Applying the experience of working vintages in Burgundy, former Australian architect Brian Franklin has established himself as the maker of critically acclaimed Pinot Noir at his Tasmanian winery Apsley Gorge. Konrad Muller reports…
‘The coffee machine is out of order,’ he says in a deep rumble. ‘So you can have water or wine.’ As it’s 11am, and I have to take the spectacular Great Eastern Drive back to Hobart, and had seen the warning signs to ‘EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED: rockfalls, ice, trucks on narrow causeways and wildlife’ on the road up, I say water will be good thanks.
Scroll down for Konrad Muller’s pick of Apsley Gorge wines
But I am tempted. For the winery – an anonymous old fish factory in the seaside hamlet of Bicheno – is Apsley Gorge, and my host is Brian Franklin, a one-time Melbourne architect turned Tasmanian fisherman and knife-wielding deep-sea diver.
He is also one of the great mavericks of the Australian wine world – the maker of rich, alluring Pinot Noirs that speak of deep immersion in Burgundy, where Franklin has worked the vintage every year since 2002 with Philippe Charlopin at Gevrey-Chambertin.
In fact, so deep is the immersion that Franklin, with a Burgundian friend, has recently made his own grand cru – an extraordinary feat for an outsider.
Much of this he dresses up as so much happenstance. Of his move to Tasmania, he says: ‘I came here when the bottom fell out of the building industry in Melbourne in the early 1980s. I knew how to dive; I spent 18 years underwater harvesting abalone.’
Of the choice in 1988 of the mighty site at Apsley Gorge where he has just 5.5ha of Pinot Noir and 1ha of Chardonnay, he assures me: ‘It was more good luck than anything.’
He points to the good soils and unique microclimate of which he was then blithely unaware – river loam over clay, shot here and there with ironstone; and the benign effects of the gorge which acts as a vent, preventing frost in spring, and in autumn shepherding the extended slow ripening of the rich, fully flavoured fruit that is probably the last each year to be harvested in Australia – sometimes as late as June, in the first nip of winter.