2013 Trip to Tasmania – Tamar Valley Wineries
According to my notes, we visited 22 wineries in Tasmania, and 15 of them were in Tamar Valley. It is a big region and wineries are not as compactly grouped as in Mudgee or Yarra Valley, so it took us two days to visit all of them. It was still low season so in most wineries we were the only visitors – the way I like it as I get all the attention. Some visits were quite memorable and here are the highlights of our journey.
Tamar Ridge Winery
This winery was on the same street as our hotel and, naturally, became our first oenophilic destination in Tamar Valley. Unexpectedly, I found that it produced Devil’s Corner Pinot Noir that I appreciated in Palace Cinema while watching The Great Beauty. In fact, the quality of that wine earned me two free movie tickets. I got a glass of their Pinot before the session and sipped on it while I was waiting for the movie to start. There was a delay due to some technical problem, and the management offered movie vouchers to those who didn’t want to wait. I decided that with such wine I could pleasantly pass the time while the issue was being resolved, and went to a bar for a top-up. When I ordered another glass (epic size), a barman asked me if I was attending The Great Beauty session and offered me two free movie vouchers for my troubles. I didn’t try to explain that I was going to wait until the technical problem was resolved, and gratefully accepted the vouchers as an exclusive offer for wine lovers.
If you think that I didn’t leave that Tamar Ridge cellar door without a bottle of their Pinot, you are wrong. I left that winery only with one bottle of Moorilla Muse Riesling and only because it wouldn’t fit into a regular wine box. The thing is, Tamar Ridge Winery was the place from which I sent home a mixed dozen of wines bought there and in other vineyards. As most of them were bought in other regions, that time I couldn’t take advantage of the great postal offer they had in Tamar Valley – free bottle replacement in case of breakage. If I received a case with a broken bottle I could refuse to accept it and send it back. The winery which sent it to me would have to arrange bottle replacement with the winery which produced it (at the producer’s expense) and re-send the case at their own expense. I sent two more cases from other wineries in Tamar Valley and, luckily, I didn’t have to resort to that warranty.
The guy who conducted wine tasting at Pipers Brook cellar door had previously worked at d’Arenberg in South Australia. We appeared to have the same taste for wine – at different times we both bought a case of d’Arenberg d’Arrys Original Shiraz Grenache. He boasted that he still had some bottles left, while I could only envy him as my stock was consumed long ago. He was also the first person who explained a difference between Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio, and actually demonstrated it, as their two vineyards produced both. The wines are made of the same grape but with different methods. As a result, Pinot Grigio tends to be an easy-drinking wine, while Pinot Gris is more complex. The difference was in taste, but not in quality, so I bought both.
The company had another cellar door, but the range of wines for tasting was pretty much the same, so the visit to that other vineyard was wasted.
Sinapius was a family-owned and family-operated vineyard. Two other visitors that we met at that cellar door were foreign students who were looking for a casual job. The lady behind the counter told them they did not need helpers because all the work was done by their family. I was surprised to find that a small winery tended by only two people could be a sustainable business. Their output was extremely small – counted in bottles, not even cases – and quite expensive. I wouldn’t say that their wines were outstanding, so the bottle I bought there had more of a curiosity value for me.
Bay of Fires winery was another place from which I sent a mixed case of wine. It is named after a bay on the northeastern coast of Tasmania which regularly causes confusion among tourists who arrive to the bay and try to find the winery there. I felt for those poor souls and suggested to open a restaurant at the bay. The winery offered a good example of the importance of vintages – I bought two Sauvignon Blancs harvested at the same vineyard in different years which had totally different tastes.
Grey Sands winery offered a rather unique tasting experience. There was no cellar door room; instead, the hostess led us to an open deck at the back of the house, which overlooked their beautiful vineyard. While we were tasting wines the owner told us about the history of the winery. Before buying a vineyard she and her husband traveled around Europe and noticed that they liked cool-climate wines. When they decided to settle in Australia and make their own wine, they looked for the coolest place. Of course, it was Tasmania. They planted grapes in Tamar Valley and grew the vines for 8 years without irrigation before the first harvest. That made the grapes uniquely drought-proof – in dry years the vineyard stayed green even though it wasn’t watered. The reason for such tenacity was discovered when the owners pulled out one of the vines; its root was 20 metres long!
Before tasting the first glass I asked the owner about something to spit the wine into.
“Just spit it into the grass,” replied she.
It was in such alfresco setting that I discovered the aesthetics of wine spitting. Usually, I squirted wine into a spittoon trying not to spill it on the counter. Having a spittoon the size of a backyard, this time I didn’t need to exercise my marksmanship skills, so I simply leaned over the deck rail and opened my mouth. As expected, the force of gravity detached the fragrant liquid from my palate and carried it towards the lawn. What I didn’t anticipate though, was that the force of surface tension would shape the free-falling wine into beautiful purple blobs, which flashed into existence on the backdrop of brilliant green grass and quickly disappeared in it. It was like watching a lava lamp in rapid motion. I can certainly say that at Grey Sands I found yet another way to enjoy wine.
The only bottle I bought there was 2010 Pinot Gris with a rich creamy vanilla flavour. I drank it without food – the wine was too good to risk a suboptimal match. Unfortunately, it was also too expensive to buy a case.
In one of the whiskey discussions on Google+, somebody said that Laphroaig was not a ladies’ kind of Scotch. Obviously, this rule has a notable exception in Tasmania. If you remember, in one of my previous posts I mentioned a girl at Moorilla cellar door who compared their Cabernet to Laphroaig. At Delamere Vineyards I remembered that conversation and recited it to the local girl who conducted tasting. To my surprise, her eyes lit up and she admitted that she loved Laphroaig too. From that moment Laphroig was firmly connected in my mind with Tasmanian girls. I have to taste it some time.
Marion’s Vineyard produced some very common varieties which had unusual tastes. To give you an idea how unusual they were, it will be enough to say that it was the first ever cellar door where I bought Chardonnay despite the fact that I had never liked the taste of that wine. However, just as my wife, who prefers fish which doesn’t have a fishy taste, so I found myself fascinated by a Chardonnay without a varietal flavour. Anyway, that wine was good whatever it was called, and I noticed that the previous visitors also bought it. I regret that I didn’t buy a blend of Cabernets which was quite expensive, but gorgeous. That was a lesson I learned at Marion’s Vineyard – if you have tasted a wine and found it outstanding, buy it, whatever its price. Those extra 10-30 dollars you spent on it will not make you broke, but can buy you a lifetime of bragging about the experience.
Surprisingly, it was owned by a Dutch guy. Beer – yes, gin – possibly (Dutch invented it after all), but Netherlands are hardly known for their viticulture. The second surprise awaited me at the tasting counter – there were some of the best wines I’ve tried during that trip, and more than one, for that matter. It is enough to say that Winter Brook was the second place where I bought Chardonnay; it was that good.
Winter Brook was the last winery from which I mailed a case home and, ironically, the first place where I learned about the existence of Tamar Valley wine postal offer.
The Tamar Valley wine tour concluded our 2013 Tasmania Trip. There are still plenty of places to visit, so I am looking forward to another opportunity to visit that tasty island.