Apsley Gorge Vineyard

Apsley Gorge Vineyard

There are plenty of jokes about Tasmania being “backwards” and twenty years behind the rest of the country, but when it comes to wine, there is a lot that the mainlanders could learn from the oenologists over on the Apple Isle. For a region first colonised by Europeans in the early 19th century, the state has very quickly gained a stellar reputation as an industry leading cool climate region. Once seen as an outlier in a geographically isolated part of the country, the advantage of having a naturally pristine environment, ideal soils and a workable climate have enabled the Tasmanian industry pioneers to carve a niche as arguably our sunburnt country’s best cool climate region.

I’ve undertaken a few tours of Tasmanian wineries over the years and each time I’ve sampled their local wares, I’ve been struck by the increasing stylistic similarities to French wines – especially with their pinot noir and chardonnay. And I’m not for one moment suggesting that there’s anything wrong with that – who doesn’t love a pinot or chardonnay from Burgundy? But the influence of the Europeans in our nation’s smallest state is apparently difficult to shake – if one risks political incorrectness by excluding the traditional owners, the land mass was reportedly first sighted by a Dutchman (Abel Tasman), first landed on by a French explorer (Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne), first settled by the British at Hobart and now, it’s back to the French to exert their influence on one of the state’s most significant industries.

These days there is a growing industry with over 230 wineries across the state which focus their efforts on cool climate varietals. From the Tamar Valley near Launceston, to the Coal River Valley north of Hobart, the Derwent Valley, Pipers River and the East Coast Wine region in the East (obviously!), there are sub-regions producing old world styles with a regional twist.

A close mate of mine spent a week on the Island recently and compiled a box of a dozen of the “best” wines he sampled during his tour and sent them for my “second opinion”. And he certainly left few stones unturned given that the eclectic mix of wines in the box were hardly household names; but gee, has his palate improved! Perhaps one of the most interesting and high-quality wines he discovered was a pinot noir by a producer I knew little about, Apsley Gorge Vineyard (AGV).  And I hope my ignorance can be forgiven considering that the small seven-hectare vineyard is located about 14 kms from the township of Bicheno – a village just north of Freycinet (and 185 kms north of Hobart) with a population of less than 1,000 people!

The vineyards themselves were planted by a former abalone diver and lobster fisherman, Brian Franklin in the early 1990s and remain to this day, low yield, unirrigated, dry grown blocks. Brian has been making the wines himself since the late 1990s and has honed his craft by spending over 20 years working vintages in Burgundy with some of the big-name vignerons of the premier French appellation.  So, it’s little surprise that the 2018 Apsley Gorge Vineyard pinot noir I tried bore striking resemblance in style to the premier cru wines that I’ve sampled from time to time (the grand cru burgundies are obscenely expensive so I’m not terribly familiar with those!).

It may be an attempt at the subterfuge of reverse psychology, but the AGV wine’s label is remarkably unremarkable. Beyond plain. Though the wine was anything but. Crack the stelvin, give it an hour to open up, pour a glass, and the depth of colour will take you by surprise. This is a quality pinot noir, but given the colour in the glass you’d be forgiven for thinking that you were looking at a heavier red. The depth of dark brooding red fruit is a little intimidating, though a brickish edge is evident on the sides of the glass. Take a whiff, and the aroma of maraschino cherry, ripe plums, cherries and redcurrants will have your hand on autopilot drawing the glass towards your pursed lips to sip the luxurious liquid. It’s texturally perfect, alluring and foreboding, unsurprisingly in the style of the French masters. The interplay between fruit, tannin, oak and savoury anise notes is like a Baroque period orchestra – long flowing, melodic lines, contrasted by texture and fruit composition. There’s a richness on show that only subtle spiciness and grainy tannins can subdue. I love the dichotomy of power of fruit and sweet, earthy funkiness.

Wine this good is never cheap – and at $70 or so a bottle, it’s not designed for quaffing. But if you need evidence that the fruit forwardness of the Tassie wines means they’re really not backward at all, pinot like the 2018 AGV is case in point. You won’t find it in a bottle shop locally, but you’ll find it online at https://apsleygorgevineyard.com/online-store/. Serious pinot; and seriously good.


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