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Eastford Creek Joins Coastal Flock of Vineyards

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Featured image above: Rob Nichols and Andrew Gaman, Eastford Creek Vineyard. Image courtesy Mark Smith. As a young bloke growing up on the edge of Western Australia’s Margaret River wine region, all Andrew Gaman wanted to do was to contribute to the 11ha vineyard and winery being operated there by his parents and siblings. The […]

Featured image above: Rob Nichols and Andrew Gaman, Eastford Creek Vineyard. Image courtesy Mark Smith.

As a young bloke growing up on the edge of Western Australia’s Margaret River wine region, all Andrew Gaman wanted to do was to contribute to the 11ha vineyard and winery being operated there by his parents and siblings.

The idea of making cool climate wines in northern Tasmania never even entered his head. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the state’s embryonic wine industry accounted for less than one-third of one percent of the nation’s annual wine grape harvest.

But times change and so do personal circumstances. Nowadays a full-time resident of Tasmania’s Cradle Coast, along with wife Caroline and four young children, Gaman is the latest highly experienced industry professional to become totally enamoured with the wine-producing potential of this emerging subregion.

“I’m a really strong believer in the future of this district,” Gaman says.

“It’s the smallest and most under-rated of all of Tasmania’s wine industry subregions. It’s almost been forgotten until recent times. I’m really determined to showcase just how good this little place can be.”

Eastford Creek Vineyard founders, Sue and Rob Nichols. Image supplied.

It’s been little more than a year since Gaman hitched his wagon to the Eastford Creek vineyard developments of Rob and Sue Nichols. Located at Sassafras, 20km southeast of Devonport, they’re little more than a grape toss from the landmark production base of Nichols Poultry.

Nichols was CEO and mastermind of the iconic Tasmanian agribusiness until 2016.

The former English immigrant began poultry production there in 1988. By the time he sold Nichols Poultry to TasFoods five years ago, the thriving family company was producing more than 60,000 chickens and turkeys a week.

With that sale completed, Nichols began looking for other ways of adding value to Sassafras’s rich undulating soils. He and Sue already had sufficient landholding in the district to begin conventional farming, based around four-year rotations of five crops.

“We grow potatoes, wheat, poppies, peas and an annual cash crop of broccoli and cauliflower,” Nichols explains.

“But we’ve always had this one corner of land that was completely unfarmable. It’s so stony. It’s also quite steep in parts and has always provided us with some real concerns in terms of drainage and irrigation.”

Refreshed and energised by the success of his most recent business exploits, Nichols pondered alternative uses for his troublesome plot of rocky ground. He was no wine expert, he freely admitted, but he was a keen admirer of the wines of Cradle Coast producers Ghost Rock and Barringwood Estate.

Time spent researching his site’s suitability for cool climate viticulture convinced Nichols it was worth a trial project. In 2018, a 4ha vineyard was commenced. Subsequent plantings over the last two years have since doubled that area.

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Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris make up the bulk of Eastford Creek’s young vines, with Gamay and Pinot Meunier accounting for the rest.

“The vines have done spectacularly well,” Nichols says.

“So much so that we were able to pick a small crop from them only 18 months after planting.”

Nichols had been little more than halfway through his vineyard establishment when Gaman first knocked on his front door. The former Western Australian winemaker had moved to northwest Tasmania and was seeking to develop his own contract winemaking business in the district.

New plantings, Eastford Creek Vineyard, Sassafras. Image credit: supplied.

Today, Eastford Creek provides a home base for the 2006 Young Australian Winemaker of the Year finalist. The property’s small, well-equipped winery is a work in progress, but Gaman is very happy to have been installed there as the vineyard’s incumbent winemaker.

Additional contract viticulture and winemaking work – together with key vineyard management roles on the Sassafras site – ensured the recent 2021 vintage was one of the busiest and most challenging of Gaman’s career.

“I’ve done 3,000-tonne vintages that were less demanding than this one,” he admits.

“But it’s been fantastic. We now have seven client vineyards on our books, with hopefully more to come during the next few years. They’re a mix of new and established vineyards in the region.

“Ideally, I’d like to see this winery being able to process around 250-tonnes each vintage. This year, we’ve done around 26 or 27 tonnes in total. We’re really pleased with the quality of the fruit.”

Having seen Gaman in action, and also tasted an excellent young Pinot Noir in barrel, this columnist is convinced the talented and highly credentialled winemaker has hit the ground running on Tasmania’s scenic Cradle Coast.

“When Caroline and our young family first moved to the region, I made a conscious decision that I wasn’t going to be happy associating myself with a business that wasn’t capable of going where I could take it,” he admits.

“It was already clear when I first arrived here that the site had had a lot of care and attention given to it, and that Rob and Sue could achieve something really special in the future.

We’ve got some exciting 2021 wines underway. There’s every possibility that Eastford Creek won’t remain an 8ha vineyard for very much longer.”

Andrew Gaman checking vine development, Eastford Creek Vineyard. Image credit supplied.

Gaman could be right.

Now that the first stage of Eastford Creek’s on-site winery has become a reality, Nichols is already forging ahead with the establishment of a $350,000 vineyard cellar door. Completion of site works and an official opening are likely to take place later this year.

