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Friday 21 November 2014

People of the Vines: What you need to know about Launceston and the Tamar Valley

Drive up to the Holm Oak cellar door and you might well find it deserted. Hang around for a few minutes and winemaker Bec Duffy may wander in after blending some parcels of pinot noir. Or you may have to hit your car horn a couple of times to alert her viticulturist husband Tim, who will drive in from the vineyards on his tractor.
The Tamar Valley is one of Australia's most relaxed wine regions, where everything moves at a country Tasmanian pace. Or has – until now.
Holm Oak cellar door
During the 2014 vintage, a traumatic one with reduced yields for most grape growers, a TV crew led by wine writer Tyson Stelzer ranged around the district following the trials, tribulations and triumphs of six winemaking teams; Natalie Fryar at Jansz (who has since departed), Bec and Tim Duffy at Holm Oak, Fran Austin and her husband Shane Holloway from Delamere, former first-class cricketer Joe Holyman from Stoney Rise, Jeremy Dineen from Josef Chromy and Tom Wallace from Tamar Ridge.
The Tamar Valley Wine Region is actually three regions in one – all of which are a short drive from Tasmania's second city of Launceston. The Tamar Valley lies to the north, Pipers River to the north-east and Relbia to the south.
Although there are plenty of cellar doors and a handful of winery restaurants, the Tamar is largely undeveloped in terms of mass tourism. There are no chain hotels or mass-market fast food restaurants outside Launceston city.
“People now are starting to get a good understanding about food and wine tourism in regional Tasmania, and it’s a whole new ball game for smaller vineyards,” says Shane Holloway of Delamere. “We have no idea what changes, if any, may follow the screening of this program.”
Where there is a reality TV show, tourists follow, however, and there is much to enjoy in and around the vineyards and the city of Launceston itself.
The biggest cellar doors in the region include Tamar Ridge, Josef Chromy, Bay of Fires, the Jansz Wine Room and Pipers Brook Vineyard but there are also several smaller, family-owned producers worth visiting.
As the Tamar is a cool-climate region, visitors can expect to find sparkling wines, chardonnays, pinot noirs, and aromatic whites like sauvignon blanc, riesling and pinot gris.
Moores Hill, Goaty Hill, Leaning Church, Delamere, Sinapius, Stoney Rise, Marion's Vineyard, Native Point, Holm Oak and Winter Brook all offer boutique hospitality, while it is worth making an appointment to visit idiosyncratic Grey Sands. New producers Wines for Joanie opened this week.
Cellar door pening times can vary seasonally, so it does pay to check ahead whether the tasting room you want to visit will be open.
Visitors can follow around 170 kilometres of trails marked by yellow and blue “Wine Route” road signage and several small producers, including Gryphonwood, Sharmans and Humbug Reach, offer tastings at the award-winning Harvest Market held every Saturday morning.
People from the Tamar and surrounding farming regions sell gourmet cheeses, locally-grown organic vegetables, fruit, herbs, flowers and plants, pasture-raised pork and farmed rabbits.
Josef Chromy, with a top-notch restaurant specialising in Tasmanian produce; Velo Wines, with a delightful vineyard cafe; and Tamar Ridge's Rosevears cellar door, offering local platters, are the best places to break your journey for a meal.
Settled in 1806, Launceston is one of Australia's oldest cities and is home to many historic buildings. It was named after Launceston in Cornwall and retains a very English feel. Many of the buildings in the CBD date back to the 19th and early 20th centuries and there are several well-preserved Victorian and Georgian homes. Low-rise buildings dominate and there are many leafy, and sometimes hilly, side streets.
The Seaport precinct on the CBD fringe is lively with its marina, cafes, restaurants and river boardwalk, while spectacular Cataract Gorge, with its chairlift rides, the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery and City Park with its Japanese macaque monkeys are all popular leisure destinations.

Launceston is home to several excellent restaurants including Stillwater, Black Cow Bistro (which specialises in Tasmanian grass-fed steaks), Pierre's, Smokey Joe's Creole Cafe, Mud, Brisbane Street Bistro, Me Wah and the Terrace at Country Club Tasmania.
For kicking back and relaxing, PX Tapas, Burger Got Soul, Elaia Cafe, the Red Brick Cider House and Saint John are all popular with locals, while the James Boag Centre for beer lovers offers regular brewery tours and tastings. Garden of Vegan and Fresh offer vegetarian options.
Josef Chromy Wines
Launceston is also home to one of Australia's most quirky gourmet stores; Davies Grand Central, where you can buy petrol and papers, deli goods and local wines 24 hours a day. So if you need a slice of quiche, or a good bottle of Tamar Valley pinot noir at 3am, no problem.
Another top destination for visitors wanting to take a few bottles home is the Pinot Shop, which features a wide range of boutique Tasmanian wines – including the producers featured on the show.
Launceston Travel & Information Centre. 1800 651 827.
Tamar Valley Wine Route:
The Hatherley Birrell Collection offers a choice of five styles of luxury apartments in Launceston, within a short drive of the vineyards. All are beautifully decorated and offer the most upmarket accommodation in town. Check out the two chic new garden pavilions. Other good options include the Hotel Charles, Peppers Seaport and Balmoral on York. 
People of the Vines is broadcast nationally on TEN at 1pm on Saturdays. 
# The writer was assisted by Tourism Tasmania and hosted by the Hatherley Birrell Collection and a version of this story originally appeared at

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