Tasmania’s Terroir

Brendan Jansen MW: 10th October 2019

Attempting to come to grips with Tasmania’s terroir diversity…

…with a little help from Shane Holloway and Fran Austin of Delamere wines

My recent visit to Tasmania was my first, and not wanting to bite off more of the Apple Isle than I could chew, I limited my winery visits to the Pipers River area and the south around Hobart and the Coal River Valley. I was immediately struck by the diversity of terroirs, even those in very close geographical proximity, and foremost among my inquiry was an attempt to make sense of the Tasmanian wine geography.

I do not pretend to have done so by any means, but discussions with winemakers on my travels, and especially with Shane Holloway and Fran Austin of Delamere Wines, went a long way to filling in some knowledge gaps.

A few broad strokes are possible – the West coast, and North-western parts of the island receive far more rainfall than in the south. The West coast is thus better suited to dairy farming than viticulture. The South is much drier, and Hobart is second only to Adelaide as the driest capital city in Australia.

Winds from the Antarctic south have a cooling effect, but even the theoretically warmer northerly winds are cooled coming over Bass Strait, so that not much warmth is added until the winds pick up heat over land heading further south of the island. The result is a much higher diurnal temperature variation in the South compared to the North. Tasmanian wine regions do not easily fall within continental/maritime climatic distinctions…!

Thereafter, things become even more complicated. Soils are all ancient, but can vary over short distances. In the Pipers River area, for example, soils are iron-rich and have a high clay content with the ability to hold water. Vines are dry grown at Delamere, and vine roots are pushed deep down. In drier years, these vines continue to do well. Soils in the neighbouring Tamar Valley are far sandier. The Tamar Valley is sheltered from Westerly winds, leading to a warmer, shorter ripening season. Shane and Fran explained that picking in Pipers River can be up to two weeks later for sparkling base wines, and four weeks later for table wines, than the Tamar Valley.

Soil variation over short distances was also showcased by the two single vineyards of Pooley estate. Both in the southern Coal River Valley, the Cooinda vineyard has sandy loams and sandy clay loams over impervious clay, while the Butcher’s Hill vineyard has dolerite and black vertosols over sandstone. The result is a much more perfumed and elegant Chambolle-styled Pinot Noir from Cooinda, and a more sinewy, structured Gevrey-styled Pinot Noir from Butcher’s Hill.

There are still gaping holes in my knowledge of the topography and climate of Tasmania – and I would welcome any comments on this article. Another visit to Tasmania beckons!