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Tasmania: a world apart

 

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More than 150 miles south-east of the Australian mainland is an island renowned for its ecological biodiversity, its fiercely independent people, its stunning beauty – and in the past decades, more and more for its innovative winemaking. Tasmania has become one of Australia’s fastest-growing wine regions, producing some of the most unique and acclaimed wines in the country.

 

The island is much cooler than the Australian mainland, with a climate more akin to France than to the rest of Australia. Long autumn days and temperate summers allow varietals to flourish that can scarcely survive in most of Australia. Pinot noir, riesling, chardonnay, pinot gris, and sauvignon blanc all thrive here. The stars of the show are the pinot noirs (and the sparkling wines made from pinot grapes), with more and more wineries winning awards at international competitions.

 

The first vineyards in Tasmania were planted in 1823, and many proclaim the region as (surprisingly) the country’s first growing region. Early success didn’t last long, though, as the Australian palate turned to higher-alcohol wines and fortified wines, easily produced in bulk on the mainland. It wasn’t until the late-1950s, when the Frenchman Jean Miguet planted his La Provence vineyard just east of Launceston, that the wine industry in Tasmania really saw much growth. In the late-1980s another success story came from France, when Champagne king Louis Roederer set up shop on the island with his Jansz brand, helping to launch the sparkling revolution for the region.

 

aus_tasmania03-smallThe bulk of Tasmania’s wineries are located within four relatively small regions, making day tasting easy (each region is centered around a major city). In the north is the North West Wine Route (centered around Devonport), and the Tamar Valley Wine Route (centered around Launceston); along the eastern coast is the East Coast Wine Route (centered around Bicheno); and in the south is the Southern Wine Route (centered around Hobart). Each contain beautiful wineries, ranging from small boutique operations to larger, high-production shops. 

 

In addition to the still pinot noir wines and the sparkling wines, Tasmanian riesling is worth special attention. In recent years, the island’s rieslings have been winning international awards and getting a great deal of press. The style is vastly different from those of the mainland, more closely approximating the great rieslings of the Mosel in Germany.

 

A trip to Tasmania is certainly an undertaking – far different from traveling to any of mainland Australia’s wine regions – but for those willing to make the journey, it can be well worth it. The winemaking style is unlike anything found anywhere else on earth (in many ways more akin to New Zealand than to mainland Australia), and the winemakers are a breed apart – characters that will be remembered for the rest of your life.