Thursday, June 20, 2013

We need more GIs: Tasmanian Wine

Well no I am not talking about Greg Inglis, though if we could clone him to help my struggling NRL team the Tigers, I wouldn’t say no. In this instance I am talking about Geographical Indications, which formally identify wines as originating from a region or locality. Specifically, I’m thinking of Tasmania, which simply has one GI for the whole of the state.

I’ve been meaning to write this piece for a while, and as is often the case these days, a twitter conversation a little while back provided the motivation I needed to actually better articulate my thoughts. The discussion was between a number of Tasmanian winemakers, and the debate basically boiled down to those who thought brand Tasmania had served them well and that consumers weren’t necessarily ready for change, and those who think it’s well past time for Tasmania to join the rest of Australia in highlighting and celebrating the diversity that is on offer from specific regions and sub regions.

Of course Tasmania has plenty of people excited. It is an area of huge vinous potential. Sparkling wine and Pinot Noir are the standouts. One of the key things it lacks, however, is any real distinction and delineation between regions. For other states, names like Barossa, Yarra, and Hunter are well known beyond just the world of regular wine drinkers. And they are known for specific styles of wines. If you asked the average wine drinker to name a Tasmanian wine region, however, I think they would struggle. Maybe it hasn’t appeared to be necessary because Tasmania is perceived as a small state in land mass and therefore referring to a wine as being from Tasmania has been seen to be distinction enough. Maybe a couple of decades ago that was sufficient given how nascent the industry was at that point, and indeed a positive from a marketing perspective in the sense that Tasmania is viewed as the clean, green state.

In 2013, however, it is far from sufficient. From a viticultural perspective, Tasmania is a huge region. Its landmass can easily overlay an area in Victoria from Geelong, up to Heathcote across to Rutherglen, and down to Gippsland. No one would ever seriously discuss these 4 wine regions in the same breath, beyond the fact that they happen to be in one state, given that they all produce distinctive wines. The fact we now actually have identifiable regions in Tasmania just reinforces this. Wine Tasmania talk of a wine trail that includes Coal River, Huon, and the Derwent in the South. There are the east coast wineries around Freycinet. In the north, proximate to Launceston there is the Tamar Valley, while there are another lot of wineries around Devonport in the northwest. Now I don’t propose that these should necessarily be the GI’s. There may be better, more logical configurations, and I’m nowhere near versed enough in the geography and intricacies of Tasmanian wine to offer up strong views on the specifics of the GIs. Suffice to say a cursory glance at a map, and knowledge that Tasmania is not one large flat tundra, is enough to tell you that one GI for the entire state is not enough.

This isn’t to say that you go from one extreme to another, and have to completely ignore brand Tasmania. Far from it. There’s a positive association with almost any produce that comes from Tasmania, and wine is no different in this regard. But ultimately saying your wine comes from Tasmania doesn't provide much more distinction than producing a wine of Victoria, South Australia, or any other state. To continue the comparison with Victoria, the second smallest state, try talking intelligently about Victorian Pinot Noir as a whole. It's a bit of a meaningless exercise. Break it down however by Yarra Pinot, Mornington Pinot, Macedon Pinot etc. and you start having a meaningful conversation and meaningful differentiation. Consider the sub regions of Red Hill, Merricks, and Tuerong in the Mornington Peninsula and there is a real level of interest and understanding that comes with your drinking. This increasing regional and sub-regional articulation has happened through the rest of Australian wine in recent times and it has been an entirely positive development. There’s no logical reason to my mind why this shouldn’t happen with Tasmania.

There are those who believe that Tasmania will end up making some of Australia’s greatest wine. Undoubtedly vine age, and greater winemaking experience will go a long way to this potential realisation. Greater regionalisation needs to be a part of this march as well.


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