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Tasmania - Land of Wonder and Wine

Having travelled to Australia's beautiful island state some years ago I was pleasantly surprised when I recently read an article about Tasmania's burgeoning wine industry. Tasmania, for those who need a geography refresher, lies some 150 miles off the southeast coast of Australia.  The island was discovered in 1642 by the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman who interestingly named the island for his sponsor, Anthony van Diemen, or Van Diemen's Island.  It was not until 1856, years after the British had taken over the island to establish a penal colony, that the island became officially known as Tasmania.  The island covers 35,000 square miles, about the size of Maine, and is so far south that Satellite television doesn't reach the capital city of Hobart.  Despite its southern reach, Tasmania boasts a temperate climate with moderate rainfall and an abundance of sunshine. 

During my visit I remember being continually amazed at the beauty that abounds on the island.  Flocks of wild parakeets blotted out the sun like migrating Starlings in the Eastern US, sandy beaches were everywhere without a single tourist, and even the populous capital city of Hobart was unique. The city's Salamanca Market, reminiscent of Boston's Quincy Market, is transformed by enormous steel tugs at the pier, ready for their next expedition to the South Pole, a mere 3,263 miles away.  It is not surprising that so much pristine beauty abounds as almost 45% of Tasmanian land lies in reserves, national parks and World Heritage sites. 

The Wines of Tasmania

Tasmania is Australia's most mountainous state, and it is the mountains on the western part of the island that produce the rain shield on the central and eastern slopes, home to most of the State's vineyards.  Being surrounded by water, and well south, Tasmania enjoys a cool climate. This allows for grapes to ripen slowly over an extended period of time under ample sunshine. The resulting wine has intense flavors, acidity and balance, characteristic of cool climate wine regions.

Winegrowing in Tasmania is concentrated in three regions, one in the north, and two in the south.

Tamar Valley

– Tasmania's oldest and most established wine region stretches north from Launceston, to the village of George Town, on the Bass Strait.  Here more than 30 wineries dot the landscape, growing mostly Pinot Noir; however, Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are all present in the vineyards.  Sparkling wines are consistently recognized with awards.   Some of the better known wineries with distribution in the United States include Abel's Tempest made by Heemskerk, a Treasury Wines company, and sparkling wine producer House of Arras.  Locally-owned favorites include producers Josef Chromy, Delamere Vineyards, Moores Hill, and Goaty Hill, however, you will most likely have to travel to Australia to taste these wines!

Southern Region – Surrounding Hobart are the regions of the Coal River Valley, Derwent Valley and Huon Valley.  Here Pinot Noir is the most widely grown grape, at home in the cool river valleys and long summer days.  The Coal River Valley stretches north from Richmond, some 30 miles north and east of Hobart.  Wineries in the region that have distribution in the United States include Frogmore Creek, Domaine A Stoney Vineyards, and Pressing Matters. 

The Derwent Valley winds north-west from Hobart to the highlands, following the river of the same name.  The Valley is home to the Stefano Lubiana, Derwent Estate, and Moorilla wineries, only the last of which is available in the United States. 

The Huon River Valley, southwest of Hobart, is home to the State's 55,000 ton apple production.  Interspersed with orchards are HartzView Vineyards, makers of Mead and Ports from local honey and berries, and Home Hill Vineyards which produces Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sylvaner, Sparkling Cuvee and a Late Harvest Sticky wine (late harvest or botrytized sweet  wines).

East Coast Region – Here sunshine bathes the warm tourist free sandy beaches.  Nestled between the small villages of Swansea and Bicheno, fewer than a dozen family owned wineries produce limited quantities of mostly Pinot Noir.  Of vintners Darlington Vineyards, Devils Corner, Freycinet, Milton Vineyard, Gala Estate and Spring Vale, only the latter two have any distribution in the United States.

Less than one half of one percent of all Australian wine is produced in Tasmania.  However, as is often the case, wine produced in the smallest quantities can often be amongst the highest quality.  On your next visit to your local wine shop, seek out a Tasmanian wine – you might just be very surprised.  To help you plan a trip to Tasmania or simply further expand your readings about this amazing place; I suggest the following web sites:

Wine Tasmania – High level summary of wine regions and wineries.

Tamar Valley Wine Route – Events and winery listings for the Tamar Valley.

Discover Tasmania – The State run tourism web site with information about destinations, lodging and travel to the island.

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·  Riverland
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·  Coonawarra
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