What is the future of Tasmanian sparkling wine? Hint – the answer could be stranger than you think.
Opinion over what constitutes the essence of a good sparkling wine will differ with every winemaker that you ask. Some will say terroir, some will say the hand of the winemaker, and some will say a bit of both. Some might even say luck, and they wouldn’t be wrong.
What is becoming more and more important today, however, is the value of research. The ‘Block 27 Experimental Vineyard’ at the Kayena Vineyard in the Tamar Valley is providing a valuable proving ground for research into the growth and improvement of Pinot Noir in Tasmania, a major contributor to quality Tasmanian sparkling production.
There is a common conception that sparkling wine from France is the only sparkling wine. Well, actually, most of it is Champagne, and if they called it Sparkling wine, we would have to sue. But not so long ago in the 1990s the view, even within Tasmania, was that sparklings would be made from surplus table wine grapes. There was also a lack of individual research into each vineyard’s nuances and idiosyncrasies.
Trials and research into the variability of growth between Coal River Valley in the south and Tamar Valley in the North, is explored in the article ‘Sparkling wine research heats up in cool climate Tasmania’, available in the Wine & Viticulture Journal released January/February 2014, and authored by Mark Smith. Some of the trials have involved different pruning processes, and researchers discovered that, in regards to Pinot Noir, cane pruning produced ‘apical dominance’, or in other words, the dominance of one cane over another. The same was found during the cane pruning of Tolpuddle Vineyard.
Dr Fiona Kerslake confirmed in her report that spur pruning provided a more even and denser canopy for the grapes. Interestingly, however, Dr Kerslake’s report seemed to find that when first converting to spur pruning in 2010, the vines had lower total grape phenolics, meaning that the final wine could be aromatically different when compared to the same vine which may have previously been cane pruned. What the researchers also discovered was that, overall, seasonality and weather had more influence on grape properties than their experimental pruning.
What has become apparent to those such as Dr Andrew Pirie, the doyen of Tasmanian wine, is that the Scott Henry trellising method, with vines on a higher cordon having shoots trained down, and vines on a lower cordon trained up, has allowed even grape growth.
The experiment concluded with a blind tasting of four experimental sparkling wines made by Dr Kerslake, from the 2010 and 2011 vintages. The conclusion was the cane pruned wines scored highest (from both vintages), and in both instances yields were very high, perhaps higher than acceptable vineyard standards. The end result is actually a question – could cropping at higher levels in a cane pruned system give better sparkling wines for Tasmania? Or were 2011 and 2010 just those kind of vintages where it worked? And would this experiment work in a warmer climate?