November 7, 2013

Tolpuddle Vineyard – A dinner that led to owning a piece of history!

I am sure that we have all experienced it! That purchase made at that moment of compulsive insanity that ends up leading to something brilliant. For most of us, it is something relatively small, in Shaw + Smith founder Michael Hill Smith’s (pictured above) case, it was a vineyard that has an incredible history and happens to produce stunning wine.

The story goes that Shaw + Smith’s Hill Smith went to Launceston, nestled on the junction point of Tasmania’s Tamar, North Esk and South Esk Rivers, on Saint Valentine’s Day, apparently with no intention of buying a vineyard.  And then, winemaker Dr. Andrew Pirie brought out his computer and the conversation turned to soil, climate and the best vineyard sites in Tasmania.

It must be said that this is one of those arsey pickups. Tolpuddle Vineyard was the third vineyard to be seen that trip and was not for sale. The team just wanted to see this acclaimed vineyard along with some of the others in the area, to kick the dirt and gain some insight into the wines and how the vineyards sit in the cool gentle landscape that is Tasmania.

A landscape that at first glance is not so dissimilar to Shaw + Smith’s stomping grounds in the Adelaide Hills. At the time, Tolpuddle was owned by Tony Jordon, Gary Crittenden and the Casimaty family, who planted it in 1988. It is a vineyard with great pedigree having been included in many great sparklings such as Arras and Heemskerk and was recognised in 2006 as the winner of the inaugural Royal Agricultural Society of Tasmania’s Vineyard of the Year Award.

Whilst the name sounds like it has been romantically plucked out of a Tolkien classic, the history of Tolpuddle Vineyard is perhaps more interesting and definitely more grounded. The vineyards roots are intrinsically entwined with the fate of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. The Martyrs were sent to Tasmania as convicts after being found guilty of swearing oaths to each other to form a ‘friendly society’ to campaign for better wages for agricultural workers in Dorset in the South of England.  The leader of the Tolpuddle Martyrs was George Loveless who, it has been reported, worked on the property where the Tolpuddle vineyard is planted during his incarceration.

So the vineyard changed hands in 2011. After some work in the vineyard, such as reengineering the vineyard’s pruning system to improve ripeness, the 2012 vintage has just been released.  Available from October 2013, these wines have been bottled to stand alone under the Tolpuddle Vineyard label rather than under the umbrella of the Shaw + Smith brand.  According to Global Sales and Marketing Manager, David Lemire, they ‘wanted to maintain the integrity of the dirt.  The fruit backs up their belief in the quality of the site.’

‘it is not emaciated. It is on a journey’

Shaw + Smith has become well known for having a tight varietal focus which has allowed them to produce some of Australia’s most elegant examples of chardonnay, pinot noir, sauvignon blanc and shiraz. All sourced from their Adelaide Hills vineyards. By producing only chardonnay and pinot noir from the Tolpuddle Vineyards, the team has continued this focus in the midst of the growing popularity of other varietals from neighbouring Coal River region wineries such as Domaine A’s and Clemens Hill’s sauvignon blancs and Frogmore Creek’s extensive range which includes several styles of riesling.

David Lemire MW 

‘Tasmanian wine is coming of age,’ as Lemire tells it, ‘there is a sense of intensity but not bigness.’ To listen to Michael Hill Smith, ‘These wines are more brooding in essence.’ Making wines from Tasmania that have fruit purity is not the challenge – making wines with purity and ‘X-factor’ apparently is.

Well, if this is the case, this double act is a sure bet to get across the board red ‘Xs’ in the grand final.

Tasting notes:

The Tolpuddle Chardonnay 2012 ($65) has a citrus and peachy stonefruit elegance that captures the imagination with its fresh pure Tasmanian fruit acid line filled out with judicious oak to give it a soft creaminess. In the mouth it gains a savoury edge and some cinnamon spice.  The team described their initial thought of this wine as being ‘backward and tight – it is not emaciated. It is on a journey’. I could not have said it better, It is a wine that will flesh out in age.

Equally as fresh is the Tolpuddle Pinot Noir 2012 ($75). Perfumed with a floral note overlaying raspberry fruit, peppery spice and a pinch of thyme, the vibrance of the fruit has been calmed with spicy vanilla on the finish. Hill-Smith believes that this is more brooding in essence.  It is good drinking now and over time the complexity of this pinot will continue to unfurl if you wish to hold on it a few bottles. 


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