re also more likely to be constrained by relatively low levels of wine production, something less common in the Tamar Valley and around Pipers River and Pipers Brook.
A vineyard outing in the south or the east on March 2-3 will provide plenty of opportunities to taste and buy bottles that are hard to find at your local wine retailer.
The beginning of autumn is a wonderful time of year to visit the State’s East Coast in particular. The region offers stunning views and has a veritable smogasbord of high quality produce, from juicy sweet berries and crunchy walnuts to prize-winning cheeses and scintillating seafood.
Twenty-one commercial vineyards can be found between Orford and Binalong Bay, north of St Helens. They account for around 20% of Tasmania’s annual wine grape harvest. Add in East Coast/Southern Wine Trail boundary riders Bream Creek Vineyard and Bangor Vineyard and producers from this part of the State took away four trophies and 12 gold medals from the recent 2019 Tasmanian Wine Show – close to 25% of all those awarded at the event.
Trophy and gold medal winners included Freycinet Vineyard (2017 Sauvignon Blanc), Gala Estate (2018 Pinot Gris), Bangor Vineyard (2015 Abel Tasman Pinot Noir) and Milton Vineyard (2017 Reserve Shiraz).
All those trophy winners have attractive, well appointed cellar doors with friendly, knowledgeable staff on hand. Each demands an extended visit on March 2-3, so pick up the phone and make plans with wine-minded friends and family.
No visit to the East Coast should be considered complete without stopping at Bicheno’s Farm Shed East Coast Wine Centre. Located just off the Tasman Highway, the Centre is the brainchild of renowned local foodies Subi Mead and Helen Bain. Opened two years ago, it is already a roaring success, and showcases more than 60 wines from all 21 East Coast vineyards.
Well-conceived and executed – as you’d expect from a pair of operators who’ve excelled in previous businesses like Swansea’s Left Bank Café – the venture is relaxed and convivial, with wine and spirit tastings conducted in a manner that is both informal and informative.
“We’re a bit different from a cellar door,” Mead explains.
“We don’t talk about the technical details of a wine. We like to tell the story behind the wine. People really respond to this idea of a back story, and they’re put at ease by not having to look for the passionfruit or dark berry flavours they might have seen written in reviews. They come to relax and enjoy themselves and learn about wine without feeling intimidated.”
Five grape varieties from five vineyards representing a range of styles and price points can be tasted. These change on a daily basis, and often feature wines from producers without a cellar door of their own. A guided tasting costs $8 per person and includes a selection of nibbles. Wines are also available by the glass and have user-friendly tasting notes. Log on to www.thefarmshedtas.com.au for details.
If time is tight and Marion Bay is on your wine horizon on March 2-3, drop by Jenny and Andrew Sinclair’s Cape Bernier Vineyard near Bream Creek. Their cellar door is currently closed for renovations, but on March 2-3 (12.00-4.00) the couple are hosting a Pork and Pinot event.
Their Texan-style barbeque in the vineyard offers heritage-breed pork from the property, along with a range of wines including their excellent 2012 Chardonnay (gold medal, 2016 Tasmanian Wine Show) and the newly released 2016 Amphora Pinot Noir. A full range of wines can be tasted for $20 (or $3 per wine), while the fabulous food costs between $15 and $30. Bookings not required. Phone 6253 5443 for details.
Hint: Log on to www.winetasmania.com.au for a free copy of its 52-page Wine Trails Around Tasmania 2019 visitors guide. Invaluable for this weekend.
Hobart’s Mark Smith (@thatwinesmith) wrote his first weekly wine column back in 1994. Now more than 1600 features and 24 years later, he continues to chart the successes of Tasmania’s small scale, cool climate wine producers with regular contributions to some of Australia’s leading industry publications.
PICK OF THE CROP
2018 Gala Estate Riesling $30
Tasmania’s East Coast – like much of the State – produces outstanding Riesling, almost regardless of vintage variation. Grainne and Adam Greenhill at Gala Estate have recently added their names to the list of Riesling producers to watch closely, and this current release from the excellent 2018 vintage is a lovely wine indeed. Its key virtues right now are subtlely and intensity, but the wine with grow in stature with cellar age, if you can bide your time. Delicious. galaestate.com.au
2016 Bream Creek Sauvignon Blanc $31
The best advice for enjoying Sauvignon Blanc is to drink the youngest available. Bream Creek seems oblivious of such a rule of thumb, however, for this pale and youthful wine continues to provide plenty of drinking pleasure as it approaches its third birthday. There’s no cellar door on the property, so the wine has Statewide distribution and appears on many restaurant lists. Fresh fish is a fine match. breamcreekvineyard.com.au
2017 Milton Pinot Noir $38
The Dunbabin property of Milton on the East Coast dates back to 1826 but this Pinot Noir from the family’s 19ha vineyard is as modern as you please. It’s cast in typical East Coast mould – generous and well structured, with time on its side. Regional characters of black cherry and dark berry are augmented by well judged oak, enabling the wine to be enjoyed at any time over the next decade or so. miltonvineyard.com.au
2016 Spring Vale Pinot Noir $48
The township of Cranbrook has been an East Coast hot spot since John Austwick first planted vines at Craigie Knowe in 1979. The Lyne family has since become one of its leading players, with its Pinot Noir earning considerable acclaim over the years. This 2016 won gold at the Tasmanian Wine Show in January, and highlights the qualities of a relatively cool season. It’s a lighter, more fragrant and elegant style than Milton produces down the road but is every bit as good. springvalewines.com.au