Craigie Knowe: The first vineyard on the East Coast of Tasmania

The vines and homestead at Craigie Knowe Vineyard
“You’re mad John, just put sheep in.” Those were the words that John Austwick chose not to listen to just before he planted Craigie Knowe vineyard at Cranbrook on Tasmania’s East Coast.  

John Austwick loved Bordeaux-style Cabernet and had a hunch that Cranbrook could produce a similarly beautiful wine. Bordeaux just so happens to be 42 degrees north and Cranbrook is 42 degrees south. While Bordeaux experiences the warm Gulf Stream and Cranbrook receives the cold Antarctic winds, both have a similar geography. 

John loved his Bordeaux-style Cabernet so much that despite the advice from other local farmers, he purchased his property and started planting vines in 1979. Craigie Knowe was the first vineyard on the East Coast of Tasmania and it didn’t take long for John to gain a strong reputation as an exceptional cool-climate winemaker.

He used to travel to Cranbrook from Hobart every weekend with his wife and three girls. For 25 years, he would toil away on weekends and go back to working as a dentist on Monday. In 2003, he was finally ready to sell his dental practice and moved to Cranbrook. The majority of the vineyard was dedicated to Bordeaux-style Cabernet and he ran it until 2009.

Continuing the legacy

Glenn and Alex Travers were next to take on the legacy of John Austwick and continue his brand. When the father and son first stumbled upon Cranbrook, they couldn’t believe that a place of its size warranted a name. Now, they can’t imagine living anywhere other than this little hamlet off the Tasman highway. 

When they first arrived at Craigie Knowe, they had a burning desire to seize an opportunity, along with business skills and a strong work ethic. However, they didn’t know if that would be enough to realise their vision of creating a successful family-owned vineyard and cellar door.

Embracing the learning curve

The homestead at Craigie Knowe Vineyard
The cellar door at Craigie Knowe vineyard

While they might own the vineyard, they simply see themselves as custodians who love making good wine.

When they took over Craigie Knowe, a little piece of paradise on the Freycinet Coast, they knew that they had to continue growing Cabernet Sauvignon. It was John’s most important wine. With no grape-growing experience, they needed to put their egos aside, ask plenty of questions, and accelerate their learning. Alex and Glenn quickly learnt that attention to detail goes a long way and continue to follow the advice of their viticulturist closely.

While they might own the vineyard, they simply see themselves as custodians who love making good wine. They made space for plantings of Pinot Noir and Reisling, then took out a long-term lease of a small vineyard less than 2 km away at Glen Heriot. Here they grow Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and more Pinot Noir. 

They spend a lot of time in the vineyard, believing that 70% of good wine comes from the vineyard and 30% comes from the winemaker. They grow exceptional fruit so that their winemaker can weave his magic with minimal intervention.

Craigie Knowe Vineyard's signature wines

Craigie Knowe’s Cabernet Sauvignon is not like a Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon. Rather than packing a punch, it has complexity and cool-climate elegance. The Pinot Noir is also rich in flavours and is lovingly called the Shiraz drinker’s Pinot. 

Craigie Knowe’s Pinot Gris also offers the best of both worlds. Initially, it fills your mouth with fruit flavours, but the finish is lovely and dry. The Rosé also has a similar style, being a pale and fresh blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir.

Their Chardonnay is also dry with magnificent fruit flavours, such as crisp apples. In fact, you won’t find any sweet wines at Craigie Knowe, just unique colours and aromas.

Two bottles of Craigie Knowe Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir on a dining table

No pretences

There is also no pretension at their rustic, cellar door experience. Visitors will find Alex and Glenn working in their shorts and Blundstones, then coming to the cellar door to help with tastings. They also never talk about flavours with people, so they perceive and interpret their wine in their own way

Just like John Austwick, Glenn and Alex like to do things differently. They have already created a chocolate and wine menu and will soon erect a marquee so that they can offer a lunch menu, events, music festivals, and weddings. 

There is now a little hub of six vineyards within minutes of Craigie Knowe and a few more about half an hour’s drive away. Courage and reinvention have been at the heart of Craigie Knowe since day one, and perhaps it’s those enduring values that keep people coming back for more.

Experience wines from Craigie Knowe Vineyard

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