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Friday 7 November 2014

A small Tasmanian family wine label is taking on the big guys - and winning

It is a little known fact that a small family-owned vineyard in the Derwent Valley, just north of Hobart, is the major provider of chardonnay for the iconic Penfolds Yattarna, which retails for around $120 a bottle. 

The Hanigan family, who have farmed their Mt Nassau property at Granton for five generations, cannot ask that kind of money for their Derwent Estate wines just yet - but they are closing in quickly with the new-release Calcaire 2011 Chardonnay retailing for $65. 

Andrew Hanigan in the new winery 

The unveiling of a new range of "reserve" wines completes a remarkable two years for Trevor and Pat Hanigan and their viticulturist son Andrew. 

The Hanigans have been working the land since 1913; farming sheep and cattle, growing vegetables, seed crops, poppies and quarrying for lime. They only planted grapes in 1993 and found the limestone-based alluvial soils and riverbank micro-climate proved ideal for producing top quality fruit. 

Planted with pinot noir, chardonnay, riesling, pinot gris and sauvignon blanc, their vineyards are treated with minimal intervention; insecticides and invasive pesticides are avoided whenever possible.
Much of the fruit from their vines was initially sold to mainland companies; including Penfolds, McWilliam’s and Accolade Wines, but they are now keeping more and more grapes for their own labels as they struggle to meet demand for their cool-climate wines. 

The Hanigans last week held an open day to mark the official opening of their new 600 square metre straw-bale winery and barrel room which was first used for the 2014 vintage after experienced winemaker John Schuts joined the team as a business partner.  
The Derwent Estate vineyards are spectacular
The family do all the vineyard work themselves; hand pruning, shoot thinning and hand picking in a bid to ensure maximum quality. The wines were initially made at Winemaking Tasmania by Schuts, but now everything is done in house. "We have total control," says Andrew Hanigan.
A cellar door tasting facility and a possible conference venue are next in the pipeline - and will offer superb views over the Derwent Valley. 
The new Calcaire range, named after the vineyard's calcareous soil, comprises a pinot noir, chardonnay and riesling from the stellar 2011 vintage. 
"We went the whole way," says Andrew Hanigan. "We took extra care at pruning, threw in extra shoot thinning passes, we cut off 30% of the fruit, we leaf plucked to allow extra sunlight penetration, we trimmed any green wings off every bunch at veraison, carefully hand harvesting, and hand sorting every bunch to remove anything that wasn't 100% perfect."

The new chardonnay has already shone on the show circuit, scoring 97 points and being named best Tasmanian Chardonnay at the 2013 James Halliday Chardonnay Challenge. 
With just 10 hectares of vines at the moment, Derwent Estate is in the fortunate position of demand outstripping supply right now. And a cider range, known as Ebenezer, has been added to the range of drinks on offer.
"It is an exciting time," says Andrew Hanigan with a degree of understatement. 

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