1956 Tasmanian wine industry re-emerges

Although commercial wine-making began in the colony as early as 1823 and there were further attempts at wine-making in the 1880s, the Tasmanian wine industry then entered a hiatus for more than half a century. In 1951, French immigrant Jean Miguet arrived in Tasmania as a welder working for the state’s Hydro Electric Commission. However, he came from a long line of winemakers and 1956 bought a property around 30km north of Launceston. Naming it La Provence, he planted his first Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Chasselas and Grenache vines.

Miguet died in 1976 and the vineyard has twice changed owners since then. Even the name has changed. In the 1990s, a court case by the French authorities claimed that the original name sought to pass the wines off as French. The French lost the case, but the vineyard was renamed Providence in 1994. Despite all the changes, Miguet’s original plantings of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay remain.

According to the Providence website Miguet was frustrated by Tasmanian government regulations at the time which forbade sales of wine direct from the winery. The current vigneron, Rusty Cook, wrote to me:

… in the early days the Miguets could have easily been regarded as wine bootleggers and not wine pioneers.  To gain profile for their Tasmanian wine they would send samples of their wines to mainland wine producers including the Brown’s (of the Brown Family in Milawa) and the McWilliams (a similar sized wine family based in NSW).  Jean Francois became quite good friends with late John Brown Senior (the father of the current John Brown Senior who is father to the current winemaker, Katherine Brown).

Two years after Miguet began his venture in Tasmania’s north, another European immigrant planted a vineyard in the south. Claudio Alcorso was born in Rome and arrived in Sydney in 1938 where he established a textile business, moving the factory to Tasmania in 1947. He planted his Moorilla vineyard in 1958 on the point where Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) now stands.  A small vineyard and winery is maintained by MONA’s proprietor, David Walsh, who bought the property in 1995. Alcorso’s first plantings were Reisling, although the winery is now more associated with sparklings, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

These pioneers were soon followed by others and the Tasmanian wine industry took off. Engineer Graham Wiltshire planted his first vines at Legana, near Launceston, in 1966, establishing the Heemskerk vineyard and winery in 1975. In the 1980s he formed an alliance with the Roederer Champagne House in France, which led to the first Jansz vintage in 1989.

In the 1970s further vineyards were established including Pipers Brook, Stoney and Glen Ayr.  And the growth continued through the 1980s and 1990s. Today, although Tasmania is officially regarded as a single wine region, there are seven sub-regions: the Tamar Valley, the Coal River Valley, the East Coast, Pipers River, the Derwent Valley, the North West and the Huon Valley.

The Tasmanian wine industry is over-represented at the top end of the market. In 2021, although only 1% of Australia’s wine production by volume was from Tasmania, the island’s wines represented more than 4% of the total value. Today there are more than 160 wine producers and many cellar doors where, yes, you can buy direct from the makers. They’ve come a long way since 1956.

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