Dr Andrew Pirie

For over 35 years, showcasing Tasmania as one of the great wine regions of the world has been a passion for internationally-acclaimed Dr Andrew Pirie. His latest efforts are no exception, with his research demonstrating that the effects of climate change will only benefit Tasmania’s position in the global wine industry.

With an impressive 234 vineyards across the state, Tasmania’s reputation for fine wine is going from strength to strength, with the state’s grapes producing the highest value per tonne in Australia.

However, this hasn’t always been the case. Over forty years ago, scientific research established a cool boundary for grape growing in Australia that excluded the cool climate regions of southern Victoria and Tasmania.

Over those past forty years, Dr Pirie has not let science hold Tasmania back. After completing a masters degree in agricultural science, he moved on to the wine industry and became Australia’s first PhD in viticulture, recognising what Tasmania had to offer the world of wine.

“I travelled to Europe and worked in the famous wine regions of France for a year, and in that time gained an appreciation of the industry, in particular of cool climate areas. Because of my agricultural science training I started to ask questions about how climate affected wine quality,” he says.

Dr Pirie soon made a decision that challenged previous research on cool climate and viticulture, and in 1974 followed his heart and joined the tiny handful of growers in Tasmania. Together he and his brother planted the state’s largest vineyard at the time at Pipers Brook, north of Launceston. Until October 2010 he was Chief Executive and Chief Winemaker of Tamar Ridge Winery, Tasmania’s largest wine producer, and a winery which has been awarded a string of national and international accolades.

In 1994 Andrew launched Tasmanian wine onto the global stage after his Pipers Brook 9th Island Chardonnay won the white wine trophy at the International Wine Challenge in London. The wine was dubbed by one of the most influential wine columnists in the UK, Matthew Jukes, as “the greatest sparkling wine ever made outside of Champagne”.

In 2001 Dr Pirie was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for services to the Tasmanian wine and tourism industries. In 2002 and 2003 he was a finalist in the Qantas/Australian Gourmet Traveller WINE Winemaker of the Year Award. Most recently the Pirie Estate 2007 Riesling won first place in the white wine category at the International Fine Wine Producer of the Year 2011 in Sweden.

His latest research put him on the world stage again, at the 8th International Cool Climate Symposium for Viticulture and Oenology in Hobart, which was held recently. Here he unveiled his research on climate change and its effects on cool climate wine regions around the world.

“We have no concerns about climate change. We [viticulturists] are the least concerned of almost anyone,” he says, adding that Tasmania is in a prime position to deal with climate change. “Tasmania is already at a cool starting point and warming is pretty slow here because of the cooling effect of the Southern Ocean.”

Recognised as one of Australia’s most respected winemakers, his research potentially will influence cool climate wine regions the world over and will only elevate Tasmania’s position on the world scene. Dr Pirie’s research supports a growing number of scientific reports that suggest climate change means Tasmania’s wine industry is headed in a positive direction. “The understanding of factors which govern the ripening of grapes is moving forward and in particular, the climatic requirements for each of the grape varieties is becoming better known,” he says. Currently Tasmania prides itself on cool climate wines such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and increases in temperature over the coming decades will mean the variety of grapes grown will start resembling the vineyards of Europe where Andrew was originally inspired.

His latest endeavour brings him again to the vineyards of the Tamar Region, where he is developing his dream vineyard after discovering “the perfect site” in 2007. “It incorporates all of the learning of recent years in site selection, vine trellising and management,” he says. Five years after his site discovery, the property has produced two vintages and from what his scientific records says are the perfect grapes for the particular location, Dr Pirie will make small quantities of sparkling wine and table wine.

While keeping the brand of his new sparkling and the name of this new vineyard under wraps until the launch of the first wines in October of this year, there is no doubt that with Dr Pirie’s passion for fine wine, it will be another Tasmanian success.

Words: Carla Johnson
Images: Chris Crerar

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