You Need to Plan This Road Trip on Tasmania’s East Coast Wine Trail Now

It's one of our all-time favorite wine drives, and with the austral spring and summer coming up, there is no better time to plan a trip to this otherworldly oenophile heaven down under.

East Coast Wine trail: Waubs Harbour Whisky

Courtesy of Waubs Harbour Whisky

By Chloe Sachdev

Sep 16, 2022

THE EAST COAST WINE TRAIL, a 220-kilometer (137 miles) stretch along the east coast of Tasmania, is an otherworldly region. Wind-whipped mountains poke expansive blue skies and tumble into bone-white beaches. Connected by spindly roads, pretty seaside villages are dotted with lo-fi weatherboard shacks, old-school pubs, wineries, and lobster shacks. But beyond the landscape, it’s the cool-climate wine and whiskey scene that’s taking the world by storm. One of the smallest wine regions in Australia, it’s also one of the mightiest, thanks to its cool but sunny microclimate responsible for light-bodied pinot noirs, zingy chardonnays, and refreshing sparkling wines. In the spirit of discovery, I embark on the Great Eastern Drive, road-tripping along the famous East Coast Wine Trail, for a snapshot of the best cellar doors and distilleries in Tasmania. What I find is a remarkable mix of creative young guns, rural family estates and multi-million-dollar powerhouse vineyards. 

Launceston to St Helen’s

167 km / 104 miles, approximately two-and-a-half-hour drive

East Coast Wine trail: Priory Ridge Wines
Courtesy of Priory Ridge Wines

As the scenery changes from multi-laned highway into pencil-thin road, hugging a glass-smooth bay, the seaside town of St Helen’s comes into focus. It’s the largest town on the Tasmanian east coast and the gateway to the Bay of Fires and Binalong Bay, but it feels like a low-key slo-mo holiday spot, with everything centerd around the bays, beaches and estuaries. However, for oenophiles, the key attraction is the family-run Priory Ridge Vineyard and Cellar Door. The most northerly vineyard on the East Coast Wine Trail, it overlooks the George River and is owned by husband-and-wife duo David and Julie Llewellyn. The land has been in Julie’s family for more than a century, and the couple have maintained the 1900s shearing shed, converting it into a rustic cellar door. Here, thanks to the mineral-rich Devonian granite soil, a rarity in this region, I taste an unusually full-bodied and punchy pinot noir and aromatic whites: sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, chardonnay and traminer in an bucolic atmosphere like I’ve stepped back in time. 

St Helen’s to Bicheno

78 kms / 48.5 miles, approximately one-and-half hour drive

East Coast Wine trail: The Iconic Blow Whole in Bicheno, Tasmania and Iron House Brewery
FROM LEFT: Surrounding the Bicheno Blowhole, photo by AngryBird/Getty Images/Canva; courtesy of Iron House

The next day, I follow the endless expanse of blue sky and sea towards the seaside town of Bicheno. The relationship between the sun and sea is an important one in this wine sub-region. Classified as a maritime climate, with westerly winds off the Southern Ocean bringing mild spring and summer temperatures and cool autumn nights, the region’s grapes enjoy a long, slow ripening with minimal losses of natural acidity. The geography, often compared to Scotland – cool air, lush countryside, clean water and an abundance of good barley – has also lent itself to a booming whiskey industry that has been firing on all cylinders since the ‘colonial distilling’ ban was lifted in 1992. The lack of tradition has meant the distilleries in this region are more free-wheeling than furrow-browed. 

Along the route, I stop at Iron House, a vineyard, brewery and ‘accidental’ distillery with a spectacularly privileged position overlooking the Tasman Sea. Having produced crowd-pleasing craft beers and a range of sauvignon blancs, chardonnays, pinots and sparkling cuvées over the years, I learn the seaside distillery came into being from a commitment to low-waste. “We had a plan to sell our excess wash to whisky producers,” head brewer and distiller Michael ‘Briggsy’ Briggs tells me, “but we hit a load of roadblocks along the way, so in the end we said ‘to hell with it, we’ll just make our own!’’” The result is a quaffable range of wine-inflected spirits, including a crisp grape-based vodka, and single-malt whiskeys – on par with their Scottish counterparts – but matured in their own pinot and sherry barrels. Next, they plan on brewing their own version of gose (a fermented beer found in Goslar, Germany) with sea salt rather than brewing salt. “Everything we do is connected to the sea,” Briggsy says.

