Mr Blanc X Devil’s Corner

Words: Raynor Peirce

Photographs: Cory White

 

All wineries instil some sense of romance. There must be something about the structured avenues of interlocking vines that plays well on our psyche. The setting of Devil’s Corner vineyard is no exception, yet it takes this typical sensibility and adds a real feel of ruggedness. Located on the East Coast of Tasmania, in an area renowned for its raw and pristine beauty, it is one of the more dramatically set vineyards you are ever likely to find. Standing high on the hill is the cellar door which offers a commanding view of the vineyards undulating descent right into the frigid waters of the ocean. In the distance, but dominating the vista, is the Freycinet National Park and its quartet of rocky granite peaks known as ‘The Hazards’. The chiselled faces of these monolithic monuments stand testament to the extreme forces the area has encountered. Consequently it is these same environmental forces that shaped this mountain range that are now integral to the development of Devil’s Corner’s collection of cool climate wines.

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The first time we experience the view for ourselves ‘The Hazards’ are acting as a barometer for the changing weather conditions. Whilst initially in clear view they are swiftly engulfed by a storm front that marches up the bay. Colossus columns of rain streaked cloud provide a thrilling assault on the area until it all dissipates as quickly as it arose. When ‘The Hazards’ reappear they are bathed in a wondrous afternoon light, with a rich pink and purple colour palette displayed across the peaks. The entire scene is spectacular. It is the sort of experience that inspires contemplative thought, one which restores an order of importance. A reminder that compared to nature’s complex processes our personal tribulations are often insignificant.

The connection between a wines character and the environmental conditions in which the grapes are grown has never been lost on winemakers. So much so the French coined a term especially for this relationship. Terroir. The concept of terroir refers to the sense of place the growing environment imparts on a wines flavour. It may be a much discussed and sentimentalised concept yet at a vineyard like Devil’s Corner it becomes less difficult for the non-connoisseur to grapple with such a notion.

Tending to the vineyards 1700 hectares is viticulturist Ben Fleer. Having spent years working with warm climate wines Ben felt a desire to test both his knowledge and his ability with a move to cool climate wines. Ben believed the move presented him with the opportunity to utilise a broader spectrum of management techniques, as typically growing grapes in a cool environment can be challenging. This point is exacerbated in the case of Devil’s Corner due to its exposure to a fickle and often unforgiving maritime climate. Ben explains “here we are dealing with a set of extremes. It is very cold, we are trying to grow good quality in a difficult climate which isn’t ideal. We are doing things more by hand to manipulate the vine into getting it to do what we want. It’s about the variability and the unexpected.”

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During our visit it is pruning time in the vineyard. Ben explains the process with vibrancy and while his extensive technical knowledge is apparent he balances his delivery well with a good humoured accessible approach. Each vine must be pruned by hand, an arduous task which takes up to three months to complete. It is a delicate and methodical procedure which requires an understanding of the architecture of the vine, how each cut will influence the development of the new growth come spring. The aim is to restrict the amount of yield from each plant. This ensures the fruit is given an adequate opportunity to develop, ultimately intensifying the colour and flavour. It is an approach at odds with typical large commercial practices. “On large commercial operations the profitability comes from yield. The profitability here comes from quality, that’s the key difference” Ben says.

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While the vineyard produces a range of different varieties it is the Pinot Noir that is their most successful. Ben describes the wine as being “rich in colour and generous in flavour, intense yet delicate”. It is a style that encapsulates the spirit of the area well. It is also a fitting tribute to the challenges faced when producing wine in a wild location. Central to all the exploits of Devil’s Corner is their ability to find balance with this unique environment. They accept that the very element which makes their site special also presents the most risk. It is their considered interaction between their operation and the natural conditions of its location that enriches their success. For when we decide to test our resolve against the wild we must look to temper but not to tame, we must seek harmony with adversity, we must understand where we sit in natures priorities or we will be lost.

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