One of the best new wines of the last decade comes from… Tasmania
One of the most successful wines to be released in the past 10 years is made from grapes that travel 30 hours from vineyard to cellar, including an overnight ferry trip.
The Tolpuddle vineyard is in the Australian island state of Tasmania. Since 2011 it has been owned by cousins Martin Shaw and Michael Hill Smith, who ship the freshly picked grapes via Launceston and Melbourne to their winery in the hills above Adelaide in South Australia, some 1,300km away.
Tolpuddle makes nearly equal amounts of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. In only its second vintage (2013), Pinot Noir won three trophies at the 2015 International Wine Challenge (IWC), including Best Australian Red. In total, Tolpuddle wines have won 17 trophies in Australia and the UK. The 2020 Chardonnay alone won five awards at last year’s Royal Melbourne Wine Show.
It’s highly likely that Tolpuddle would also have won trophies at the Decanter World Wine Awards, a rival IWC competition also held in London, but Hill Smith, who is also Australia’s first Master of Wine, is co-chair of the Decanter. price therefore does not subject its own wines to scrutiny.
It seems fitting, however, that Tolpuddle wines should be judged in the UK, as they take their name from the Dorset village famous for its ‘martyrs’. They were 19th century workers, sent to Tasmania as convicts for the crime of starting an agricultural union. Their chef George Loveless served part of his sentence working on a property on or very close to where the vineyard is located.
The 23.7 hectare vineyard was originally planted in 1988 on a site chosen by the late Tony Jordan for Domaine Chandon, the Australian outpost of Moët & Chandon sparkling wines. (Jordan used to scout for vineyard sites, having spent four years scouring China for the perfect spots for LVMH to produce sparkling wines and still reds.)
Jordan planted the original vineyard with winemaker Garry Crittenden from the Mornington Peninsula, just south of Melbourne, and local landowners from the Casimaty family. The idea was that since this was practically the closest part of Australia to the South Pole, the cooler temperatures would provide fruit that was acidic enough for the bubbly. At this point, Jordan was also shipping fruit for Domaine Chandon 3,370km across the Nullarbor Desert from the cool south-west corner of Australia to keep his sparkling wine sufficiently refreshing. Australian wine producers are far less constrained by geography than their European counterparts.
During the trip, whether at Domaine Chandon or at the Shaw + Smith cellar, the grapes should be kept as fresh and intact as possible so that they do not start to ferment. This requires refrigerated trucks and picking fruit from shallow crates so the berries aren’t crushed by the weight of those above them.
According to Hill Smith, Tolpuddle’s 30-hour journey virtually replicates what is common practice with grapes grown on their own estate, of storing freshly picked grapes in a cool room before fermentation to maximize freshness.
Since acquiring the Tolpuddle vineyard, Hill Smith and Shaw have modified it considerably, removing clones specially made for sparkling wines and replacing them mainly with Burgundy wines, improving pruning techniques, building a dam to avoid frost and by buying another six hectares of neighboring land. ground.
They had never intended to buy land in Tasmania until they set off on a trip across the island in 2011. At that time, Australia’s top winemakers were desperate for cool-climate vineyards, and Tasmania’s potential was just beginning to be appreciated by producers, if not yet by consumers. Some of the grapes from the Tolpuddle vineyard were bought by Hardys for the blending of its flagship Eileen Hardy Chardonnay, for example, and another big company was paying A$7,000 a tonne, double the going rate, for the fruit from one of the vineyard blocks of the vineyard. Pinot Noir.
On their road trip, the cousins asked local young winemaker Peter Dredge to organize a tasting of Tasmania’s finest wines and found that “all the pinot noirs and chardonnays we liked came from Tolpuddle”, recalls Hill Smith. “So some time later we had an overdraft, no idea who would run the property or where the wine would be made, but Martin, who is not given to spontaneity in any form, was surprisingly committed to that. .”
They cannot regret their purchase. Tolpuddle has done much to put Tasmania on the map as a still wine region. Extraordinarily, the first vines to be planted in quantity on the island were the late maturing Cabernet Sauvignon. When global warming really sets in, it will likely eventually be replaced by the much earlier maturing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that dominate the island’s vineyards today. For now, Domaine A, which has changed ownership, is the only winery in Tasmania to have demonstrated a constant mastery of Cabernet, Bordeaux’s most famous red grape variety.
The current buzz here is making Tasmania the answer to the super trendy – and increasingly unaffordable – red and white burgundy. Wine-conscious climatologists like to compare “degree-days” during the growing season, when the heat exceeds a certain baseline temperature for growth. Tolpuddle, which is in the Coal River Valley, records an average of just 1,180 and the widely accepted minimum of 500mm of rain a year, while the averages for Dijon in Burgundy are 1,319 and 775mm respectively.
Tasmania is planted fast with vines, but it is still tiny compared to the rest of Australia’s wine regions, accounting for less than 1% of national production. As Hill Smith observed when presenting Tolpuddle’s first 10 vintages to a roomful of sommeliers at the Trivet restaurant in London last month, “You’ll spill more wine in a year than Tasmania produces.”
The wines were truly exciting and, at around £65 or $70 a bottle retail for the latest vintages, 2020 and the even more accessible 2021, compare favorably to their Burgundian counterparts.
I was blown away ten years ago when I tasted Tolpuddle’s first vintage, 2012, especially the Pinot Noir. The 2012 Chardonnay no longer looks so refreshing as frankly tart. In that first year they had the grapes pressed on the island and shipped juice, not grapes, to the winery in South Australia, exposing it to too much oxygen, so there was a problem to complete the conversion of hard malic acid to softer lactic acid. .
But that was the only real disappointment in this range of 19 wines, all corked so that they were free from any corky or oxidative taste. (The 2019 vintage was the victim of forest fires and the smell of smoke, which is unfortunately a growing phenomenon in the wine world, so the 2019 Pinot Noir was sold in bulk and the 2019 Chardonnay did not have the class of other vintages. But that was not the fault of talented winemaker Adam Wadewitz, who arrived in time to make the second 2013 vintage.)
Hill Smith also told us about his finest hour. Tolpuddle is the only Australian wine to feature in the annual tasting of some of the world’s best wines, organized by the Ficofi fine wine buying club in Paris each December. At that glamorous event a few years ago, Aubert de Villaine, the Burgundian figurehead then in charge of the famed Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, approached Hill Smith and said he had been told he had to taste this Tasmanian upstart. I advise anyone who likes burgundy to do it too.
Tolpuddle’s Favorite Vintages
2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2020, 2021
2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2020, 2021
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