Peter Caldwell is the vigneron at Dalrymple Vineyards. Peter was born and bred in Tasmania and after spending years overseas decided to return home.
Peter is passionate about Pinot Noir and although the Dalrymple winery is in Pipers River, he makes some outstanding ones from different vineyards around Tasmania. But it’s not all Pinot – Dalrymple Vineyards also produce a beautiful Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.
The Wine Junkies were delighted to visit Peter at the winery in Pipers Brook where they had just started working on the 2019 harvest.
What is the story behind Peter Caldwell?
I grew up on my family’s sheep- and cattle farm in the north of Tasmania and after school I got a job across the road here, which at the time was called Heemskerk (now renamed to Jansz). They produced sparkling wine under Collaboration with Louis Roederer and Graham Wiltshire and that’s where I got interested in winemaking. In pursuit of more knowledge and experience I traveled to Bordeaux, Burgundy, California and New Zealand, where I worked at different wineries.
Eleven years ago, I returned to Tasmania and was looking to bring the experience I gained overseas to Tasmania. By then there were some older vineyards on the island showing some good results which made me eager to come back and be part of that further development of the Tasmanian wine industry.
You’ve spent quite a few years overseas. Did you come across any regions that showed similarity with Tasmania?
Burgundy has some similarity, in that sense that Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are planted there and also has some similarities weather wise. Although it gets much colder in Burgundy and there’s more rain. A lot of our customers also recognize certain flavours that they’ve come across in wines from Burgundy.
New Zealand, Bordeaux and California not so much. But I’ve learned different things from everywhere I worked and now I combine all these different experiences in Tasmania.
People outside Australia may not be familiar with Tasmanian wine. Could you share with us what Tasmanian wine is all about?
Firstly, it is important to know the factors that influence the weather here in Tasmania. Where we live, in general the weather is mostly affected from the ocean northwest of Tasmania.
Air flows come in from the northwest bringing cool air during warm weather which keep temperatures moderate. The temperature of the sea water in summer is around 17 degrees. A warm day during summer in Tasmania would be about 26 degrees Celsius with exceptionally hot days reaching up to 30 degrees. Now in the winter it is almost opposite. The wind brings warmer air from the sea which is about 12 degrees. Because of that, we don’t experience really cold winters. On a cold day in the winter it may drop to -2 degrees Celsius overnight, limited to only 3-4 days each year. Normal days in winter would be about 12 – 17 degrees.
The western part of the island is not really suitable for vinification due to the mountains and the amount of rainfall on that side of the island which can be more than 3 times as much compared to where we are. As you go further south to Hobart, it gets drier. We have a vineyard in the Ouse area as well, and temperatures in this area tend to be higher, but also with colder nights. it produces such different wines from our vineyards in Piper River.
We also make wine from Swansea, where it can get very hot in the summer, while in the same period it can get as cold as 5 at night.
In general, you will find in Tasmania that vines are planted on hillsides to protect them from wind and frost. Because Tasmania is quite dry on the east and south east regions, we use irrigation. That allows the region to diversify and grow crops such as grapes, cherries etc to create employment.
As for the style of Tassie wines you can say that they show very good natural acidity, soft tannins. They are aromatic, feminine and elegant wines ideal to pair with delicate food flavors.
How did the Tasmanian wine industry develop?
People have been making wine in Tasmania ever since the first settlers came to Australia. It remained quite small and boutique, and there was another big wave in the mid ‘70s to ‘80s. Dalrymple Vineyards also took off in the ‘80s.
The more recent wave we have seen started in about 2005 where more investments came flowing in, looking for places to produce sparkling wines because of the natural acidity that’s found in Tassie wines. This something you don’t really come across in other regions in Australia where they are likely forced to add acidity to their sparkling wines. Tasmania is now recognised as the best place for sparkling wine in Australia.
That was also the time that people were looking for more elegant still wines, that were food friendly and more subtle than some of the other wines being made at that time.
How about the wines you make at Dalrymple?
During good years I make four different style of Pinot Noirs from different vineyards. Although the soils are quite similar, they produce different wines due to the difference in micro-climate. I want these wines to reflect the variety of Tasmania. I try to have the same approach each vintage, for example when I decide to use whole bunch, I tend to do it for all these wines. This way, the wines are distinguishably different. That’s what I like. One variety with different characteristics. Well balanced, low yields, good length, a bit of whole bunch to find the balance between texture and elegance. Subtle use of oak to have a good balance and complexity.
