Background

Welcome to the Pinot Isle

With a cheeky glint in the eye, Tassie’s winemaking folk will tell you with absolute surety that our little island’s Pinot Noir is Australia’s (and the world’s) best. Here, vines cling to rocky hillsides buffeted by the winds of the roaring forties and through valleys rolling down to ocean or river’s edge. These are the toughest of vines, carefully nurtured to produce wines with an undeniable sense of place. Call us biased if you will, but there’s something about the chilly Southern Ocean-fed air down here as well as the indefatigable makers themselves, who grow and craft wine from these vineyards perched on the edge of the world. Some might say they’re crazy, but you can’t help but respect their persistence. After all, good things weren’t meant to be easy.

Many a talented winemaker has made their way down South, drawn by irresistible intrigue and the collective hum of quiet enthusiasm for Tasmania’s wine. Always the adventurous type, those up for a challenge are the ones that really thrive on our little island with (l)attitude – especially when they’re told that it can’t be done. From snow and roaring winds to incessant rain one day and searing sun the next, the trials of the climate in Tassie tells us at least one thing; the wine must be worth it. Or perhaps our growers and makers are crazy after all.

What defines Tassie’s Pinot Noir sometimes can’t even be described in words. When it can’t, mmms, ahhhs, zealous interpretive dance, bursts of song, reverent nods and *insert your own here* are all acceptable forms of communicative currency. Whether your preferred excitement rating is a red Ferrari or fireside reading chair (and whatever lies between), there’s a Tasmanian Pinot perfect for the ride. But proceed with a word of caution; Tassie wine isn’t for everyone, because we don’t make enough.

Still got questions? We bring to you Tasmania’s celebrated Pinot Noirs from across the island – each with more than a few good stories in their repertoire and all making this fickle little grape their own.

Don't forget, in Tassie it's all about quality not quantity.

The 2020 procurement of the Small Wonder vineyard (formerly known as Goaty Hill) has seen exciting change at full noise. This small but wonderful vineyard at the Northern end of the Tamar Valley overlooks the spectacular river to the east with a view of Bass Strait to the north. With the vineyard recently achieving organic certification, there is a precision in all stages of the growing and making process here at Small Wonder – picking relatively early to prioritise flavour and delicacy as well as using a mix of highly regarded Pinot clones planted across a variety of soil types.

This focused and nuanced winemaking approach allows Small Wonder to produce a range of Pinot Noir styles. The making of each iteration is akin to a ballet – dedication, hard work and precision culminate in each vintage. There’s no doubt that Pinot is hard to grow (particularly in Tassie); the grape is finicky and requires years of dedication to shine with poise and light-footed elegance in a mesmerising performance. Winemaker Andrew Trio says that the most notable characteristics of Tasmanian Pinot are the complex aromatics and great vibrancy – exceptional Pinot Noir can only be achieved in the coolest of climates, allowing for the slow accumulation of flavour and intensity in the resultant wine.

The Wine

A lithe and dancing wine, elegant in movement and light in step, the flagship wine in the Small Wonder range is the 'Little Life' Pinot Noir. The name is inspired by the brand ethos – a nod to celebrating life, minimising the impact on the environment, respecting the land and treading lightly.

Ultimate Enjoyment Location: Wineglass Bay on the Freycinet Peninsula, the views are spectacular, quintessentially Tasmania and worth every step to get there!

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The Small Wonder vineyard.

Beginning with a holiday to Tassie in the early 2000s and the result of some great bottles of Pinot along the journey, Barringwood’s Neville and Vanessa Bagot developed a fondness for this little island’s wine which eventually landed them with a vineyard. The buzz that they discovered on the island during this brief visit stayed with them and they returned for another journey, which included a visit to a cellar door at Lower Barrington in Tassie’s North West. They loved the wine so much that they left as the new owners of the estate. Today this vineyard produces the flagship Mill Block Pinot Noir, which was originally established (planted in 1993) on the site of a working sawmill.

Since this time, they have become a little obsessed with the nuances and diverse styles of pinot noir – Vanessa calls it their search for Pinot perfection. This has led to seeking out three distinct sets of terroir, from the ultra-cool North West to the maritime East Coast. The Lower Barrington vineyard sits perched on a north facing slope 280m above sea level and looks out across the Don Valley farm land to the Bass Strait, while the East Coast vineyard looks westward across windswept grazing land & vineyards to the hills further inland.

