Matthias Utzinger had finished his winemaking studies in his native Switzerland and was working in the south of France when he came to a life-changing realisation.

“I felt like I was in the wrong place,” he says, “and things weren’t really working.”

Frustrated by the constraints of the long-established wine industry in Europe and eager to do his own thing, Matthias embarked on a travel sabbatical in 2015 that took him to wine-growing areas around the Middle East. While in Iran, he met his future wife Lauren and the pair travelled together for five months before spending Christmas in Tasmania with her family. From there, it became obvious where to begin their shared journey as winemakers.

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“I fell in love with Lauren first, and then with what Tassie represents,” says Matthias. “I decided that as a winemaker, this was meant to be the place. Things were still possible here: there was a feel that not everything has been done yet. You’re encouraged to express yourself in your own way. And the wild, untouched side really attracted me.”

Though born in Victoria, Lauren Utzinger had moved to Tassie at a young age and grown up just outside Launceston. At first, she and Matthias scouted around the Huon Valley in the state’s south for an existing vineyard. But it soon became clear that they might have to plant from scratch, and in 2018 they stumbled upon the perfect property: a run-down sheep pasture 20 minutes’ drive north-west of Launceston in riverside Legana.

There they founded Utzinger Wines, a cool-climate Tamar Valley winery. New challenges awaited, between the intense manual labour of readying the land and the arrival of daughters in 2017 and 2018. Yet there was no question that the climate and the soil offered enormous advantages – including a topsoil rich in dolerite pebbles and a subsoil generous in clay, which combine to act as a ready-made sponge for nutrients.

“It ticked a lot of the boxes,” Matthias says. “I liked the climate up here, because it gives us a certain security compared to other areas in the state. It’s for good reason that the Tamar Valley is still the biggest winegrowing region in Tasmania.”

They began cultivating their own grapes, focusing mainly on pinot noir and chardonnay. Utzinger now offers two interpretations of each: one lighter and the other riper and more concentrated. The winery prizes minimal-intervention techniques, and its core range now spans a riesling, a single-vineyard blend of five red varieties and an oak-matured style of sauvignon blanc called fume blanc.

In just a few years, the couple have established themselves in a local wine industry that is enjoying increasing traction on the mainland. “There’s certainly appetite and demand for more fresh, fruit-driven wines,” says Matthias. “We get a natural acidity down here, and it makes a lot of sense with the warmer climate on the mainland. They’re just a really good match, because those more acidic wines taste better on a warm day. People have discovered that, and there’s a real increase in demand.”

That demand has extended throughout all corners of Tasmania - from Launceston restaurants like Stelo and Black Cow to Aloft and The Agrarian Kitchen in Hobart. Even the Bay of Fires Bush Retreat in Binalong Bay has Utzinger bottles on hand.

Besides Tasmania’s welcome climate parallels with his homeland of Switzerland, Matthias quickly came to appreciate the homey feeling of the state’s crisp Off Season.

“It gets dark early and you go home and sit in the warmth,” he says. “It’s that cosy feel of being inside and knowing it’s cold outside. And for us the winter months mean pruning, which is one of my favourite jobs – it’s the first step in the new year. I find that really healing, where you leave the past behind and start something new.”

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Tourism Tasmania. Explore more wild, weird and wonderful experiences during Tasmania’s Off Season. Visits to Utzinger Wines are by appointment only. The winery is opening their cellar door in late 2023. See more information and book your visit.