April 30, 2009

A Surprise Along the Way

April Again.

Never sure what might lie around each bend, we made our way deeper into the lush country. And after a long day along the river, Chinskirin convinced me to stop, I suspect, hoping I would come to my senses and turn back.

Instead -- oh, happy accident -- we found ourselves at the foot of the vineyards at Goaty Hill. So I pulled a reluctant Chinskirin along to see what was on offer. And -- oh, happy accident redux -- they had just opened a bottle of the 2006 Goaty Hill Riesling.

It had a brilliant goût de pétrole on the nose, with bright lime and grapefruit acidity, a dense and honeyed glycerin quality and sweet granitic finish. Perhaps my senses had been weakened by the miles, but I thought it was outstanding.

We also tasted the current release, the 2008. It was less Spätlesen in character, and more in line with the bright, fresh Rieslings I associate with the region. And also very good.

I asked how long they'd been making such charming Rieslings this far from the Mosel, and the fellow told me I was drinking their introductory effort. I noted it was an impressive first try, and he proudly admitted they'd had some help. An up and coming talent, Fran Austin, who makes wines (but not the Arras Sparkling) at Bay of Fires, had been contracted to do the wine-making.

The grapes were grown in sandy soils, "rubbish" the fellow called them, implying the low quality of the dirt might be responsible for the high quality of the fruit. When I asked about vineyard pests, he offered us stories of an ongoing combat with thieving possums they were battling with with owl boxes and .22 caliber rifles. I had actually meant phylloxera, but I suppose possums are a more romantic foe.

It was when we thanked our host and made to continue on our way that I heard again the name I'd heard rumored of in Melbourne; it was nothing more than a whisper that chased us further up river.


David McDuff said...

Did the question ever come back around to phylloxera?

Laboratory Chief said...

Not at Goaty Hill, but later in the trip I did find a winemaker who had some interesting things to say on the topic. Keep in mind that all of this is hearsay and unverified, because, let's face it, I'm not even a very good FAKE wine journalist. But I was told there is no phylloxera on the island at present. And there is a fair amount of own-rooted vines (vitus vinifera) -- but deciphering which is which and where is which proved tough even for an ungrafted ideologue such as myself. More frighteningly, Tasmania has no specific quarantine or other anti-phylloxera program in place. Seems like it would be a good use of government funds to map the vineyards according to rootstock and put in place some few measures to make sure the island stays bug free.

I think in general the wine industry (loose term) in Tasmania is in infancy. I think there's a lot of hobbyists and retirees in charge. Which is not to say there aren't some dead serious wine-makers in Tassie. There are certainly a number of those. And recently many of the bigger Aussie wine companies have made investments in Tasmanian vineyards, so the place is probably best understood as being in a transitional phase, winewise. The wine-producing potential for the area has certainly been identified, but I think the "industry" just has some necessary maturing to do. And hopefully a more systematic approach to keeping Tasmania phylloxera free will be part of that.

Thanks for asking the question, McD. Been bugging me (no pun intended) how I was going to get this bit into the story.