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Boom in Tassie vineyards as producers capitalise on cooler climate premium

Published:  18 February, 2019

Tasmania’s vineyard area has grown by 25% over the past two growing seasons, with plans for another 15% increase in the pipeline, as both local and mainland Australian producers invest in the island’s viticultural scene.

According to Sheralee Davies, CEO of Wine Tasmania, this influx – which has seen the likes of mainland producers such as Shaw + Smith and Brown Brothers among many to either buy into vineyards or make Tassie-specific labels from island fruit – this growth is also changing the dynamic of Tasmania, bringing greater recognition of its cooler climate, quality-focused credentials, as volumes grow.

As a producing territory, Tasmania punches well above its weight, despite accounting for only 0.9% of the annual Australian crush, and exporting a mere 5% of its annual 885,000 9 litre case production.

However, with a growing global reputation for its sparkling wines and Pinot Noir, coupled with a climate that is also allowing Australian producers to future proof against climate change, an influx of investment continues apace.

For example, new plantings from the Hill Smith family (of Yalumba in Barossa), are set to increase the total vineyard area (currently 2,000 ha) by 10% alone over the next couple of years.

50 ha vineyards are appearing in a territory where 5 ha has been the average vineyard size.

Meanwhile, home-grown Tasmanian producers, such as Stoney Rise Wine Co, are currently doubling their vineyard holdings as new vines go in.

“New investment is coming in, people are seeing viticulture here as a long term opportunity, and we are taking a market-led approach to growth,” said Lou Holyman, ex-Australia Wine Society buyer-turned-winemaker at Stoney Rise.

Investment is currently domestic (mainland and Tasmanian), but Holyman believes that it is only a matter of time, as Tasmania’s reputation for quality pinot Noir, sparkling and aromatic whites grows, before foreign investment arrives on the island.

“I think global investment will come as existing wine businesses continue to invest, long term, to be part of a new frontier, and to help protect against future climate change,” added Holyman.

In addition to smaller scale producers increasing their plantings, Davies also confirmed that “farmers are planting grapes”, attracted by the premium that Tassie fruit can deliver.

Set against 2018 figures from Wine Tasmania, which show 100% of Tasmanian wines selling above AU$15, as opposed to only 7% of mainland Australian wines, and with an average retail bottle price of AU$22.44, the attraction is clear.

Asked if such growth is sustainable, Holyman countered that Tasmania is in a good place, with demand growing, and a small production base rooted in cool climate viticulture being a major asset for the island’s industry.

“Demand is in excess of supply, these are exciting times and Tasmania has really started to expand,” concluded Holyman, capturing the dynamic mood of producers on this pristine and increasingly fashionable outpost of the Australian winemaking scene.