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Up the Huon

By Annette Lacey MW | Group Beverage Manager, Solotel

The wines of Tasmania have always overdelivered on price and quality, staying true to their message of quality over quantity. Their retail pricing starts at $15/bottle, a pretty impressive starting point for what the region is delivering. Currently there are 160 licenced producers and 230 vineyards, contributing only 1% of the annual Australian crush by volume. We are talking tiny production, a mere blip in the grand scheme of things.

Tasmania is currently a single Geographical Indication (GI), loosely divided into 7 sub-regions, that are accepted by both the public and local producers. One of the most promising, and lesser-known regions, is the Huon Valley. It is found South of Hobart on the Huon River, which flows into the D’Entrecasteaux Channel. This provides a cool, maritime climate that is well suited to the pinot Noir and chardonnay that is predominately planted here. This sub-region is also largely made up of smaller vineyard plots, hand tended with a focus on the unique terroir of each site. Small boutique producers include Chatto, Mewstone, Sailor Seek Horse, Panorama, Home Hill, Kate Hill and Hartzview.

The Huon Valley has clearly attracted some very high-quality producers, as seen in the quality of wines emerging. But what exactly brings them here? I posed this question to an established producer of terroir driven wines, Jim Chatto, and a newcomer, Alison Eisermann MW, who had also recently planted vineyards in the Huon. Interestingly, both had the same reasons for choosing Tasmania; a passion for the region and their love of Tasmanian Pinot Noir, where they believe the fruit quality and purity are outstanding.

When the question of climate change and the suitability of Tasmania was posed, both agreed that the initial decision was not made with this in mind. It was in part luck plus a love of Tasmania that led them to the Huon Valley. The valley benefits from moderating river influences, a slope offering protection from the cool winds and allows for air drainage aiding with frost mitigation. The long ripening period also helps with concentration and fruit purity. Proximity to the river also evens out temperature swings with the maritime influence providing a warmish pocket in a cold place.

That is not to say it is not impacted by the changing climate; the 2019 bushfires (extreme weather events directly attributed to climate change) saw Jim Chatto’s entire crop lost to smoke taint. This was both a financial and emotional disaster for him and many Tasmanian producers in 2019. From a social perspective the region is small, promoting collaboration, cohesion and camaraderie. The devastating 2019 bushfires helped to cement these relationships and allowed Jim Chatto to explore and work with other growers in the region, all with the same ideals.

Water availability, another challenge in Tasmania’s driest region, can greatly impact young vines which have greater water needs than an established vineyard. When Eisermann planted pinot noir in 2015 and 2017 on their own roots she took clonal advice from the locals on the ground. The organic techniques of composting and manures were utilised to increase the water holding capacity of the soil and add nutrients in a holistic way to deal with these water shortages. Similarly, Jim Chatto has only planted pinot noir in a tiny 1.33 hectare vineyard planted at 5000 vines/Ha, again on own roots. The choice of eight different clones adds complexity and depth to the pinots produced by Chatto.

Both vignerons practise minimal intervention winemaking and minimal oak to allow the pure pinot noir characters to shine. Whilst Eisermann has yet to produce a commercial crop the wines of Chatto speak of their sense of place. In the words of Jim Chatto “I make wines that I love to drink, first and foremost. If other people like them too that’s a massive plus! In the early part my career I was probably more focused on what everyone else liked. I have learnt to trust myself.” These are wines to seek out. While Eiermann has not yet produced any wine from her small plot all is clearly in place for this new vineyard to further showcase the outstanding potential of the Huon Valley.