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Vignerons turn to Tasmania as climate change fears grow

Vignerons turn to Tasmania as climate change fears grow

Tasmania is being touted as "ripe for serious investment" amid concerns that climate change is affecting yields and changing the flavour of wine on the mainland. 

Tasmania’s vineyard area has grown by 25% over the past two growing seasons, with plans for another 15% increase in the pipeline. 

“New investment is coming in, people are seeing viticulture here as a long-term opportunity, and we are taking a market-led approach to growth,” Lou Holyman, ex-Australia Wine Society buyer-turned-winemaker at Stoney Rise, told Harpers UK

While investment is currently domestic, Holyman believes it's only a matter of time before foreign investment arrives on the island.

“I think global investment will come as existing wine businesses continue to invest, long term, to be part of a new frontier, and to help protect against future climate change,” he added.

Viticultural expert Professor Snow Barlow from the University of Melbourne told ABC News back in 2016 that "there has been this race to Tasmania."

"Where people, particularly the corporates, have multiple vineyards you can, if you have the finances and resources, move to cooler areas," he said. 

Another problem facing winemakers is that rising temperatures mean red and white grape varieties are ripening at the same time. Traditionally, white grape varieties would generally reach optimum ripeness before red ones.

Now vineyards and wineries are making tough choices about which grapes to pick first and which ones to leave until later, which can result in inferior wine.

The alternative is to make the expensive decision to increase production capacity by investing in more infrastructure such as fermenters and stainless steel tanks.

In the Hunter Valley, winemaker Andrew Margan was forced to harvest around the clock this year when both his red and white grapes ripened at once.

“It’s all about coffee and adrenaline, believe me,” he told SBS

Earlier this month, ABC News reported: "To maintain the crispness of their white wines, some winemakers have plantings in Tasmania in an effort to maintain their wine's characteristics."

Among them are Brown Family Wine Group's Ross Brown (above), who said wines on the mainland were getting richer, riper and softer.

"That's not what you want for crisp white wines, you want them to be defined by their acidity," he said.

Brown established a vineyard in Tasmania to protect the flavours of the company's cool climate wines, such as Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir.

"We wanted cooler and wetter conditions for some of our grape varieties and for the future," Brown said.

The company is currently harvesting its eighth vintage at its East Coast Tasmania vineyard and despite record breaking temperatures over summer, said the grapes were looking good.

Brown revealed his company and others were now thinking about planting shiraz grapes in Tassie.

"Some of the shiraz down here is looking pretty good, previously it was seen to be too cool down here for shiraz but some other producers are doing good drops," Brown said.

But how many vineyards can Tasmania support? 

Chris Pfeiffer from Victoria's Rutherglen region joked to the ABC: "We can't all fit in to Tassie, they wouldn't have us." 

However, Wine Tasmania is buoyant about the island state's potential to expand its wine industry.

The recent 2018 Tasmanian vintage has set new records for the value of the island’s wine grapes, with Tasmania producing just 0.91% of Australia’s total wine grapes but representing 4.37% of its value this year.

There are currently 2000-plus hectares under vine, producing 16,280 tonnes of fruit — up from 47ha producing 154 tonnes of fruit in 1986.

According to the Tasmania government, the wine industry is well on its way to reach its targeted growth of 1.5 million cases of wine by 2020, a trebling of wine production since 2013.

Viticulturist Dr Richard Smart, who was recently elected a Fellow of the Australian Society of Viticulture and Oenology, told The Tasmania Times more can be done.

"Tasmania is just not growing to its full potential. Investment in New Zealand runs rings around what is happening in Tasmania," he said. "The UK wine industry is also growing rapidly, especially for sparkling wine production. Ten years ago, it was the same size as Tasmania’s. Now it has 2500ha of vines – compared to Tasmania’s 2000ha – and more vineyards are being planted each year.

"If one looks at the near future – taking into account the growing global demand for wine and the increasing interest in premium wine – I believe that Tasmania is one of the great areas of the wine world that is ripe for serious investment."