How would you describe your style of wine making?
My wines each have an identity. I respect yield, vine health, and I don’t’ pick the grapes too ripe. I like to use whole bunch and if we have a vintage that is not outstanding, then I won’t make a single vineyard that year. I consider at each vintage a style that compliments the unique conditions in which we grow the grapes in. When people drink my wine they will realize who we are and what we are all about. And I think that counts for many winemakers in Tasmania. We are true to who we are. Did you know that a 100 out of 160 labels never leave Tasmania? There are so many boutique wineries around producing wine, and doing what they believe is the right thing for their site and expression.
What role does climate change play in Tassie?
I have noticed in the last 6 years that the seasons have becomes drier and warmer. Especially the rain in spring and summer is much less than what it used to be. We’ve had more recently bushfires in Tasmania because of this. Therefore, we are now picking earlier, the style is somewhat changing due to higher alcohol. Already there are plantings of Syrah, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay and Viognier with increasing success as vines age and winemakers understand these varieties. Furthermore, I think that Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc will be getting more popular because of commercial interest.
At Dalrymple we are still very much focussed on Pinot and Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, but who knows, maybe we will try something different as well, just to see….
Is sustainability something that you take into consideration?
Absolutely. We are a part of the sustainable programme here in Tasmania, and as a matter of fact, the Australian sustainability movement has deep roots on the island.
At the vineyard itself we have been planting native trees, as well as an insectarium, where we plant trees that attract predatory insects that eat larvae that live of the vines. Some of the vineyards are almost organic I would say. Our wines are vegan, we do not add anything in our wines, apart from sulphite. I strongly believe that organic wines tend to have more character, more depth and complexity and therefore I am very interested in using organic practices at our vineyard. It also frames purity in the wine making process.
At the same time organic practices should be used to make a better wine and not be used for commercial objectives. I have seen organic vineyards that look almost abandoned with poor vine health, and the wine tasted like that as well. That’s important to keep in mind. An organic label is not a guarantee for a great wine. It’s a bit like natural wine, making wine from a philosophical point of view, but it should still be a nice wine.
Dalrymple Sauvignon Blanc
Typical for sauvignon blanc, we get a lot of green apple and grass, but unlike many of NZ counterparts, it is not over the top. Passion fruit, a hint of milk, butter from the lees and a nice medium finish with a refreshing acidity that is so typical for wines from Tasmania.
Dalrymple Chardonnay – Cave Block – Pipers River
It is very refreshing with hints of citrus, yet nutty, toasty aromas also appear. Again a wonderful acidity that we miss from many of the other Chardonnays from Australia. Long finish. The best white wine we had on our trip to Tasmania!
Dalrymple Pinot Noir
This wine truly resembles Tassie Pinot Noir. Fruity, soft tannins, elegant, earthy flavours. Highly recommended to try if you’re not familiar with Tasmanian Pinot.
Dalrymple Pinot Noir – Cottage Block – Pipers River
From the vineyard in the north of Tassie, you’re welcomed by aromas of cherries, red fruit, and also green elements. We also got some wet forest floor aromas.
Dalrymple Pinot Noir – Ouse
The nose reveals this is Pinot Noir undeniably. Plenty of red fruit, mulberry but also rhubarb. We also taste some spices without losing elegance. A long and smooth finish.
Dalrymple Pinot Noir – Swansea
Naturally you get a lot of red berries, but also hints of vanilla, cinnamon and plum. Earthy aftertaste, long finish.
Dalrymple Pinot Noir – Coal River
Fruit from this part of the island generally gives more earthy and savoury notes, such as mushroom, but also mulberry. Beautiful long, gentle finish with great long-term potential.
It was so interesting to taste the last four Pinots side-by-side. After having tasted these wines, you really get the different characters of the fruit from around the island.
We’d like to thank Pete for the interesting afternoon and for taking the time to patiently explain us about wine making in Tasmania, and at Dalrymple in particular. He is a true artisan and makes his wines with passion and skill and that’s something you taste back in his wines.
Albert & Willem