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Sinapius – a new generation of Tasmanian vignerons

My last report on Tasmania (here) focused on the island’s biggest new player, Brown Brothers’ Tasmanian Estates. The umbrella brand was established following the Victorian company’s acquisition of Tamar Ridge, Devil’s Corner, Pirie Tasmania, including Pirie Sparkling, SOUTH by Pirie and Rosevears in 2010. With around 400ha under vine and production at around 800,000 cases all up, Brown Brothers are most definitely a big fish in a small pond.

The contrast with Sinapius couldn’t be starker. Tasmanian born owners Vaughn Dell & Linda Morice (pictured) aim to cap production from the 3 hectare Pipers Brook close planted vineyard at 1000 cases. They represent a new generation of artisanal vignerons on the island who grow vines and make their own wines – no contract winemaking for them (much the more common route for smallholders). After giving up on his first degree in sports science (“I lasted a fortnight and got a green thumb”), Dell studied winemaking at Charles Sturt. He has worked in the Hunter Valley, Yarra Valley and Margaret River.

What the couple behind Sinapius share with Brown Bros is a passionate belief that Tasmania is the premiere location in Australasia for growing Pinot Noir, Chardonnay too and I’m very sure that, in their different ways, both producers will play an important role in raising both the quality bar and profile of Tasmanian wines. Pointing to the huge influence of the island’s young blood, “especially in the Tamar,” Dell reckons that the island can take the next step, going further than its previous generations of hobbyists. “This is Tasmania’s opportunity”  and, referring to Penfolds Yattarna, Hardy’s Eileen Hardy and Dawson & James’ new label (as to which watch this space), he adds “the big companies know it.” So it’s good to see the little guys give them a run for their money!

Dell and Morice acquired their vineyard in 2005. It was originally planted in 1994 but, for 0.8ha, they have planted new clones of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, also some Gruner Veltliner, increasing the planting density from 3600 vines/hectare to 7500 vines/hectare. The vineyard is located 5km inland from Bass Strait. Here, the sunny, north-east-facing site is exposed to strong (cooling) maritime influences so the grapes enjoy long warm days and cool nights. Deep ferrousol soils provide excellent water drainage and root penetration and the vines are dry-grown. A further hectare has been planted on gravelly loams, with large amounts of quartz, over a sandstone base, which they expect to produce a different flavour spectrum. Riesling is sourced from the Bellingham Estate Vineyard which is leased to Sinapius and located 1.5km away. Planted in 1981, the vineyard faces North West, is dry grown on very poor gravel/clay soils.

Here are my notes on the wines. I was fortunate to be shown a few vintages of each, which provided me with a very clear view of the exciting direction in which Dell and Morice are taking Sinapius, especially with the Pinot Noirs – from the solid, slightly hollow 2006 to the sublime , intense 2010. They’re not afraid to take chances and experiment, which made for among the most interesting, characterful wines I tasted on the island. A very fitting last visit and, still a work in progress, I look forward to returning and seeing what they do next.

Sinapius Riesling 2008

This Kabinet style Riesling shows a pretty floral bath salts nose with a hint of kerosene. In the mouth, it’s pure, fresh and applely – very refreshing and tangy. Vibrant, long and nuanced with lovely balance, it wears its 20g/l of residual sugar with ease. 9.5% abv

Sinapius Riesling 2009

In this vintage, Dell had started managing the vineyard. This vintage shows a little more concentration and backbone, also because Dell went for a less protective, classical Aussie style. The grapes underwent 5-6 hours skin contact, he used more solids during the ferment and the wine was unfined. The wine shows plenty of line and verve, with its tight grapefruit/green apple sorbet palate and very refershing, mouthwatering finish. Though the residual sugar is up to 30g/l, it’s far from obvious, no doubt the phenolics playing their part in pulling off this fine balancing act. Very good.

Sinapius Riesling 2010

With 6-8 hours skin contact, more solids again and no fining this wine is funkier, subtly textured and much less fruit focused with a tangy iron/slate minerality to its tight, juicy green apple, apple core and steely grapefruit. Very (youthfully) crisp on the finish and, though still finding its feet, good potential. A complex wine. 25g/l residual sugar, 9% abv.

Sinapius Riesling 2011 (tank sample)

This dry Riesling comes from the West Tamar, from the Goaty Hill vineyard, a high acid site (to which I can testify having enjoyed a bracing, very good example of Goaty Hill Riesling with oysters at Smolt, in Hobart). This wine was 100% wild fermented, 50% in old barrels. On nose and palate it’s like being transported from the Mosel to the Rheingau. It’s richer, yet lean – powerfully structured and very taut – with saliva glands into overdrive lemony, grapefruity acidity, lemon pip punctuation marks and a long, mineral finish. Great precision. Though it has 9g/l of residual sugar, 9g/l total acidity makes for an assertively dry palate. Very good. 12% abv.

Sinapius Chardonnay 2010

Dell is convinced that Pipers Brook Chardonnay has lots of potential and is planting more. This wine (David and Penfolds clones) is 100% whole bunch pressed and wild fermented with full solids and a bit of lees stirring. It sees 50% malo and is aged for 12 months in barrel (35% new). It’s a dry, savoury style, quite terse and closed as yet. Would benefit from decanting now or another year or so in bottle, but I like its line and length. 13.5%

Sinapius Chardonnay 2008

In this warmer vintage there’s a little more flesh to this wine, but it’s still very fine – lemony, with pretty powder puff notes to the nose and, in the mouth it shows bright pear, steelier grapefruit on a long, textured palate. Very good. 13.5%

Sinapius Chardonnay 2007

The ripest vintage and, with a mixture of wild and inoculated yeasts, this wine is more fruit overt with more generous peach and cashew notes around a bright, tight lemony core. 14%

Sinapius Pinot Noir 2006

This is a surprisingly deep, dark hue, Dell says the outcome of enzymes and a Barolo yeast strain designed to extract colour. This wine was contract made. It shows savoury, dark blackcurrant fruit with quite a tight acid structure – compressed and consequently a little inarticulate.

Sinapius Pinot Noir 2007

The first vintage which Dell made marks a change in direction. This wild fermented, de-stemmed Pinot Noir is paler and softer with plums and red cherry fruit. Charming and well balanced if not especially complex.

Sinapius Pinot Noir 2010

What a step up. The 2010 vintage sees a degree of whole bunch (15%) and whole berry (wild) ferment. It spent three weeks on skins before it was pressed straight to barrel, where it was aged for 12 months. A lighter (but spicy) toast was used and the wine was unfiltered and unfined. Dell says the next step is to introduce new clones. It’s very spicy and intense on nose and perfumed palate with dried pine needles and sappy, succulent red berry and cherry fruit well harnessed by firm, textured but ripe tannins. There’s an attractive hint of gaminess to its long finish. Young and exceedingly promising.

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