There would be few wine lovers who've never dreamt of planting vines in their own patch of dirt.
The lure of watching the sun go down with a glass of your own vino in hand can be hard to resist.
But it wasn't anticipation of producing world-class sparkling wine that brought Susan Denny and Harry Rigney back home from Queensland 13 years ago.
It was the prospect of living under the spell of picturesque Mount Arthur, north-east of Launceston.
"I grew up under the mountain, and rode horses all around the mountain," Denny says, with a glint in her eyes.
"I'm a mountain girl."
Nowadays an accomplished viticulturist as well as a painter, Denny is co-owner of The Ridge North Lilydale. The couple planted their two hectares of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier in 2013-2014.
Growing things is part of her genetic make-up, Denny adds.
It was her grandparents Keith and Nellie Denny that emigrated from England in 1923 to pioneer lavender growing on Tasmania's renowned Bridestowe Estate.
Almost a century later, The Ridge's north-facing slopes overlook a broad expanse of river flats that were once home to the Denny family's lavender plantations.
Denny's father Tim moved the business to its present-day site at Nabowla, 20km north-west of Scottsdale, on returning home from military service in World War II.
The couple believe The Ridge is the state's highest vineyard. It's close to 360 metres above sea level.
On a clear day, the steep site offers dramatic vistas of north-east Tasmania's native forests, with unpredictable Bass Strait further beyond. Also within view, more than 100 kilometres inland, lie the pristine peaks and periodic snow-capped tiers of Cradle Mountain.
"We bought the property while we were living and working in Queensland," Rigney explains.
"Sue grew up in the family home on Browns Road, which was only 400 metres away from today's location of our home and vineyard cellar door. Back when Sue was young, this place used to be the site of a small dairy. She remembers coming here, getting the milk.
"We were very fortunate being able to buy the property. It was never actually advertised for sale. We just happened to make a few enquiries and eventually found ourselves with 20 hectares of land and a whole lot of thoughts about what to do with it.
"We'd been searching for quite a while, trying to find a little bit of Tasmania to call our own. Sue's always been good at growing things and we considered starting all sorts of ventures on the site. Eventually we settled on the idea of planting a small vineyard to produce sparkling wine grapes. North-east Tasmania has a world-class reputation for sparkling wines produced using traditional methods.
"This site's unique elevation provides our vines with the long, cool growing season that's needed to produce Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier for vintage and non-vintage sparkling wines."
The couple spent three years preparing their vineyard slopes for planting. It was time well spent.
In 2016, barely two years and two months after their vines had been established, The Ridge produced its first harvest. Rigney says the resulting Pinot Noir table wine was brought to life after a little coaxing from contract winemaker, Fran Austin.
"We weren't expecting to be able to produce a wine, let alone a table wine, so we've always referred to it as our unexpected baby," he explains.
"We were very happy to have it but didn't see it coming."
Success breeds success. In 2017, the couple's meticulous management of their challenging site earned them the mantle of Best Small Vineyard in the annual Tasmanian Vineyard of the Year awards, conducted by the Royal Agricultural Society of Tasmania.
The 2018 harvest yielded a wonderfully aromatic Pinot Noir that won a gold medal at the 2020 Royal Hobart Wine Show. Then came an additional gold at January's 2021 Tasmanian Wine Show.
Cool climate viticulture has its challenges, Rigney admits, but says it has given the taxation lawyer, and part-time songwriter and musician a new lease of life.
"One of the jobs I had many years ago was on a tomato farm up in Toowoomba," he recalls.
"I just loved it. There was something about training plants and growing them under an elaborate system of management that I really enjoyed.
"This vineyard has a lot in common. It's not only brought us back home again. In many ways, it's allowed life here to turn full circle - for both of us."
You can taste The Ridge wines at the cellar door every Sunday. Bookings welcome.
PICK OF THE CROP
2019 Craigie Knowe Riesling $32
Craigie Knowe at Cranbrook on Tasmania's East Coast is a tough, often-parched site for Riesling. The upside for consumers is that the vineyard produces small yields of shy, often very intensely-flavoured fruit each vintage.
Wines can be cellared with confidence if aged Riesling is the preferred style for consumption.
Very pale in the glass, the 2019 is fresh and lemony with engaging spicy/gingery undertones on a food-friendly dry finish.
Just the thing for freshly shucked oysters, the wine also has good keeping potential for up to 10 years if you like your whites mid-weight and slightly toasty.
2020 Sinapius Jean Morice Rosé $32
The cool, damp 2020 vintage was a tricky one in north-east Tasmania. This smart Rosé from Linda Morice shows that attractive wines can still be wrought from adversity.
Crafted from estate-grown Gamay, the wine is a smooth, well-rounded early drinker that would suit a range of Asian dishes.
Gentle pressing and the use of old oak and time on lees have helped ensure its red apple, red currant and crabapple jelly characters are delivered on a dry, nicely weighted palate. There's good acidity too, with a welcome savoury/minerally dimension.
Treat yourself and your family this Easter. Avoid over-chilling.
2018 The Ridge North Lilydale Pinot Noir $47
Pinot Noir is a fusspot grape, seldom happy beyond its ancestral Burgundy wine region. But in cool, favourable conditions, it is wonderfully expressive with dazzling complexity of aroma, flavour and texture.
Clearly youthful, this release from The Ridge is already heading along such a path. It's beautifully fragrant now - redolent of juicy red fruits, kitchen spices and wild Tasmanian sassafras.
The flavours that follow are deliciously satisfying and well sustained. Red cherry and raspberry nuances show great lift and vibrancy, while the overall effect is one of elegance and finesse. Lovely wine.
- Examiner columnist 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