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48 hours in Launceston

This article was first published in the August/September edition of The Wine Magazine (Gourmet Traveller Wine). See the original 

here.

It’s not all stunning scenery and superb cool-climate wines in the north of Tasmania. Just kidding: that’s exactly what awaits – and more – in this richly diverse region of Australia.

From the moment you step off the tarmac in Tassie, there’s something distinctively different about this corner of Australia. Yes, the scent of eucalypt in the air and the ‘Lookout for roos’ road signs are clear pointers you’ve not crossed international borders, but the air seems fresher – the southerly breeze hits Hobart after travelling just 5,785km from Antarctica’s icy peaks. The island’s landmass is incredibly diverse from rainforests to snow-capped mountains. And the people of Tasmania? Well, they have a quiet confidence that would win the World Cup if warm hospitality and pride in produce were a sport. You’ll want to put aside at least 48 hours to explore the wineries of Northern Tasmania from a home base in Launceston. With a couple of days up your sleeve, you’ll barely scrape the sides of the region, so don’t be surprised that you’ve booked a return trip before departure.

Day One

There’s no better way to kick off a weekend in Launceston than with a refreshing walk along the Cataract Gorge. Starting in the heart of town, take the time to walk towards the botanical gardens and back to grab a caffeine hit. Coffee is taken seriously in Tassie – after all, it is only an hour from Melbourne by plane. Sweet Brew ( sweetbrew.com.au) is a caffeine haven, while if you like freshly baked pastries and house churned butter with your coffee, then Bread and Butter ( breadandbuttertasmania.com.au) is a must. The warehouse-style space with smiling staff and hot buttery aromas wafting from behind the counter is topped off with bottomless filter coffee. 

As the Tamar River twists and turns its way down from the Bass Strait, it slices the land in two, crafting some very different aspects for wine growing. Wind (or should that be wine?) your way up the eastern side of the river, toward Piper’s Brook where some of the region’s oldest vineyards sit. A late morning venture up the driveway of Sinapius ( sinapius.com.au) is a jaw-dropping start to any journey. The drystone walls were painstakingly handmade by the original founders, however, it was Linda Morice and her late husband Vaughn Dell who fell in love with the site and took over in 2005, beginning a period of radical vineyard transformation.

Morice is a woman of strength and genuine hospitality. “Sinapius was driven by my husband wanting to push the boundaries and see what can be done. So much wine in Tasmania has been made traditionally; my husband travelled a lot and researched a lot and would ask, ‘Why can’t we try that?’ The only way you find out is by trying it. Luckily we grow the wine as well as make the wine, so we get to see the full circle. It doesn’t matter if we are making small runs of wine; they are interesting and so much more enjoyable. You are also genuinely responding to the year you get. It’s a story and a reflection of the year that was, and a reminder that some things are out of our control.”

The bright and open cellar door was renovated a couple of years ago and reflects the wine produced here – pure, elegant and evocative of the vineyard it comes from. “It’s important that you see the vines from the cellar door.” Tastings are A$15 and include a sample of six wines from across the range. “We aim to produce super-premium wines that are interesting, distinctive and really speak of where they were grown and how they were grown. There’s a creative element that also comes in – we’ve got 14 varieties in high-density plantings here.”

Next up, head to neighbouring winery Delamere ( delamerevineyards.com.au). Shane Holloway and Fran Austin purchased the estate after having their eye on it for some time. With 15 years under their belt at their winery and a wealth of experience prior (Holloway was winemaker at Dalrymple and Austin at Bay of Fires), they have seen a big shift.

“People are now travelling specifically to come and see the wine and what’s going on,” Holloway says. “We’ve become a lot more destination-based. And as a result, the wine business is starting to reflect that. Tassie is less than one per cent of the Australian wine industry but we have a demand that’s five or six per cent. It’s a good problem to have as a producer.”

Sparkling wine makes up most of the production, with the traditional method completed on-site; Holloway is a big advocate of the importance of locality when it comes to wine. “I think the biggest thing that we miss with terroir is that it also reflects the culture in which a wine is made,” he says. “I think that cultural aspect to wine is probably more important than anything else.” The community that has developed the wine industry in Northern Tasmania is as much a part of the terroir as the soil. “We don’t care what anyone thinks, we just go and make wine and then we go and find like-minded people that like what we do. And I think that’s healthy because provenance is still a really important part of every single one of our brands. It gives a sense of place; you’re now seeing there is a new wave of winemaking that is happening.”

To finish up, settle in for a tasting flight (booking is essential and starts at A$15), find a spot to relax in the garden and pick your picnic from the fridge, with local producers on offer such as Bay of Fires Cheese, Casalinga Gourmet Meats, and Coal River Farm.

Once you get back to town, pop into The Pinot Shop to peruse a few more shelves of great local wine before heading onto Havilah ( havilahwine.com.au) for one last tasting of the day and a casual dinner at this relatively new to the scene wine bar/shop. Cellar Door Sundays are when you’ll find the venue operating as a cellar door for their two wine brands. Walk-ins are welcome, and there are plenty of veggie options alongside charcuterie and an enviable French cheese selection.

Day Two

By now, you’ll have a taste of the generosity of the people and the produce in Northern Tasmania. This itinerary is as much about the wines as it is about the people and these are all intimate, small family producers. Many of them sell out each vintage, as the wines are made with heart and soul, and speak of the place – fruit intensity here is at a peak and there is a distinctive difference from the southern parts of the state. 

