Tasmania…Bigger Than You Think

So, inspired to finally post this onto Vinonotebook, it was originally authored for Gourmet Traveller Wine’s “New Wine Writer” award back in January in about 24 hours (which I didn’t win, but was fairly bestowed upon Adrian Corker ).

It speaks to Tasmania being  labelled under one Geographical Indicator (GI) for all wine production. As I said, I have been finally inspired to get off my arse and post this, as I’ve been slightly beaten to the punch by a fellow amateur wine writing website Red To Brown , who has just posted a treatise on the same thinking: “We Need More GIs.”

Caveat: There was a word limit for the article, and certainly there’s more content about wines themselves that I would have preferred to have included. I concentrated my line of argument on the Wine Australia demarcations of Geographical Indicators, and how they can be established for regions and sub-regions, hence, I believe my piece is a touch on the dry side. But I present it below, as submitted….Thank you for reading.

“What’s that, you’re off to Tassie? How long are you going for? Sorry, for how long? JUST THE WEEKEND? You may need a little more time than that….”

That begins most of my conversations with friends/colleagues/strangers met in a bar when I find out that they’re off to Tasmania for the first time. I lived there for 12 years. I live in Sydney now, but consider Tasmania home. Christmases and holidays are spent there. I married my wife on the East Coast. So I can understand a virgin visitor’s misconception that they can land in Hobart or Launceston, grab a car and see the whole place in a weekend.

Tasmania has never been more in focus for those interested in food, art, culture and the outdoors: The explosion of David Walsh’s MONA: the Museum of Old and New Art (on the site of the Moorilla Estate Vineyard, established by Claudio Alcorso in the late 1950’s); the establishment of exciting restaurants such as Garagistes; achingly beautiful locations like Wineglass Bay and Bay Of Fires on the East Coast and Cradle Mountain in the North; increased national television coverage with productions such as SBS’s The Gourmet Farmer, which highlights Chef Matthew Evans’ “tree change” for  fresh food and produce in an idyllic setting. All of this and more on an island bigger than Scotland.

Not to mention the renewed focus on wine. Gourmet Traveller Wine Winemaker of the Year awards saw Ed Carr for House of Arras win in 2011 and Steve & Monique Lubiana (Stefano Lubiana) named as finalists in 2012; the consistent input and important fruit from Tasmanian grape growers into some of Australia’s most expensive Chardonnays (such as Eileen Hardy and Penfold’s Yattarna); increased vineyard purchases and plantings from the Hill-Smith (Yalumba) family and Brown Brothers.  Heck, Nick Glaetzer even won the Jimmy Watson Trophy at the Royal Melbourne Wine Show in 2011 with a Tasmanian Shiraz! According to The Australian and New Zealand Wine Industry Directory 2012, the number of Tasmanian Wine producers has risen almost 50% since 2007: 77 that year to 112 in 2012.

So considering all the above, why does Tasmania continue to be lumped together under a single Geographical Indication?

Geographical Indication (GI) is the closest that Australia has to the Europe’s DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) and AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlee). Admittedly, the Australian GI laws don’t enforce specific grape types for a labelled wine, but rather a percentage of fruit from that area. For example, for a wine to be labelled Coonawarra, at least 85% (850ml per litre) of the wine must come from Grapes from within the defined area.

The Wine Australia Corporation has a committee which is the governing body for GIs .According to the Regulations (1981) GI’s can be based on several physical/geographical criteria including: natural features (rivers, mountain ranges); roads; local government boundaries; survey map grid references and even “boundary of the area suggested in the application to the Committee.”   GIs are split into 3 categories: Zones, Regions and Sub-Regions.

South Australia, Victoria, Western Australia and New South Wales (inc ACT) have multiple Zones, Regions and Sub-Regions. That leaves Queensland and Tasmania as the only wine producing states that are labelled as a single zone. Queensland has 2 regions, but no sub-regions.

Tasmania has many recognised growing areas for wine grapes grouped into 4 major areas according to Wine Tasmania: Southern Route (inc Derwent Valley, Huon Valley, Coal Valley, Tasman Peninsula), Tamar Valley Route (including Tamar Valley, Pipers River, Relbia), East Coast Wine Route (Swansea through to almost Scamander) and the North West Route (around the verdant dairy country of Devonport).

Geographical differences, weather variations and physical distances between these locations can be nothing short of astounding. In the Southern Route for example, Campania in the Coal Valley has an average maximum temperature of 18.6°C with 143.5 mean days of rain dropping 476.7mm. Whilst 80 kilometres away to the south is Cygnet with nearby Hartzview and Isle Vineyards with an average temperature of 17°C and average rainfall of 868.9mm. East Coast Swansea 200km north east of Cygnet has an average temperature of 17.9°C and average rainfall of 593.8mm. Devonport, 220km north-west from Swansea  is even wetter with 958.6mm of yearly rain!

Whilst weather is a “discrete” factor in determining GIs, so is the dirt in the vineyard. But Dr Richard Doyle from the University of Tasmania and Duncan Farquhar from the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industry, Water & Environment have analysed that there are “seven geographically distinct regions producing wines in Tasmania. The North West; Tamar Valley; North East; East Coast; Huon Valley / D’Entrecasteaux Channel;  Coal Valley and the Derwent Valley.”

The Huon Valley is predominantly Jurassic Dolerite with Permian Sedimentary rock, the Derwent Valley has Jurassic Dolerite, Triassic Sedimentary and Tertiary Basalt. Almost the entire East Coast is Jurassic Dolerite. The North East area, east of the Tamar River contains some of the oldest soils comprised of Devonian Sedimentary rock with hardly a pebble of Dolerite to be found.

So with scientific evidence leading to diversification of Tasmania into arguable GI Regions or Sub-Regions, why hasn’t Wine Tasmania, the peak industry body, chased the labelling? Reading through their Strategic Plan 2011-2013 (revised April 2012), there isn’t a single mention of any form of ‘appellation designation’ in their strategic goals. Indeed, Strategic Goal 1.1 is simply entitled “Tasmanian Wine Brand.” 

So what other factors could be preventing Tasmania from being designated into Regions and Sub-Regions? Certainly there’s a cost involved in the application fee to Wine Australia so financial considerations may have to also be taken into account. Maybe the industry members of Wine Tasmania can’t come to a conclusion as to the best way to approach the designation? Do the Coal and Derwent Valleys become standalone Regions or simply Sub-regions of a greater Hobart region, like the Hunter Valley?

Whatever the reasons are that Tasmania is still labelled as a single GI, there’s no denying the wine that is lovingly produced from old and new passionate Tasmanians alike. So, when you plan your Tassie visit, add a few more days to get around.  It’s bigger than you think.


One response to “Tasmania…Bigger Than You Think

  1. Pingback: Tasmania – Bigger Than You Think…Part 2 | vinonotebook·

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