Just like ancient explorers used stars to navigate their way, Sam Connew has steered a clear and considered path to her destination – an auteur in Tasmania, creating exquisite wine.
Sam Connew seems to have been pretty much everywhere and done everything to get to her tiny, 3ha Tasmanian vineyard. She chose her overseas experience carefully to give her a firm grounding in cutting-edge winemaking: Elk Cove and Beaux Frères (Oregon), Firriato Winery (Sicily), Telmo Rodríguez (in Rueda and Galicia), as well as prestigious local heroes, Cape Mentelle and Brokenwood.
In 1999, she joined Wirra Wirra, where as senior winemaker she was involved in the transition to a biodynamic management program and drove the sourcing of its cool-climate varieties to the Adelaide Hills. Her drive and exemplary winemaking saw her nominated (along with Tim James) as finalists in the 2004 Winemaker of the Year Awards.
Connew then moved to the Hunter in 2009 and took up the position of winemaker/manager at Tower Estate, which sourced fruit from seven Australian regions. This experience led to a love affair with Tasmania and pinot noir from the Huon Valley. She bought fruit from Panorama to start Stargazer in 2012.
Connew was the first woman chair of judges at the prestigious Sydney Wine Show (2015-2017); that experience provided a unique view of the Australian wine scene and provided an opportunity to see how a tiny winery might possibly survive and thrive.
Judging and working for other wineries was an overture for the main act: Stargazer and the Coal River Valley, where it’s all about riesling, chardonnay and pinot noir, and a solitary person toiling in the vineyard. The name is an evocative tribute to the voyaging of Abel Tasman and Connew’s attraction to the local lifestyle, living in the exuberant and emerging metropolis of Hobart with a vineyard just 30 minutes from home.
The climate is suitable for the three varieties that most challenge and delight her. And she sees endless possibilities in a 3ha (soon to be increased to five) vineyard, with the ability to control all aspects of the business: viticulture, winemaking, marketing – and to make a living.
She’s aware that she has no safety net in the case of an extreme weather event but believes that the Coal River Valley is as safe and consistent a place to go for grapes as anywhere in Tasmania.
Recent changes at the nearby Pressing Matters winery, following Paul Smart’s departure in 2015, have proved to be mutually beneficial.
Entrusted by owner, Greg Mallick to make the pinot noir in 2016, Connew has won a handful of trophies with the variety since then. Blessed with a wonderful site, aged vines, a range of clones and low crop levels, the pinot at Pressing Matters is now picked a little earlier to capture the fruit and acidity at its brightest. The 2017 Pressing Matters ‘Cuvée C’ Pinot Noir is superb: seductive fruit, fleshy texture and plush tannins in perfect harmony.
Working for other wineries was an overture for the main act: Stargazer and the Coal River Valley, where it’s all about riesling, chardonnay and pinot noir, and a solitary person toiling in the vineyard.
The two Stargazer blends are personal favourites. The 2019 Stargazer Tupelo Pinot Gris Riesling Gewürztraminer is wonderfully floral and delicate yet tight, fine, crisp and dry. Beguiling. It’s named for the Mississippi town where Elvis was born (of course) but also for the songs that reference Tupelo (and Tupelo honey), by Van Morrison, Nick Cave, Emmylou Harris and John Lee Hooker.
Connew builds complexity and texture with the 2019 Palisander Riesling by fermenting in a ceramic egg and maximising the extraction of flavour from the skins during fermentation. This is a great example of a riesling.
The 2018 Stargazer Chardonnay is tight with the structure to build on its intriguing tropical flavours of mango and nectarine: a hint of oak on a long, lingering finish. A satisfying wine.
The 2020 Stargazer Rada Pinot Noir Pinot Meunier is a co-fermented blend of the two varieties: it shows the fresh juicy cherry flavours of the meunier and plush floral yet tight and powerful pinot noir.
The 2019 Stargazer Pinot Noir has depth, power and finesse; bright redcurrant and red cherry flavours given an extra dimension by gamey, forest-floor like characters that linger.
It’s a stunning portfolio: like no other in the country.
FACTS AND FIGURES
REGION | Tasmania
YEARS IN INDUSTRY | 24
ANNUAL CRUSH | 80 tonnes
STAND-OUT WINES | 2019 Stargazer Riesling and 2020 Stargazer Pinot Noir
Photography courtesy of Stargazer.