Kick-off with a choice between two wineries to start the day. Start at Holm Oak ( holmoakvineyards.com.au) from 11am for a seated flight at Bec and Tim Duffy’s winery, where they have been crafting wine with love since 2006. Take a pinot ‘Winemaker’s Choice’ flight, or take your pick of eight wines from the range which is increasingly focused on utilising natural ferments and clonal variation when it comes to pinot.

Alternatively, head to the furthermost winery of the trip at Ghost Rock Winery ( ghostrock.com.au), before winding your way back to Launceston. It’s about an hour’s drive to get there, but the journey is well worth it – not only for the wines but also for the sunlit eatery with sweeping views. If you skipped breakfast, now’s the time for a bite to eat with your vino, otherwise simply taste through the collection. Bookings are essential for both lunch and tastings, and are available from 12 pm.

The next stop is about a 25-minute drive from Holm Oak, and one of Tasmania’s most sustainable cellar doors. Moores Hill Winery ( mooreshill.com.au) is completely powered by 108 solar panels and collects all of its roof water. Wastewater is treated on-site and conservation is always the aim when possible. Winemaker Julian Allport has finessed the application of their philosophy down to the smallest of details, with both hands firmly in the action from start to finish. The intimate cellar door is cosy in the cooler weather, and open and breezy on warmer days. Wine flights are best complemented with a light lunch of a grazing board or seafood plate. 

The final stop has won accolades not just for its wine, but also the newly minted cellar door. Sweeping views stretch from Stoney Rise (stoneyrise.com) and you’d be hard-pressed to find a more heavenly way to finish the day – especially when the sun is shining. The stylish and geometric lines of the building are softened with indoor plants while floor-to-ceiling windows frame the postcard-worthy views. Winemaker and owner Joe Holyman tells me, “We opened a year ago. The concept was that we don’t want it to be like anyone else’s cellar door. Our thought was that we have a proper wine list. It’s almost like a wine bar rather than a cellar door.”

If you’re feeling peckish, enjoy a mid-afternoon snack (food orders close at 3 pm). French cheeses and imported La Belle-iloise sardines, Fork It Farm pâté de tête and roast pistachios. Simple pleasures such as these provide the ideal accompaniment to the international wine list.

Bottles for the Boot

2020 Sinapius Clem, A$38

A field blend of seven low-yielding varieties, the fruit enjoys a natural ferment on skins for 12 days, producing an interesting orange wine with persistent flavour intensity.

2019 Sinapius Close Planted Chardonnay, A$57

Full malo, wild yeast and fruit from high density plantings. A chardonnay with gentle acidity, well balanced and a sense of effortless clarity. The work in the vineyard is apparent in the fruit. Think grapefruit and oyster shell.

2015 Delamere Blanc de Blancs, A$70

There’s an elegance and delicacy to the chardonnay in this méthode champenoise blanc de blancs. Complexity and length with classic oyster shell minerality.

2018 Delamere Hurlo’s Rosé, A$80

A serious Australian rosé. Savoury, complex and ageworthy – almost chardonnay-like in its complexity and weight. Whole bunch pressed, wild ferment and a year in barrel lets the intensity of the fruit sing. Great length, too.

2020 Stoney Rise Pinot Noir, A$32

A great value pinot from northern Tassie. A drink now, approachable pinot with mouth-watering acidity and layers of flavour that belie the price point. At 11.5% it’s also the perfect lunchtime drop. This wine makes up 70% of Stoney Rise’s total annual production.

2021 Stoney Rise Grüner Veltliner, A$32

Do yourself a favour and try this wine. Green apple, almond, and oodles of texture thanks to a healthy dose of lees stirring. Holyman suggests pairing with abalone, and abalone is always a good idea.

2019 Haddow & Dineen Private Universe Pinot Noir, A$50

Jeremy Dineen’s touch is evident in this sublime pinot. Whole bunch ferment from a unique site. Intense, structured, thoughtful. They don’t have a cellar door so keep an eye out for this label.

2019 Haddow & Dineen Grain of Truth Pinot Gris, A$50

A stellar wine from this producer. A little bit of malo and a complexity of flavour bursting with fresh peach, bright apple, honeyed nuts. Textural and intense with a piercing purity of fruit at its heart.

2021 Ghost Rock Supernatural Pét-Nat, A$30

A fun wine and dangerously easy to drink. The field blend of pinot noir, chardonnay and sav blanc is an electric shade of flamingo pink. A whack of pomegranate on the nose is followed by gentle fizz that hits the back palate.

2021 Ghost Rock Supernatural Pinot Noir, A$30

Wild ferment, no fining, no filtration, low SO2 and packs a flavour punch for a pinot under the $30 mark. Vibrant red fruit and black pepper. Equally delicious chilled.

2019 Holm Oak Wizard Pinot Noir, A$65

A merry-go-round of chocolate and macerated strawberries, raspberries and a hint of liquorish, juniper and spice among the earthiness. A nice amount of grip on the palate and a lingering finish.

2021 Moores Hill Riesling $35

A lick of residual sugar is perfectly balanced with a clean acid drive. White florals give way to a mouth-watering plate of lemon and lime. This wine is crying out for a plate of oysters.

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