East Coast Wine trail: Ocean Feast of Waubs Harbour Whisky
Courtesy of Waubs Harbour Whisky

Creative ingenuity tied to wild coastal origins is the guiding force at newly opened Waubs Harbour Whisky in Bicheno, a storybook fishing village dotted with lobster shacks, small batch breweries, salt worn houses and huddles of cute little penguins on the windswept beach. Owned by brothers Tim and Rob Polmear, the converted oyster hatchery, now salt-battered distillery, looks like a quirky Wes Anderson styled laboratory on the water’s edge. “We had a vision to create maritime Tasmanian whiskey,” says Tim Polmear. “There’s something simple yet mind-boggling complex about how whiskey is made. On paper it’s only three ingredients – water, barley and yeast – but there is so much variation in the techniques.” Here, at Waubs Harbour, the cooling system is run entirely by the ocean, yeast is grown and cultured in-house, peat is sourced 10 kilometers down the road from a salt marsh, and water is drawn from the nearby Apsley River. The salty air pervades every crevice of the building, including the casks, and the result is their already critically acclaimed rich and oily single malt whiskies. 

East Coast Wine trail: The Farm Shed
Courtesy of The Farm Shed

Before leaving Bicheno, I make a quick stop at The Farm Shed, a one-stop shop and saviour for the time-poor traveler, selling more than 100 wines from 25 east coast Tasmanian vineyards. Most impressive is their roster of 24 wines available for tastings, meaning they always have at least one wine from almost every producer in the region.

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Bicheno to Freycinet 

19 kms /12 miles, approximately 30-minute drive

East Coast Wine trail: Claudio Rodenti owner of Freycinet Vineyard and Freycinet Vineyard Wine shelf
FROM LEFT: Claudio Rodenti, owner of Freycinet Vineyard; wines of Wineglass Bay. Courtesy of Freycinet Vineyard

Leaving behind the quaint seaside villages, I enter the wild coastal forest of the Freycinet National Park. Here, as the pink hued ‘Hazards’ mountains tumble into the deep blue waters of Wineglass Bay, the pioneering Freycinet Vineyard can be found. Nestled on the sloping hillsides in a stunning amphitheatre-like valley, it was the first commercial winery on the east coast of Tasmania and is still regarded as the finest producer in the region. Run by husband-and-wife duo Lydia and Claudio Rodenti, it’s a no-frills estate steeped in low-key rustic charm. I taste the gentle pinot noir, a lovely lean sauvignon blanc and their award winning buttery 2019 chardonnay. But the real surprise was the peppery shiraz, a result of the relaxed winemaking traditions in this part of the world. “Unlike Europe where there are strict regulations, we can have a bit more fun when it comes to planting grapes,” the soft-spoken Claudio Rodenti says. “We can plant where and when we want if we see potential in the conditions.” 

East Coast Wine trail: Devil’s Corner, Freycinet
Devil’s Corner, Freycinet. Courtesy of Tourism Australia

In contrast to this humble vineyard, my next and last stop on the East Coast Wine Trail is two kilometers down the road at the blockbuster Devil’s Corner. The biggest vineyard in Tasmania, it’s also an architectural standout. The sleek buildings look like giant oak-paneled shipping containers with panoramic views across the Freycinet Peninsula, the Moulting Lagoon wetlands and the Hazards Range. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure estate, a hive of activity that feels like a bustling wine-fuelled village. As I sit on the sun-drenched deck with fresh seafood, pizza and a light and tangy chardonnay, I watch people climb to the top of the lookout tower for uninterrupted views to the mountain ranges. Young families are picnicking on the lawn with friends, and couples on dates in the cellar doors, I realize this place is so much more than just wine. The bustling atmosphere of this vineyard is emblematic of the optimistic mood of this young region, not marred by tradition, but making their own rules, and having a good time as they go.

Devil’s Corner to Hobart airport

158.6 km/ 98.549 miles, approximately two-hour drive

East Coast Wine trail: Devil's Corner
Devil’s Corner. Photo by Adam Gibson

For more on what to do in Hobart, and elsewhere in Tassie, see our T+L guide here.

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