Their beginning is a story that will echo into generations, their light-touch winemaking unrivalled. The Lipscombes “let the vineyard do the talking” and their wines speak volumes.
Gilli and Paul Lipscombe’s route into the wine industry was anything but typical. He was raised in Essex and has a degree in history; she was a Brisbane girl. They met in 2004, did a vintage together in the Languedoc in ’05, and moved to Australia in ’06. Their first experiences here were in Margaret River where Gilli worked at Xanadu and Paul at Devil’s Lair. She completed a degree in oenology and viticulture at Curtin University in Margaret River, while he did a post-graduate diploma. Vintages in New Zealand and Oregon followed, and they decided to ‘bite the bullet’ and move to Tasmania, in 2010 buying the derelict Huon Valley vineyard that became Sailor Seeks Horse. It had been planted in 2005 and ‘let go’ almost immediately, says Paul.
He writes on the website: “Half the vines were dead, blackberry above our heads, and about 100 trees littered the vineyard. Not so perfect. But it wouldn’t be satisfying if it wasn’t challenging.”
They pulled out the dead vines and revived the others, naming the 6.5-hectare vineyard after seeing an advert posted in a Cygnet cafe. It was headed ‘Sailor Seeks Horse’. An American adventurer wanted to borrow a horse or mule to travel across Tasmania. They saw it as a metaphor for their own adventure.
An important step in the journey was a long and fruitful relationship with the Bennett family, owners of Home Hill vineyard, also in the Huon Valley. Gilli and Paul have been the winemakers for the past nine vintages. They helped harvest a massive haul of wine-show trophies and other accolades for their sumptuous pinots.
They’ve been able to make their own pinot noir and chardonnay at Home Hill, but this year they’ll open a winery and cellar door in Cygnet – part of a complex which includes a restaurant, slated for a September opening.
“Having polished the vinous gems at Home Hill, Gilli and Paul Lipscombe are seeking their next adventure with a firm commitment to the Huon Valley. Watch this space, the horses have bolted.” Peter Bourne
While the Home Hill pinots are deeply coloured and lush, the Sailor Seeks Horse style is lighter coloured, more delicate and restrained. An ethereal style rather than fruit forward. “Elegant, complex and fine,” says Paul.
And, in reference to the dark-coloured pinots fashionable in Central Otago: “It’s easy enough to get deep colour: just use enzymes. But that’s not for us.” He and Gilli want a more natural style that faithfully expresses the vineyard site. They use new oak sparingly for the same reason: just 10-15%, and a variety of barrel sizes – puncheons, hogsheads and barriques. “We also have 12 months in barrel instead of the eight months that most people do. We want the complexity that comes from evolution in barrel.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with the Home Hill style and, indeed, this nomination is chiefly in recognition of the Lipscombes’ stunning work at Home Hill, where their synergy with vineyard manager Terry Bennett has borne outstanding rewards for all concerned.
The irony of this nomination is that, like Jim Chatto, Sailor Seeks Horse had to scrap the entire 2019 production from its vineyard because of smoke taint. Again like Chatto, the Lipscombes have been fortunate to buy top-quality grapes from other Tasmanian vineyards. They plan to bottle the wines under a cheaper secondary label.
At least they will have some income from the 2019 vintage. “We’ll be a bit tight for cash for the next few years,” Paul admits.
He is bullish about the future for southern Tasmania. “If global warming continues, at least we’ll be moving in the right direction. It’s one of the reasons we came down here.” With 6.5 hectares under vine and another 1.5 hectares planted this year, to several clones of pinot noir, plus chardonnay and trousseau, the future looks promising – bush fires permitting.
FACTS AND FIGURES
REGION | Huon Valley, Tasmania
YEARS IN INDUSTRY | 14 (Gilli), 13 (Paul)
ANNUAL CRUSH | 25 tonnes
STAND-OUT WINES | Home Hill Kelly’s Reserve Pinot Noir; Sailor Seeks Horse Pinot Noir