Pinot Hunting in the Coal River Valley
For most tourists, a trip to Hobart means visits to arts galleries, tours of convict constructed architecture or even just days spent trawling through stalls at the famous Salamanca Markets, but for pinot-philes like me, the beckoning of the nearby Coal River Valley and its cool climate wineries is a temptation too alluring to resist.
The Coal River Valley is conveniently located only a short 15–20 minute drive from Hobart’s city centre and is part of the City of Clarence, nestled between the Meehan and Pontos Ranges. Its history dates back to about 1823 when a bridge across the Coal River was constructed and pastoralists and farmers settled in the region. These days, the dominant form of primary production is grape growing; which is unsurprising given the quality of fruit that the local vineyards are turning out vintage after vintage.
As you’d expect from a cool climate like this, the stars of the viticultural side are the chardonnay, riesling and pinot noir – though pinot gris and sauvignon blanc are proving to be reliable contributors. As much as I enjoy cool climate chardonnay, during my recent tour of the Valley’s wineries it was the pinot noir that my palate found most engaging; perhaps in part because of the early spring cold snap that coincided with my visit to the region. I’m not sure how the early settlers endured the local winters without central heating and reverse cycle air-conditioning!
Despite the relative adolescence of Coal River in viticultural terms, there are already dozens of wineries in the wider region. Perhaps the best known and most widely acclaimed is Pooley – an outfit that grew quickly from 2003 after the heritage listed Georgian style Belmont property was bought by John and Libby Pooley to add a second vineyard to their holdings. While the hero of their wines is probably the riesling, their pinot noir will satisfy the most discerning of oenophiles. Their Coal River Valley pinot sells at $50 a bottle cellar door and is made in a style that will withstand time on its side in a cellar; perhaps more austere than racy.
Down the road at Frogmore Creek, the culinary experience at their picturesque restaurant is as impressive as their pinot noir. Their range starts with the 42 Degrees South Pinot at $32 a bottle and lands at the other end of the spectrum with the Winemaker’s Reserve Pinot at a lofty $90 price point. Perched comfortably in the middle is the Frogmore Creek Pinot Noir that arrives in your cellar at $48 a bottle.
Over at Nocton in the heart of the Valley, their entry level Estate Pinot Noir sells at $38 a bottle and is lighter in style but very lively in its youthful exuberance. It’s more of a “drink now” proposition that would be well suited to a summer afternoon tipple, slightly chilled and used as a curtain raiser to a heavier red served with BBQ fare. The Nocton Willow Reserve Pinot is a step up both in complexity and price. I reckon that the intensity of fruit and its oak induced spiciness more than justifies the $55 ask.
While there are many contenders for the mantle of best pinot of the district, to my palate, the Puddleduck pinot out-swims its rival by the narrowest of margins. The 2019 Puddleduck Pinot Noir sells at $48 cellar door and oozes raspberry on the nose and delivers ripe cherries, stewed mulberries and pepper through a mouth-filling middle. On the finish, velvety tannins emerge and harness the spice to guide the red fruit characters through a charismatic conclusion.
If the magic of the moment takes you, it’s worth upping the ante to try the reserve level Puddleduck “Ducks in a Row” pinot noir. It was the first reserve level wine to be made by owners, Darren and Jackie Brown, but more than justifies its $80 price tag by using juice from only the best barriques of the vintage. The plush red fruit drives waves of Mon Cheri and grumichama cherry to titillate your taste buds before the decadence of the experience becomes apparent in the spice laden but opulent conclusion. I reckon you’ll find it difficult not to become infatuated with the silky tannins and oak induced spiciness that appear through the back palate thanks to the crafty use of 75% of new French oak.
While international travel is off the agenda, there’s no better time to explore our domestic wine regions. And if the capital of the Apple Isle is on your itinerary, get your ducks in a row and arrange a trip to the Coal River region; it’s a happy hunting ground for pinot lovers!