Pinot Noir needs little introduction to today's wine consumers.
Fifty years ago, the dark-skinned, cool climate wine grape was on the verge of disappearing from Australian vineyards. In 1971 there were just 24 hectares of Pinot Noir in the whole country.
Nowadays, there's probably 50 times that amount being grown in Tasmania.
Indeed, Pinot Noir is the dominant wine grape in this state and according to the 2021 Tasmanian Vintage Report, released this month by Wine Tasmania, the variety accounted for almost half of the 14,478 tonnes of wine grapes harvested this year.
Perhaps more importantly, the multi-purpose red variety is also our most valuable vineyard commodity. Data gathered by the industry peak body this vintage revealed the average market value of Tasmanian Pinot Noir is $3287 per tonne.
That's more than two-and-a-half times the average value of Pinot Noir grown interstate.
And if you think that comparison is impressive, look at the Chardonnay figures.
According to Wine Tasmania, the average market price across Australia for the industry's most prolific white grape is just $531 per tonne, but Tasmanian-grown Chardonnay, meanwhile, is valued at $3174 per tonne, almost six times that average figure.
It's little wonder Tasmania's cool climate wine producers are celebrating their 2021 vintage successes after a challenging year.
"Statewide reports revealed consistent themes of generous rain in winter and spring, cool temperatures and steady ripening," Wine Tasmania CEO, Sheralee Davies says.
"The resultant wines will show intense yet elegant flavours and a vibrant structure."
"We've certainly had a couple of interesting years," Brown Family Wine Group's Tom Wallace admits.
The New Zealand-born-and-trained winemaker heads up the company's Tasmanian operation as winemaker/manager.
"In many respects, 2020 and 2021 were typical Tasmanian vintages," he continues.
"They were vintages pretty much controlled by nature and the weather. Fortunately, we've been able to produce some very good wines from both vintages, despite the seasons being far from ideal."
Vintage 2021 was Wallace's twelfth Tasmanian vintage. Based at Kayena, in the Tamar Valley, the Lincoln University graduate oversees production of Brown Brothers' high-volume Devil's Corner, Tamar Ridge and Pirie Sparkling wine brands.
"Vintage 2021 for Tamar Ridge and Devil's Corner was pretty much the opposite of 2020," Wallace adds.
"This year, the months that preceded harvest were generally much cooler and wetter than normal. Fortunately, the weather eased throughout March and April and we had a good harvest period in the north of the state, with lower-than-average rainfall and some warm, sunny days.
Wallace believes Chardonnay and Pinot Noir will provide high points for table wine production from Tasmania's 2021 vintage.
Consumers should take him at his word.
The talented Kiwi has an enviable track record for producing gold and trophy winners for Brown Brothers' Patricia Chardonnay.
The company's Devil's Corner Pinot Noir is the number one Pinot Noir in the country by volume and value. On current figures, that translates into a whopping 684,200 bottles of Devil's Corner, with annual sales valued at $13.5 million. (Aztec National Scan Data, MAT 02/05/21.)
That noted, Wallace has proven he's far from a one-trick pony when it comes to Pinot Noir. Back in May, the Brown Family Wine Group was celebrating his international success at the 2020 Global Pinot Noir Masters where Tamar Ridge Reserve and Devil's Corner Resolution wines from the 2018 vintage won gold medals.
Adverse weather wasn't the only challenge the industry had to meet head-on in 2021, according to Wine Tasmania.
"As with other agricultural sectors, there were some challenges with accessing seasonal labour," the peak body's CEO explains.
"Some wine producers re-allocated staff from other parts of their businesses to help bring in the harvest."
In addition to rallying his company troops for battle, Granton's Steve Lubiana said his management team wasted considerable time and money trying to assemble a capable and proficient labour force for handpicking his Derwent Valley property.
"We made contact with close to 120 people wanting to work during vintage," he says.
"Many of them just weren't suited to putting in the long hours we needed in the vineyard. We would often see workers leave the property during breaks, never to return.
"We were constantly on the lookout for new team members. Organising picking crews for the next day could sometimes take until almost midnight."
Tamar Valley wine producer Rita Richter tells a similar story of no-shows and early departures at Grey Sands Vineyard.
"This year was the worst year ever!" she sighs.
PICK OF THE CROP
2019 Stefano Lubiana Riesling $33
Steve and Monique Lubiana are renowned for their stylish bottle-fermented sparklings, but they're no slouches either when it comes to top notch Chardonnay and Riesling wines.
The latter are typically very attractive on release and can be left to mature for up to a decade in a cool place.
The 2019 is very much multi-dimensional. It's a juicy/limey youngster with delightful verve and freshness.
Bordering on delicate, the wine has the fruit intensity and lingering natural acidity needed right now to partner pan-fried trout or flathead. But do put some away for a rainy day anytime past 2025. It will reward you.
2017 Devil's Corner Mount Amos Pinot Noir $65
This single site Pinot Noir from the Brown Family Wine Group's Hazards Vineyard near Bicheno on Tasmania's East Coast is given kid glove treatment, with low yields and hand-picking part of the regime.
All that shows. This is a very smart middleweight that's had gold medal show success. Red cherry/berry fruit aromas are a touch floral then show some attractive foresty/sassafras nuances.
Cedary French oak support is gladly understated on the palate, ensuring the wine's smooth ripe berry flavours provide the centrepiece to this display of cool climate quality. Multi-gold winner.
2015 Grey Sands Malbec $45
Tasmania produces world-class Pinot Noir. But what do you pour instead for someone who fails to appreciate its fragrant aromas and light- to medium-bodied palate? The Tamar Valley provides this alternative.
It's a deep, dark, menacing-looking red that turns out to be surprisingly smooth and accessible at the dinner table.
Now six years old, the wine has generous flavour that is full yet soft for a red variety most closely associated with Bordeaux.
Its black fruit and dark cherry characters border on plummy but are brought into line by fine ripe tannins and neat acidity. Match it with equally Pinot-friendly rare venison.
- 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.