The Wine

Neville and Vanessa’s affection for Pinot Noir from Tasmania is reflected in their wine, which Vanessa says is like holding hands with a friend – it gives a wonderful sense of joy but never overwhelms you. The Pinot range is a celebration of the island’s diversity; from the delicate, elegant and complex Mill Block Pinot Noir (think Cate Blanchett) to the juicy and rich Grazier’s Pinot Noir, which is proudly bold-and-brave (a little more Grace Tame).

Ultimate Enjoyment Location: Carry a bit of extra weight in the form of a bottle of Barringwood Pinot Noir to the top of Mount Ossa – the perfect celebration of the walk to get there, the amazing view and the sense of achievement.

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Vanessa at Barringwood.

When Jack Denis Pooley (Denis) became a founding member of the Hobart Beefsteak and Burgundy Club in 1954, there were almost no vineyards in Tasmania at all. The namesake of Pooley Wines’ flagship Pinot Noir, it’s safe to say that Denis would be very proud of the legacy created by this three generation wine family.

The Pooley vineyard started as 17 rows planted by Denis and Margaret Pooley and now extends to 18 hectares across two properties in the Coal River Valley. A journey through the range is nothing short of an adventure, much like that which the Pooleys embarked on when they sailed from England – choosing Tassie as their destination after a coin flip. In fact, the Oronsay range is named after the RMS Oronsay which brought Margaret and Denis Pooley to Australia. These are bright, passionate wines made somewhat unconventionally.

From Halliday Wine Companion’s 2023 Winery of the Year to a myriad of other awards in their overflowing trophy cabinet, it’s clear that the Pooley family know and make great Pinot. For this, they credit Tassie's cool climate, coupled with the maritime influence - the ideal environment for growing the best quality grapes. In Tassie, it’s all about latitude - and different to the rest of the country where most cool climate wine regions are further from the ocean and cooler due to elevation or altitude. This terroir, combined with innovative styles of winemaking at Pooley, makes for Pinot like no other.

The Wine

The flagship Jack Denis Pooley Pinot Noir represents the best of the original vines at the Cooinda Vale vineyard from which the grapes are sourced. It was also Denis' happy place, where he loved spending time looking after the vineyard and finishing the day with a glass or two of Pinot Noir.

Tassie Mixtape Track: Ed Sheeran – Perfect (no interpretation required).

Ultimate Enjoyment Location: Freycinet National Park – from any incredible vantage point, gazing across at the Hazards while enjoying some great Pooley Pinot and good company.

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Pooley Pinot Noir.

If you ask winemaker Bec Duffy from the Tamar Valley’s Holm Oak what makes great Pinot Noir, it’s a recipe comprising a lot of patience, small steps forwards (and a few steps backwards) as well as an intimate knowledge of each vineyard block, Pinot clone and parcel of fruit that their vineyard home produces.

Bec’s passion for Pinot began almost accidentally – an opportunity arose to return to Tassie when she was living in WA focusing on making Shiraz and Cabernet wines. Fast forward 17 years and a picture-perfect Tamar valley vineyard, talented viticulturalist husband (Tim – the other half of this dynamic Pinot-producing duo) and a whole stack of learning later, Holm Oak are producing some of Tassie’s most loved Pinot Noirs.

The diversity of the (awesome) Pinot grown on this chilly little island can largely be attributed to its diverse topography; the individual valleys, nooks and hillsides, each a little different. In the upper reaches of the Tamar Valley where the expansive kanamaluka meets the open ocean, this diversity is epitomised within Holm Oak Vineyards’ own parcel of grapegrowing paradise, overlooking the Tamar River itself.

The first sip of Holm Oak Pinot Noir is a little like sliding into the driver’s seat of the red Ferrari – just before you hit the open road. Apparently Sally didn’t meet Harry, she tasted Holm Oak Pinot. When we asked Bec to describe the personality of Holm Oak’s four Pinot Noirs, she said quite simply and poignantly, they’re just like her, with a little bit of Tim. Down to earth, confident … not immaculate or too sophisticated, and it’s safe to say (this last part is in our words, not Bec’s), the absolute perfect measure of each.

