When winemaker Matthias Utzinger left home to travel the highways and byways of Africa and Asia, few of his Swiss peers would have expected his adventurous journey to end with a life-changing move to Tasmania and the creation of a small-scale wine business.
It wasn't something the young bloke from Zurich had even considered himself.
"My wife Lauren is a Tassie girl," he explains.
"We met in Iran in 2015. We then spent six months travelling together before coming to Tasmania to enjoy Christmas with Lauren's family.
"Just look where we are now. Lauren and I have two wonderful daughters and we're making wine together in the beautiful Tamar Valley. What could be better than that?"
Life is full of 'pinch me' moments, but for Legana's newest vignerons, the past three years have swept by so quickly they can barely grasp the enormity of the project they've undertaken.
Pinching will have to wait a while.
Utzinger says the couple's Tasmanian wine odyssey began in earnest when they moved to the Huon Valley to take up work with Stefano Lubiana Wines at Panorama Vineyard.
Located at Cradoc, halfway between Cygnet and Huonville, the site was previously owned by the Vishacki family.
It was purchased by Steve and Monique Lubiana in 2015.
On taking possession, the Derwent Valley couple embarked upon ambitious programs of vineyard and winery re-development.
Employment there enabled the Utzingers to become familiar with Tasmanian viticulture and winemaking before going on to establish vineyard and winery projects of their own.
It also provided opportunities to collect and propagate valuable planting material.
"After purchasing just over 20ha of land on Upper McEwans Road, we set about planting our Tamar Valley vineyard in mid-2018," Utzinger recalls.
"Lauren and I - together with Lauren's dad - did much of the work ourselves. Northern Vineyard Services helped put in the posts, but Lauren and I came up with the vineyard design and laid out the rows. We also installed the drip irrigation.
"It wasn't really by choice. We couldn't afford to do it any other way."
The couple began making wines under their own label in 2017, using fruit and winery facilities then available in the Huon Valley.
In 2019, Utzinger Wines switched to sourcing wine grapes from northern Tasmania.
"We spent five hectic months setting up our vineyard here," Utzinger says.
"With the last vines only going into the ground in early February, that left us very little time to prepare for vintage 2019. We just managed to convert an old garage on our property into an operational winery before harvest began.
"In mid-2020, we began construction of a winery and vineyard cellar door at our new home in the Tamar Valley. The winery still feels like a bit of a construction site but we were able to use it for vintage 2021. We had tradies here the day before picking started."
Six months on, the new facility has a much more tranquil atmosphere than that evident during its busiest harvest period.
The underground cellar has almost shrugged off its winter chill.
Many wines in barrel are commencing secondary (malolactic) fermentation with spring's steadily increasing daytime and night-time temperatures.
Recent tastings indicate they are filled with promise.
The couple's estate-grown wines are products of their vineyard's 4ha of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz.
Wines are also made on-site for Legana's Velo Wines, as well as for Grey Sands, located at Glengarry.
"Grey Sands is really interesting because Bob and Rita Richter have so many different varieties planted on their property," Utzinger notes.
"That's one of the things I really love about Tasmania. It's still a very young industry. Things are very fluid here, with people still finding their way. They're not fixed on certain ideas. We're still figuring out what works best for certain vineyard sites and wine styles.
"Where I worked before in Europe, it was all so closely regulated you couldn't try doing things differently. The industry there is also feeling the effects of climate change. As a winemaker who likes to be 'hands off' as much as possible in the winery, I know how important it is to be able to work with good fruit grown in a genuinely cool climate.
"We are true vignerons. Our wines are grown, not made.
"Long ripening periods produce beautifully balanced and aromatic wines; wines that fully express their origins, their vineyard and their grape variety. That's why Lauren and I believe this valley - now our home - is such a really special place."
PICK OF THE CROP
2020 Utzinger Riesling $28
The Tamar Valley plays host to some of the state's most consistent producers of high-quality Riesling, with increasing vine age beginning to have quite pronounced effects on some sites. The valley's sunlit terrain and close proximity to the river makes it well suited to the classic European grape.
This Utzinger release really shows the variety's Germanic heritage.
Its moderate alcohol (12.0 per cent) adds elegance to an engaging, food-friendly wine offering lime and green apple flavour, while subtle sweetness balances the wine's fresh natural acidity. It should really blossom with five to eight years' cellaring.
Enjoy now with a mild Thai curry.
2020 Velo Sauvignon Blanc $32
Velo at Legana is one of the state's oldest vineyards, with plantings there established by wine pioneers Graham Wiltshire and Michael Curtis in 1966. Sauvignon Blanc is a relative newcomer to the sunlit site.
Ripeness is critical to the success of the popular white variety when consumers demand much more than 'eau de tomcat.' In this dry, attractive 2020 wine, made by Matthias Utzinger, ripeness is very much at play.
Floral/white flower fragrances complement the anticipated herbal aromas. Bright, squeaky clean flavours follow suit, with gooseberry and citrus elements being elegant, persistent and understated.
2020 Utzinger Pinot Noir $38
Tamar Valley winemaker Matthias Utzinger relies on the KISS principle when he works with Pinot Noir at his Legana winery.
Much of the hard work is done in the vineyard.
This wine was crafted from fruit purchased in the region, and it's a welcome introduction to the charm and fragrance that Pinot Noir displays in cool vintages.
Ripe red cherry and raspberry flavour is framed by careful oak maturation, fine fruit tannin and savoury acidity.
Decant on opening and pair with lightly spiced Asian cuisine or a protein-rich cut of yellow-fin tuna.
Both delicious and well-priced.
- 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