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Shiraz Off and Running in Tasmania

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Hurray for Shiraz. That’s the catchcry of practically every mainland grower, maker and marketer these days as Australia’s workhorse variety continues to prove that it’s not just a stayer in the red wine stakes, it’s a big-hearted champion, just like Phar Lap. You only have to visit your local retailer to see Shiraz adds more […]

Hurray for Shiraz.

That’s the catchcry of practically every mainland grower, maker and marketer these days as Australia’s workhorse variety continues to prove that it’s not just a stayer in the red wine stakes, it’s a big-hearted champion, just like Phar Lap.

You only have to visit your local retailer to see Shiraz adds more than spice to the domestic wine market. It’s our most prolific wine grape, accounting for more than 538,000 tonnes of the fruit picked in vintage 2021.

That wasn’t just 46 percent of all red wine grapes, it was more than a quarter of Australia’s total wine grape production.

Few pundits could have predicted that half a century ago. Back in the 1970s, Shiraz vineyards in the Barossa Valley were removed in vast numbers during a vine-pull scheme sponsored by the South Australian Government.

Pedigree and varietal character count for a lot in the wine world. One of Shiraz’s greatest strengths is its capacity to produce a diverse and interesting range of wine styles that reflect the climate and soil types in which it’s grown.

In Australia, that translates into spicy/peppery, red-fruited medium-bodied reds at one end of the flavour spectrum and rich, full-bodied wines displaying distinctly plummy, licoricey or chocolatey elements at the other.

Cool climate versus hot climate. Mainland wines, through and through.

But that old order looks set for revision in coming decades. Tasmanian wine producers are beginning to fall under the spell of elegant, cool climate Shiraz.

And it’s about time too, some will tell you. Not only is our climate changing, so is our understanding of the way the variety behaves in our vineyards.

“When I came back to Tasmania in the early 1990s after completing vintages in the Hunter Valley, Coonawarra and WA’s Great Southern region, everyone here in the industry at that time was under the impression Shiraz ripened later Cabernet Sauvignon,” recalls Freycinet Vineyard’s Claudio Radenti.

“That led many people to think you just wouldn’t want to plant it in Tasmania. I remember thinking at the time, ‘that’s a bit odd, everywhere I’ve been, Shiraz always comes off earlier than Cabernet.’

“It’s a variety that’s found in the south of France, so it likes a bit of sun. It won’t ripen everywhere in Tasmania, but you’ve certainly got a better chance if you’re on a warm site. Freycinet Vineyard is just that – a warm, sheltered site in a cool climate wine region.”

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Radenti has been dabbling with Shiraz on the Bicheno property since 2013. That was the year the Bull family expanded Freycinet’s wine horizons by purchasing a neighbouring vineyard planted by Jo and John Fenn-Smith back in 1985.

At first, there were only a few rows of Shiraz; barely 0.2ha. That became 0.7ha, then 1.1ha.

“I was really curious to see what we could do with it,” Radenti continues.

“I’ve gone from making two barrels to 18 or 19 barrels each vintage. People are genuinely surprised to find we have Shiraz at our cellar door. It’s given us something a bit different from Pinot Noir.

“Our reds are a little more robust than you see in many other parts of Tassie, so it’s fitted in well with what we do. We give our Shiraz two years in barrel and two years in bottle before release. We’re pretty happy with the wines we’ve made to date.”

Glaetzer-Dixon family winemakers. Image courtesy Peter Mathew.

Former Barossa Valley winemaker Nick Glaetzer has been more than ‘pretty happy’ since he began working with Tasmanian Shiraz well over a decade ago. In October 2011, his 2010 Glaetzer-Dixon Mon Père Shiraz won the prestigious Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy at the Royal Melbourne Wine Show.

It was the first time in the trophy’s 50-year history that the show’s judges had selected a Tasmanian producer to carry away Australia’s most celebrated red wine prize.

Dedicated to Glaetzer’s winemaker father, Colin, the spicy/peppery award winner was made from Shiraz grown in the Tamar and Coal River Valleys. Virtually hand-made, like Pinot Noir, the wine sold out within hours of the trophy announcement.

