Cynthea Semmens, Beautiful Isle Wines

Cynthea Semmens web size

When, why and how did you first enter the wine industry?

I was breastfed on wine! My mum is Cypriot and her family grew grapes in Cyprus for a long time, before moving to Australia. My father is Californian and began swapping grapes for painting work in Napa Valley in the early 70’s with my mum and making wine in the garage with friends. They were going to move to Oregon to make wine, but moved to Tasmania instead and planted the vineyard I grew up on in 1979. We are still there today.

You’ve recently started your own label, Beautiful Isle Wines. Tell us how that came about, and what role you have in the business.

Beautiful Isle Wines came about after the first two blends were made at my parents’ estate, Marion’s Vineyard. At Marion’s Vineyard, we had started to increase the quality level of the wines and the wines that didn’t meet the bar then had no home. The varieties were all grown on the estate and would not be traditionally blended together, but on the bench they looked great!

They were too good to sell as cleanskins, and that’s when we decided to have a second label. Beautiful Isle Wines is collaboration with my husband David and I and separate from the wines we make at my family estate. It’s our side car project!

Your labels have a bit of a story behind them too. Can you share that with us?

Beautiful Isle Wines were a seed for a long time, and the labels are a tribute to the Apple Crate art of the 1930’s when Tasmania was a booming Apple Isle. Our vineyard was an orchard in the late nineteen hundreds and in the old apple shed on the property we found many beautiful examples of the apple crate art.

They are bright and vibrant and there was nothing in the wine world which represented this style of art work. It wasn’t being used so we grabbed it and transformed the labels for the blends we had made in the winery. We have kept the use of the words ‘brand’ and ‘fancy’ which are so fun to see in this era. The wines are made to drink now, fruit driven and fresh, and a little bit fancy! Apple Isle to Wine Isle.

What is the philosophy behind Beautiful Isle Wines? And what makes you different?

Our philosophy with Beautiful Isle is to have some fun and to reflect that in the bottle. While the wines are made seriously they are not taken so seriously, and hence our bright packaging will see the bottles on dinner tables during the week and at barbeques instead of on a fancy date night!

We have full control of the winemaking and bottling of the wines and many of the other wines in this price category in Tassie are from large scale producers. The wines are made with indigenous yeasts, minimal additions and gravity flow, so they are treated extra special.

Tasmania is well known for producing exceptional, cool climate wines. What do you personally love about producing wine in Tasmania?

I love acid. Natural acid. The wines in Tassie are so refreshing and delicate that it’s easy to finish a bottle and go for another…..with friends of course! Our long, cooler summers mean we can get full ripeness in the berries without high potential alcohols and perfectly balanced natural acids. The wine styles here also lend themselves to food without overpowering the food.

Our whites are crisp and cleansing and the reds savoury and spicy. This balance of sugar, acid and flavour ripeness also means we have great longevity in our wines…..if you can keep them!

Which wine region/s in Tassie do you source your grapes from and why?

I was raised in the Tamar Valley overlooking the Tamar River so this area is home. The Marion’s Vineyard estate wines are nearly 35 years old, which is old for Tassie and they are 100% grown, made and bottled on site.

Beautiful Isle Wines have also only come from the estate and locally, so far, and the Tamar is one of the most reliable and consistent regions in Tasmania. Having said that, I am looking forward to using fruit as it becomes available from all parts of this beautiful isle!

What wines do you currently produce? And how and where can people find them?

Our first releases were the White Delicious and Red Delicious, both blended wines but unconventional blends! The red delicious has Pinot Noir, Cabernet, Shiraz and Merlot in it! A civil war in France! But on the bench the wine was just that. Red, and delicious! It played well too with the apple theme.

We have since released a crunchy Riesling, a juicier Pinot Gris, a bold and spicy Pinot Noir and we have a Chardonnay and a Cabernet Merlot soon to come!

The wines and brand have just been born….so they are available from us! There are a couple of outlets in Launceston and Hobart but we have not yet made it to the mainland…..

What are your own personal favourites from those you produce, and why?

I love our Riesling right now in these Australian heat waves! I also love the Pinot Noir, while it’s younger and more overt than my estate wines. All Pinots morph in the glass and that is a pleasure to experience and savour.

What is your absolute favourite wine and food pairing? And what should we keep in mind when matching food and wine?

Tough question! Tasmanian sparklers and dozens of Tasmanian east coast oysters would be my death bed choice. Right now I am enjoying eating food I grow with the wine I grow and with my family and friends.

As a woman working in the wine industry, have you faced any particular challenges where your gender has ever been an issue?

Back in the early days (ha-ha) it was much tougher as there were fewer women, and we were the last choice for the soccer team so to speak. I worked in Chile winemaking and found that very difficult as a woman even with the cellar staff. You just put your head down and work, it always gains respect. Today Tasmania has a huge amount of successful wine women in production so it is lovely to share stories of ferments and playground antics in the same conversations!

In your experience, do women think about or talk about wine differently than blokes do?

In the wine world the difference is not that great. In my experience with consumers though, women talk more texturally, while men have more of a confident approach to their opinions!

What’s your number one tip for tasting wine?

In my wise old years I have definitely analysed less and gone with my first impressions. I also try to take off my technical hat to just ENJOY wine, and enjoy the wine moment.

If there was one thing you could tell the sisterhood of wine-lovers out there, what would it be?

Now that I have children I have focused my lifestyle towards better and less. Better foods, grown closer to home where I can learn the story of their origins and trust the grower. It’s the same for wine too I think. There are better wines from places of provenance, with amazing flavours and for not much more than the mass produced packaged wines. And there’s a real person behind the story! That makes for a memorable wine.