Food and beverage stories
Sam’s vintage move
Top winemaker, Sam Connew, packed her bags and headed south in search of the perfect grape – and the perfect lifestyle.
And, as fellow vignerons across the State celebrate the season’s harvest, Sam reflects on the past few years. She has fulfilled her dream of buying a small vineyard in Tasmania where she runs a "one-woman band,” and has just picked the last fruit of her fourth vintage.
She has also swapped the heat of the Hunter Valley for a beautiful temperate climate and couldn’t be happier.
"The summers in the Hunter were just getting too much for me. One of the big things about moving to Tassie was getting back to cool weather, and not just from a grapevine point of view, but from a lifestyle point of view as well,” Sam explains.
"And, it’s been more rewarding, and more fulfilling than I ever thought it would be.”
In February 2016 Sam and her chocolate Labrador, Murphy Brown, put down roots in a "tiny vineyard” in the Coal River Valley, east of Hobart, where she would produce her Stargazer Wine.
"From my first visit down here it has always felt like home. There has always been that connection to place which is so important to me,” Sam remarks passionately.
"There is also a really great little grape growing community out here, and everyone has been so welcoming and so helpful.
"Also, where else in the world can you live in a fantastic city like Hobart and then travel half an hour out to your vineyard, which is in one of the best wine growing areas in the country. It’s just unheard of!”
Then there’s the wine!
Sam says the Coal River Valley is perfect for grapes with its "really good dirt” and long growing season that allows fruit to ripen richly on the vine.
"The varieties of grape that I’m passionate about are pinot, riesling and chardonnay, and Tasmania is really the only region in Australia that can grow all three to a world class level.”
Sam wanted a vineyard to supply grapes for Stargazer Wine which she set up as a side hobby seven years ago while working in the Hunter Valley. But, from the very start she only used Tasmanian grapes: "Always Tasmanian fruit – only Tasmanian fruit, which is second to none!”
Sam has a wealth of experience – including a stint as senior winemaker for Wirra Wirra Vineyards – and this is reflected in her own premium "interesting and complex wine” which is quickly snapped up by top restaurants, including Aria and Quay in Sydney.
When Sam moved into her vineyard there was just one hectare under vine which grew pinot and riesling grapes. She now has three hectares and has added chardonnay fruit. Last vintage Sam produced 1,800 dozen bottles of Stargazer Wine.
She has also just been awarded Tasmanian Vineyard of the year.
"The last three years I have been here I have worked my butt off. It’s been a long slog, but I love it. Moving here has been the best thing I ever did,” Sam adds.
A good vintage
Sam is confident her fourth Tasmanian vintage is another beauty, and it appears this sentiment is shared by winemakers across the State.
Sheralee Davies from Wine Tasmania, who is also on the Brand Tasmania Board, says we are on track for another "solid year in terms of yield, and an excellent one for quality".
"The reports we've been receiving are very high across each of the varieties, with particular praise for sparkling fruit, which this year is some of the best ever,” she says.
Meanwhile, as our world-class reputation for wine continues to grow, it’s clear that Sam isn’t the only person heading south in search of the perfect grape.
"Quite a few winemakers have moved to Tasmania because they recognise the quality of the fruit down here – and the lifestyle!” Sam concludes.
Images courtesy of James Broadway
26 May 2019, Edition 205