Today, the 12ha vineyard Glaetzer established at Tea Tree with his wife Sally provides a home to 4ha of Shiraz. It is one of many similar new Shiraz developments in the warm and dry Coal River Valley.

Planted four years ago, the vineyard might have yielded its first crop in 2021 under different ownership. But Glaetzer is a perfectionist.

“Only about 60 percent of the vines got to the wire in their first year of growth, so we cut them back to two buds during pruning,” he explains.

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“The site was so dry that, despite irrigation, only 80 percent got there the following year. We two-budded them again and 100 percent got to the wire the next growing season. Then we cut them back again to establish a deeper root system. That should give us a high-quality, very even crop in 2022.

“Careful vineyard management will be critical to the variety’s success in Tasmania.”

Kate Hill Shiraz, May 2021. Image courtesy Kate Hill Wines.

Like Radenti and Glaetzer, Huonville’s Kate Hill has had plenty of vintage experience with Shiraz grown on warm vineyard sites. Indeed, she’s even worked a vintage in France’s Rhone Valley with Maison Chapoutier, a highly respected family company now focussing on biodynamic winegrowing.

“Shiraz is a lot like Chardonnay,” Hill says.

“It’s really versatile. In Australia, you can grow it anywhere between southern Queensland and southern Tasmania; anywhere where it’s warm and sunny.

“We’ve planted a hectare of it in the Huon Valley. That might sound a bit crazy, but we know the climate is changing. It’s getting warmer, not colder. We’re hoping to produce a really interesting, complex red table wine from Shiraz if we can get it to crop at the right level in the vineyard.

“It’s in a really warm spot and produced a 2020 wine that’s still in barrel. We made some Shiraz Rosé in 2021. That looks good, too. Those wines will give us a real point of difference at the cellar door.

“Shiraz is looking quite promising so far. We haven’t had enough experience to be able to determine exactly what it needs in terms of management and cropping levels but in some ways it’s easier to work with than Pinot Noir.

“Our 2020 harvest didn’t have a big leaf canopy. The bunches we’ve picked in the past two seasons have been quite long and straggly, with really loose berries. Some berries haven’t set properly, but that might be due to the wind. We haven’t had to remove excess fruit to date and that might work to our advantage when it comes to wine quality.”

Clearly, an industry workhorse is off and running in Tasmania. Let’s hope producers find few hurdles along its path to success.

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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.


2017 Riversdale Estate Syrah $40

Riversdale Estate in the Coal River Valley lies between the University of Tasmania’s radio telescope observatory and Pitt Water. Family-owned and operated, the site is home to one of the largest plantings of Shiraz in the state. The 2017 vintage finished warm and dry here, setting the scene for a wine that is unusually full-bodied within the Tasmanian context. Rich, powerful and dry, the wine has savoury/fennel edges to complement its ripe, plummy fruit. If rare beef is your bag, this is the Shiraz that will add the pepper/spice. Made under contract by Frogmore Creek.



2018 Stefano Lubiana Syrah $N/A

Granton’s Steve Lubiana created some excellent reds from the warm, generous vintage of 2018. His family’s 25ha vineyard overlooking the River Derwent is a real heat-trap, making the site one of the earliest to pick in southern Tasmania. There’s a compelling mix of juiciness and finesse in this young red. Grown under biodynamic management, there’s a vibrancy here that suggests the wine will become even more lithe and interesting with a few years in the cellar. The spiciness is intriguing, as much kitchen spices as it is pepper. The wine is a welcome addition to the Lubiana portfolio.



2017 Glaetzer-Dixon Mon Père Shiraz $N/A

Before moving to Tasmania to pursue his Pinot Noir ambitions, Nick Glaetzer worked vintages in the Barossa Valley, Hunter Valley and Margaret River. Those Shiraz strongholds engendered a healthy respect for the traditional Aussie red grape. It’s no surprise that this is a very carefully crafted four-year-old that already offers great drinkability. Juicy plum pudding and dark cherry fruit is joined by peppery/savoury characters on the palate, providing welcome restraint to the rich palate that unfolds. Cellaring is not required but a little more age may add elegance to the package.



Source: Tasmanian Times

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