The Wine

Lucky for us, Holm Oak produces several different Pinot Noirs which will take you on a journey from the lively and cheeky Protégé to ultra-nuanced The Wizard, channelling tunes from Prince and Queen all the way. The latter is their flagship, named after the property’s fascinating history of producing the finest tennis racquets initially (followed by, of course, wine) … Although that’s a story for another day, best told by Bec herself at the vineyard’s cellar door.

Tassie Mixtape Track: Prince – Delirious.

Ultimate Enjoyment Location: Derby. Fresh Tassie air, adventure, adrenaline and amazing scenery followed by a sauna and lake swim, and finishing with a glass of Pinot in front of the fire.

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Holm Oak's Bec Duffy.

Stargazer’s Samantha Connew fell in love with Pinot Noir well before her career in wine was on the cards. Enjoying a glass of Pinot at a tasting in Christchurch, Sam firmly decided this was the grape variety for her. Although she knew that she loved drinking it, she’s not sure exactly when she decided that she wanted to make it. A law career and that pivotal glass of Pinot both a fond memory, Samantha is now one of the country’s most celebrated winemakers.

Her love for Tasmanian Pinot Noir came later still, during a winemaking role in the Hunter Valley where she tried her hand at working with some Pinot grapes grown in Tassie. When the opportunity came up to relocate to this tough little island it was wholeheartedly Samantha’s. The purchase of a small block of land on the Coal River Valley – fortuitously already planted to Pinot Noir – sealed the deal and is where Palisander (Stargazer’s flagship Pinot) was born.

Since Samantha took over the reins at Palisander in 2016, the patch of undulating hillside looking South down the valley has been a hive of activity (rain, hail and shine). New plantings join the original vines to produce the extremely sought-after Stargazer wines. Classical with a twist, sumptuous and plush yet unexpected (a little bit Helen Mirren), our one word of advice is to get in early – no vintage release of wine crafted by Connew hangs around for long, unless it’s safely tucked away in your own cellar.

The Wine

Although Stargazer’s Palisander Pinot Noir has already had a mention, it certainly deserves another. The product of a truly incredible wealth of winemaking knowledge and an (almost) equally incredible site, each glass encapsulates all things wonderfully Tasmanian in a work of winemaking art.

Tassie Mixtape Track: Marlon Williams - Thinking of Nina

Ultimate Enjoyment Location: Pumphouse Point at Lake St Clair – one of Tassie’s best wilderness retreats. In the cooler months, cuddled up in a warm blanket watching the wintry mist rise around the lake outside.

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Samantha Connew (image credit: Wine Australia).

When it comes to revered Tasmanian Pinot Noir, Lowestoft is a new (and ultra cool) kid on the block. The acquisition of the historic and highly regarded Lowestoft vineyard has been the most pivotal point in the Fogarty Wine Group’s Pinot Noir journey to date.

While already knowing Lowestoft was a special vineyard site, the success of the inaugural Pinot Noir release was still a very pleasant surprise – the 2020 Lowestoft La Maison Pinot Noir was crowned Halliday Wine Companion’s 2023 Pinot Noir of the Year, marking the beginning of an epic journey. Experienced winemaker Liam McElhinney noted that Tasmania is the most extreme place he’s ever grown grapes and made wine. Nothing is easy here in Tassie, and Mother Nature can make or break your wine growing season overnight.

The Lowestoft wines hail from just three hectares of vines in Hobart’s North on the banks of the mighty Derwent River. The vineyard overlooks Mona and impressive mountains form the backdrop (simply stunning at sunrise). The flagship La Maison is named after the original and impressive Governor’s house (c. 1839) which proudly sits at the top of the vineyard. While La Maison might exude a sense of grandeur, put simply it's about darned good wine (with a hearty serving of confidence and charisma).

The Wine

If you’re wondering about the experience of the #1 Pinot of the Year … Those who know it best say it’s like slipping into your favourite crushed velvet smoking jacket and gliding through a field of cherry scented dreams on a scarlet unicorn called Felicity. Sounds good, no?

Tassie Mixtape Track: Toto – Rosanna (if you’re feeling anticipation, loss, regret and potential for redemption, you’re right on the Pinot money).

Ultimate Enjoyment Location: Lowestoft Pinot is a magnificent patchwork of beautifully interconnected contrasts – a perfect pairing for the undeniable magic of Binalong Bay on Tasmania's North East coast.

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Lowestoft vineyard.