::: TASMANIA'S NATIVES


The grapes
of success

By GRAEME PHILLIPS | It seems wherever you look around the world of wine, medicos, lawyers, financiers, managed investment schemers and other affluent lifestylers are all into vineyards.

But a septuagenarian Chinese market gardener? A Yugoslav immigrant panel beater from Melbourne? A dentist? And an organic bean grower from California? All are growing grapes and making wine in Tasmania.

I guess it’s understandable for a dentist.

For John Austwick, after a lifetime peering into people’s cavities and exchanging pleasantries with mouths full of amalgam and rinse, a vineyard must seem a blissful, bucolic relief.

This was the region’s first modern vineyard — the first since Silesian immigrants brought vines to near-by Swansea in the 1840s.

Add in a love of wine and that’s precisely what took John from his thriving Hobart practice to a small 1835 stone cottage at Cranbrook on Tasmania’s east coast to plant Craigie Knowe in 1979.

This was the region’s first modern vineyard — the first since Silesian immigrants brought vines to near-by Swansea in the 1840s.

Today, he has 5ha of vines, has built his own small winery and cellar door and is turning out some cracker pinot noirs and wonderfully intense blends of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and petite verdot which are much closer to Bordeaux than the Barossa.

Plus a few other wines for his own amusement. Add to them the satisfaction of having pioneered what is now a burgeoning regional wine industry.

As a Melbourne panel beater, Michael Vischaki thought he’d make a good Tasmanian winemaker.

After all, he’d spent his childhood in north-eastern Yugoslavia, in a small village near the Hungarian border, where his grandfather had vineyards and ran the local slivovitz distillery. It was in his blood.

An American wine judge described his trophy-winning 1998 Pinot as “a funky, way out-there, kick-ass wine …”

He had been a very successful panel beater. Now he has become an even more successful winemaker with his wines picking up a string of show medals. An American wine judge described his trophy-winning 1998 Pinot as “a funky, way out-there, kick-ass wine”, and his 2001 Reserve Pinot was snapped up at the highest price ever paid for that variety in Australia.

Since buying Panorama vineyard in the Huon Valley in the late ‘90s, he and wife Sharon have expanded plantings to 13ha and created a delightful cellar door facility. They recently built a new 250 tonne capacity winery and a large family home overlooking the vines.

When you know that in addition they have raised two daughters, a menagerie of farm animals, produced a Yugoslav pear liqueur and a soft-as-silk apple wine, well, let’s just say his grandfather would be proud.

Michael is also consulting viticulturalist to two large vineyards in the Coal River Valley, a contract winemaker for a number of other vineyards and has recently joined with an American holiday travel company to build a $5 million 20-unit riverside tourist resort on his property and prepared 20ha on a 100ha block they’ve bought next door for vineyard expansion. [Continued … ]

PART I | PART II