When Neil and Julieanne Snare bought four hectares of land in the southern Midlands in the mid-1980s, planting a vineyard wasn't part of the couple's 'to do' list.
Their slice of heaven had been a part of Bagdad's old Winstead Farm. It was about to become the site of a new family home, a welcome retreat from busy teaching careers.
"The vineyard came later, in 1989," Julieanne recalls.
"That was Neil's idea. It wasn't meant to be commercial vineyard. We just put in 50 vines of Pinot Noir after talking over our landscaping options. The next year, we added 4000 more vines."
"It wasn't exactly what you'd call a rational business decision," Neil adds.
"It was just one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time."
But vineyards have a way of transforming people's lives.
Nowadays a respected grape-grower and winemaker, the former school principal will be among the 40 or so vineyard operators sharing their stories during Tasmania's Southern Open Vineyards Weekend.
The event is scheduled for February 19, 20 and 21.
It's been more than 20 years since Hobart-based food and wine writer Graeme Phillips began the initiative.
Back in 1998, online wine sales were little more than a pipe dream.
The former restaurateur decided it was high time Tasmania's wine industry small fry were given opportunity to come face-to-face with the consumers that regularly supported them throughout the year.
Phillips's vision was for an Open Vineyards Weekend to be held in all seven wine producing areas of the state. More recently, its focus has become southern Tasmania and the East Coast.
The 2021 event rolls out welcome mats at vineyards in the southern Midlands, Coal River Valley, Derwent Valley, Huon Valley and the D'Entrecasteaux Channel.
Many properties will have food as well as wines for purchase and a handful or so will also have live music during some part of the weekend.
Log on to www.openvineyards.wine to register for periodic news and updates.
Participating vineyards and wineries are generally small, family-run businesses. Few have the wherewithal to build and operate a financially viable cellar door alongside their equally challenging winegrowing, winemaking and marketing activities.
Those with only a hectare or two of vines also face limited production volumes, effectively ruling them out of conventional cellar door wine sales for much of the year.
"The Southern Open Vineyards Weekend is a chance for winemakers to proudly showcase their work, but more than that, it's an opportunity to meet and get to know the people who enjoy their wine," Quiet Mutiny winemaker and event manager, Greer Carland says.
"There are quite a few producers like my mum and dad at Laurel Bank, just outside Hobart, who only open their doors for this one event in the year."
Carland points out Laurel Bank's 2019 Riesling figured among the gold medal and trophy winners announced at the 2021 Tasmanian Wine Show a little over two weeks ago. The Derwent Valley wine was the top gold medal winner in its class.
The Southern Open Vineyards Weekend represents the family's first real opportunity to actively promote its show success.
It's not all Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wherever visitors call. Wines being poured include a range of less common varieties, including Barbera, Chenin Blanc, Dornfelder, Gamay, Merlot and Tempranillo.
Drop by Tasmania's first urban winery on the edge of the Hobart CBD and you'll find winemaker Nick Glaetzer offering special tastings of the 2010 Glaetzer-Dixon Mon Peré Shiraz.
The wine prompted a nationwide stir in 2011 by winning the Royal Melbourne Wine Show's prestigious Jimmy Watson Trophy. It was the first time in the show's 50-year history the award had been made to a Tasmanian producer.
Neil and Julieanne Snare admit they are looking forward to 2021.
The couple have put behind them several recent years of disappointment. Along with farmers in the surrounding Bagdad Valley, north of Hobart, the Snares' parched landscape has fallen victim to declining rainfall activity over the past decade.
Winstead Vineyard is unable to access water from the Midlands Irrigation Scheme that commenced operation in July 2014.
"We're connected to town water," Neil Snare explains.
"That's costly. It also requires us to trickle feed high quality drinking water into a large storage tank during the daytime and then irrigate overnight through our vineyard drippers. What we need is access to an irrigation scheme. This is a great little place for growing vines."
See for yourself.
PICK OF THE CROP
2019 Mapleton Vineyard Pinot Noir Rosé $36
Mapleton wines are sourced from a mix of new and established plantings at three neighbouring vineyard sites at Tea Tree in the Coal River Valley.
The Laing family won a gold medal at the 2020 Tasmanian Wine Show with this smart Pinot Noir Rosé from the high quality 2019 vintage.
By December, they found themselves celebrating on a much larger stage, as winners of the 2021 National Wine Centre Trophy for Rosé of the Year.
The wine is only now being released for sale. It's fresh, vibrant and eminently enjoyable, but you should be the judge of that.
2017 Winstead Vineyard Lot 16 Pinot Noir $39
Pinot Noirs from Winstead Vineyard in the southern Midlands are renowned for their richness and generosity of flavour. Indeed, author and critic James Halliday wrote that early examples could be favourably compared with those of Freycinet Vineyard on Tasmania's East Coast.
This juicy cherry plum and spice number comes from the couple's elevated Lot 16 vineyard. The hilltop site bears the full brunt of the summer heat and the chill winds that can blow there.
Wrought from adversity, this delicious, attractive wine combines ripe fruit with fine oak tannins. Drink or keep. Good stuff.
2017 Brinktop Cab Sav $38
Todd Goebel and Gill Christian have spent decades growing wine grapes in Tasmania's warm, dry Coal River Valley.
If anyone was ever going to harvest rich Cabernet from the long, cool vintage of 2017, you'd put money on these folks.
This is a deep, almost opaque black-red wine, sourced from 25-year-old vines.
Stand by for a blockbuster, the colour suggests.
In reality, this is a civilised savage, one that offers generous cassis, black olive and eucalypt flavours backed by quality French oak.
The label is from out of left field. So too is the wine in a wonderfully joyous way.
- Mark Smith wrote his first weekly Tasmanian wine column back in 1994. He continues to chart the successes of the state's small scale, cool climate wine industry with contributions to some of Australia's leading industry publications.