Something interesting is happening with the way we're starting to discuss Tasmania as it relates to wine. "The sceptics would say Tasmania is all one GI, but it's very easy to refute that when you see the wines coming out of all the different regions," says winemaker Peter "Dredgey" Dredge. As he refers to it, GI stands for Geographical Indicator, a fancy (and legal) way of describing where a wine is made. Discussions around GIs often take place over time when the broader wine narrative of place pushes against the nuance of a sub-region. We've seen a similar push-pull tension when talking about GIs in Central Otago in New Zealand's South Island. Similarly, winemakers have the option of labelling wines under the umbrella of one static region or a specific sub-region.
Under his label, Dr Edge wines, Dredge has created a series of pinot noir, chardonnay and riesling releases that celebrate the different expressions of the northern, southern and eastern regions of Tasmania. The wines are all made in the same way to highlight their unique qualities. "I'm a big believer that 95 per cent of people just want to drink my wine and not think about it, but for those who are curious, I mention the region on the labels so people can look into it," explains Dredge.
No one knows the legacy of southern Tasmanian wine better than Mardi Ellis, daughter of Gerald Ellis, who founded Meadowbank Wines in 1976. She is now the torchbearer of some of the family's phenomenal vineyards under the guidance of her father, together with winemaker Dredge. A sustainable, family-first philosophy focusing on "stewardship of the land" drives the winery and the region's success with more than 80 per cent of the family's 1987, 1997 and 2007 plantings going into some of Tasmania's best-known wines, such as Arras. "The Agricultural Society of Tasmania told Dad that 'grapes would never grow here' and now he plants more sites every 10 years," says Ellis.
So what draws winemakers to the south? Kiwi Samantha Connew asked herself this question in 2016, launching her brand Stargazer in southern Tasmania's Coal River Valley. "It was a process of elimination," she explains. "I needed to be down south because of the lower rainfall; and it's cooler, making it suitable for organic management and suited the three grape varieties I wanted to grow."
Connew and Dredge agree that wines from the south have an almost "ethereal" quality. Connew describes it as "an intensity of flavour still with a light touch", this is compared with wines from the east which are "slightly more muscular and have incredible savoury and graphite-like tannins".
"We should absolutely be championing the sub-regionality of Tasmania, but we don't need to have registered GIs to be able to talk about the nuances of these sites," she says. "I want people to understand we're not one homogenous blob but we've only got 200 hectares of vines in the ground; what's the point of splitting everyone up and drawing up boundaries?"
Bottles to try
There's a reason why this wine has a cult following; it's a textbook example of a "crunchy, chilled red". The combination of established vines (from 1987) and newer 2015 plantings create a depth of flavour rarely seen in this variety.
This bitter-sweet vermouth is made with pinot noir and syrah from the Derwent Valley and the D'Entrecasteaux Channel, and aromatised with locally sourced wormwood, boronia, native pepperberry and lavender tea tree. It is then sweetened with Bruny Island honey for good measure; serve on ice with a sprig of rosemary.