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Successful relocation and re-purposing of existing farm buildings have already been carried out. These include a shepherd’s hut, together with granary and pumpkin sheds believed to be 130 years old.

Meanwhile, a large and sensitively re-furbished barn has been brought into service as a function room and wedding venue. Some 15 weddings were conducted there during the past six months. More than 20 bookings have already been accepted for the remainder of 2012 and for 2022.


Jansz enhances sparkling achievements

Jennifer Doyle and Robert Hill-Smith at Pontos Hill Winery. Image supplied.

Eastford Creek was one of a number of Tasmanian companies that commissioned new wineries during vintage 2021.

Foremost among them was the large, state-of-the-art Pontos Hill Winery, recently completed at Penna in the state’s south by Hill-Smith Family Estate. The development is the brainchild of company chairman Robert Hill-Smith and now provides Jansz Tasmania with a much-needed production facility in the Coal River Valley.

The Pontos Hill Winery processed some 700 tonnes of wine grapes during vintage 2021.

It will receive even larger volumes in coming years as the company’s new vineyard plantings at Penna and at Forcett gradually come on stream.

Hill-Smith has played a critical role in establishing and enhancing the quality credentials of Australian sparkling wine over the past two decades. The Barossa Valley-based company chairman purchased the iconic Jansz label and its Pipers Brook home base in 1997.

“Vintage this year gave us an ideal opportunity to see how everything worked in the new facility without committing ourselves to doing too much,” says Jansz Tasmania winemaker Jennifer Doyle.

Its busy vintage schedule commenced in early March and was completed successfully little more than a week ago.

Hill-Smith says the Pontos Hill Winery had been on the drawing-board for several years before the Launceston firm of 6ty° was engaged to convert industry aspirations into cutting edge design and architecture.

Construction company Fairbrother completed the build on the Brinktop Road site, owned and operated by Frogmore Creek until 2012.

Innovation and sustainability are cornerstones of the new winery, Hill-Smith says.

“As an independent, family-owned winemaker, authenticity and sustainability are at the forefront of everything we do,” he adds.

“That’s why we have put so much effort and attention to detail into building the perfect home for our Tasmanian wines. Our initial design was a means to improve the quality of our wines and reduce our impact on the environment. With the help of local architect 6ty°, we were able to accomplish this and so much more.”

Winery construction, Pontos Hill Winery 2020. Image supplied.

Hobart’s Mark Smith wrote his first weekly wine column back in 1994. Now more than 1700 features and 25 years later, he continues to chart the successes of Tasmania’s small scale, cool climate wine industry with regular contributions to some of Australia’s leading industry publications.


Mark gives you his honest opinions about the best wines available right now from Tasmania’s wine makers.


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2020 Mount Majura Tasmania Riesling $29

Smoke taint from errant bushfires is always a concern for wine producers. When Canberra’s Mount Majura lost its Riesling crop in the fires of 2020, the company moved quickly to purchase a substitute harvest. The outcome was this delicious youngster, crafted from top-notch Tamar Valley Riesling, grown at Chartley Estate and Waterton Hall. Bright and pale in the glass, there’s no mistaking the variety. It’s limes and lemons all the way, with a touch of regional minerality to boot. Crisp acidity makes it a welcome addition to freshly shucked oysters, Tasmanian, of course.



2019 Ghost Rock Estate Chardonnay $34

Wines from Tasmania’s Cradle Coast are on a roll at the moment, with Justin Arnold at Ghost Rock helping to lead the charge. This is a refined and very elegant expression of Chardonnay, showcasing white nectarine and melon fruit. Barrel fermentation and extended time on yeast lees have endowed the wine with a smooth, satisfying texture. Fruit and oak have been carefully matched, then trimmed with neat Tasmanian acidity. It’s an ideal food wine, intended to complement rather than dominate accompanying dishes. Nicely made and well-priced.



2019 Glaetzer-Dixon Nouveau Pinot Noir $26

Pinot Noir can be a minefield for consumers, with winemakers chasing the variety down a number of rabbit holes, ranging from fresh and fruity styles to funky and even prematurely aged. Nick Glaetzer’s Nouveau is what it says on the label – a direct and uncomplicated wine that puts its fruit forward and winemaking artifice on the backfoot. It’s a bright, vivacious middleweight, made entirely without oak from Pinot Noir sourced from White Hills (70%) and Ouse (30%). Tasty and a touch spicy, its red cherry fruit is ready to enjoy right now.



2017 Holyman Project X Pinot Noir $90

When Joe and Lou Holyman purchased Rotherhythe Vineyard in 2004, industry pundits believed the pinot-phile would make his mark there. They were right. In 2007, Holyman was a finalist in the Young Gun of Wine Awards. A decade later, this youthful middleweight shows Holyman still has that magic touch. Low yields from 30 year-old vines, 100% whole bunch fermentation and 100% new French oak maturation have wrought a very stylish and elegant wine. Red cherry liqueur and raspberry flavours underscore engaging intensity in what is a fascinating mix of rich and savoury characters.


Source: Tasmanian Times

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