The island of Tasmania is officially a single wine region, but the range of climates and soils spread across this island compare to the diversity found in a state like South Australia or New South Wales. Tasmania’s lack of subregions is due to regulations requiring a minimum harvest tonnage for every delimited region, which the small Tasmanian production would not meet. Tasmania is celebrated for its cooler climate, though there are a handful of vineyards warm enough to ripen Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz. Not surprisingly, the image of the island is based on its success with grapes that thrive in cooler climates: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Pinot Gris, used for both still and sparkling wine.
Tasmanian viticulture began in the southern part of the island, an unofficial division drawn from the northeast corner to southwest coast of the island. There are four distinct winegrowing districts in the South, the Derwent valley, Huon Valley, Coal River/Richmond and the Cranbrook/Bicheno area on the east coast. Of these areas the Coal River Valley/Richmond has been recognized for an uncommon dry, moderate climate with an elevated number of hours of sunshine, despite being at latitudes which would otherwise be concerningly cold. Soils within each district vary, combining sandstone derived silica deposits that limit vine vigor with rich black alluvial peat, reflecting the many geologic eras which have dynamically shaped the landscape of the island. Pinot Noir alone accounts for over 40% of the total plantings in southern Tasmania, producing a complex and rich style, while Riesling and Chardonnay round out the top three grapes planted.
The unofficial northern Tasmania subregion encompasses the entire northwestern half of the island. Relative to southern Tasmania it has a slightly warmer climate, with plentiful rain throughout the growing season and frequent frost threats in springtime. Vineyards are mostly on north and east facing slopes to maximize sunlight. The grapes grown are consistent with plantings in southern Tasmania with over 45% of total acreage dedicated to Pinot Noir, followed by Chardonnay, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc. Two areas of particular importance are the Tamar Valley and Piper River area. The Tamar River is a 64 kilometer (40 mile) long tidal river connecting the city of Launceston with the north coast of the island. The basalt derived gravel soils here are well draining, and clay subsoils retain moisture to nourish vines throughout the growing season. Though Pinot Noir and white varietals dominate, in the right sites, late ripening varietals also can reach maturity, producing unique examples of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The Piper River, just to the east of the Tamar Valley, is slightly hillier and more noted for well-draining, loose ironstone soils. The Piper River, with its bright sunshine and cooling breezes from the ocean, is favorably compared to the Champagne region, and resultingly, one of its most celebrated products are its traditional method sparkling wines, made from the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grown here.