From the tasting team

Tyson Stelzer on Tasmanian Sparkling Wine

By Tyson Stelzer

24 Oct, 2021

The sparkling landscape of Tasmania is changing dramatically, as chief editor Tyson Stelzer writes. The takeaway? Now is the time to explore the state’s sparkling wines.

The drive out of Richmond in Tasmania’s Coal River Valley is especially picturesque, traversing the 1823 Richmond Bridge before ascending over the Pontos Hills. The scenery has recently been heightened with the planting of a 100-hectare vineyard, one of three sites that now make the Fogarty Wine Group the state’s second-biggest vineyard owner. And the developments continue. Less than two minutes further along the same road, the new 2000-tonne Jansz Pontos Hills winery was commissioned in time to receive this year’s harvest.

Growth is ramping up across the Tasmanian landscape as mainland wineries increasingly march south to escape the heat. As the grip of global warming tightens, Tasmania’s vineyards push ever deeper into cooler zones and further up hillsides. The category leading Tasmania’s growth is sparkling. In the wake of substantial new plantings coming online in recent vintages, fears were rife for a grape glut and plummeting of prices. Instead, the exact opposite occurred.
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Tasmania is home to the world’s most under-recognised and undervalued sparkling wines, and they cannot remain cheap forever.
At Josef Chromy Wines in the Tamar Valley, sparkling has become an increasingly important focus. When sales of sparkling rosé increased almost three-fold last year, the team could not disgorge bottles fast enough to meet demand. And increasing production is a huge challenge in a category that demands bottle age and an environment in which every brand is desperate to source more grapes.

The long, slow ripening and heightened acidity of a cool climate are the essence of elegant, ageworthy sparkling. Like the Champagne region, Tasmania achieves its cool credentials by latitude rather than altitude. A strong and growing culture of sparkling winemaking is driving its makers to achieve ever greater heights of refinement and endurance. The world is taking notice, too. Over the past four years, Tasmanian sparkling has achieved accolades never before attained by Australian sparkling, with House of Arras beating all still and fortified wines to win Best Wine of Show in not one but three Australian capital city wine shows, then winning Best Australian Producer in the International Wine and Spirit Competition.

Yet Tasmanian sparkling remains very much a boutique sector, with a total production of just 4.5 million bottles this year; Tasmania’s entire annual sparkling harvest would fit into Champagne more than 60 times. Without the benefit of economy of grand scale, how is it that Tasmanian sparkling is so much cheaper than champagne, when it’s produced from the same varieties, usually by the same labour-intensive method, and often aged every bit as long? The key reason is the cost of the grapes. This year, the value of Australian wine grapes averaged just 70c per kilogram. Tasmanian sparkling grapes clocked in at more than four times as much, at $3.12 per kilogram. But even this is just a quarter of the value of champagne grapes. Champagne now pays its growers an average of $12 per kilogram.

As Tasmania’s vines and winemakers establish themselves ever more confidently in their landscape, the house style of each estate and the signature of each zone are declared with increasingly precise clarity. From tiny boutique operations like Bellebonne and Apogee to the state-wide kaleidoscope of House of Arras and Jansz Tasmania, and from the cold, wet terroir of Piper’s River to the cold, dry conditions of the Derwent Valley, Australia’s sparkling state has never put forth such exciting diversity.

Tasmanian sparkling has almost always sold virtually exclusively within Australia, but as the world starts to take notice, its key brands are beginning to seek a presence in key global markets. Meanwhile, domestic demand and recognition only continue to rise. Tasmania is home to the world’s most under-recognised and undervalued sparkling wines, and they cannot remain cheap forever.

This article first appeared in issue 61 of Halliday Magazine, on sale now. Top image credit: Wine Australia / Jansz Tasmania.

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