Eye on Tasmania

I’m back from a brief hiatus.

Apsley at Amulet I went back down to Tasmania recently to visit two winemakers I’m exporting into the USA for AOC Fine Wines/SObER Imports: Guy Wagner of Bass Fine Wines and Brian Franklin of Apsley Gorge. As usual, it was quite chilly and the search for fireplaces was on again.
Bicheno east coast
Guy Wagner, a quiet spoken bloke in his early thirties, sources pinot noir, riesling, and chard, from the Tamar region north of Launceston on the Northern coast of the island. It’s a bit warmer up there than down south, although frosts are still a problem. 2007 saw many vineyards burnt and rendered fruitless by frigid early temperatures. How sad that must be to see the vintage ruined before it even gets started. That being said, it explains how Wagner can still make good wines even in an off year. Since he doesn’t own any vines, he can select fruit from vineyards that have succeeded where others have failed. This lower overhead also allows him to offer better value than many estate produced interests.

Brian franklinAfter Guy, we headed to the East Coast Freycinet region and the seaside town of Bicheno to meet up with Brian Franklin from Apsley Gorge. Franklin, in his mid-40’s with piercing steely blue eyes, was profiled briefly in an earlier blog entry in July 2007 and singled out for his passionate Burgundian approach to making pinot noir and chardonnay. In the Fall, his Spring, he can be found working vintage in Burgundy with Phillipe Charlopin and living in his second home in the local village of St. Romain. He is a former abalone diver and did quite well for himself in the 1980’s. Abalone divers were making serious coin in those days through sheer hard work and dedication. The money earned was well deserved: he spent literally every day under water for 8 years. With this big pile of money, he’s been building a sandstone mansion, with the help of a full time stonemason, from handcarved stones quarried from his vineyard for the last ten years. It is a labor of love, and called “Clos de la Mer” as an hommage to his love of the grand cru Burgundy vineyard names like Clos de la Roche and Clos Vougeot, and, perhaps more obviously, because the home’s perched above the sea, right on the shoulder of Maclean Bay.
Clos de la mer

Apsley Gorge vineyard is ideally located in the heart of Apsley National Park, and nestled all alone in a gorge that protects it from the ubiquitous frost. The winery, back in Bicheno, has a cellar door and a terrific cafe open only in Summer where you can get fresh lobsters (called crayfish down under) and just from the sea oysters. Nice to sit outside on the Tasman Sea with a poached lobster and a bottle of chardonnay. I love these wines. As one wine writer said of Franklin’s pinot noir, “the iron-willed should cellar it for five years or more; the weak will fall for its seductive charms tonight”. It’ll be fascinating to see how they do.
West coast sunbeam
Dove lake trail
After business I headed out to the verdant West Coast and spent a couple of beautiful days hiking and sitting by big fires at Cradle Mountain Lodge. The wooden paths built around Dove Lake at the base of Cradle Mountain are an engineering marvel. They allowed even the most lackadaisical ambler to head into what would otherwise be unnavigable Return-of-the-Jedi-like forests.

The main lodge is old and smokey with leather couches and exposed King Billy Pine logs; it’s what you imagine when you think of a cozy mountain retreat. The staff was uncannily warm and gracious for such an out of the way place. The restaurant was superb, as was the Barossa 2005 John Duval “Entity” Shiraz . It was one of the best wines I’ve had from Australia; impeccably pure fruit and deftly balanced. Cradle mt. & dove lake
West coast AMRoyal tas botanical garden
Tassie is a pristine, isolated paradise. There are plenty of good restaurants, particularly in Hobart, and a growing number of top class wineries. True, it’s a little out of the way for most wine lovers, but fear not. If you can’t make it down, I’ll be bringing some of them your way soon.

Hobart harbor