By Rowena Collings, Client Development
As I write this, I am travelling back from a long weekend in the Granite Belt, after three joyous days of wine tastings in some of the region’s best wineries. It is serendipitously Valentine’s Day, and as I contemplate my adventures, I am a little shady, but feeling loved up!
For most Australians, myself included, associating Queensland with high quality wine is not a common nor easy connection to fathom. The nation’s wine lovers may even roll their eyes at the thought of producing wine in a state that is hot and humid, fearful it will leave an uninspiring drop in the glass.
As rules are made to be broken, the Granite Belt does precisely that! Positioned around the town of Stanthorpe, the region has a long history of viticulture and winemaking and is one of the highest wine regions in Australia.
An altitude of more than 800 metres (2625 feet) on the eastern spine of the Great Dividing Range elevates the region’s wine production despite its subtropical climate. Cold to sub zero nights, spring frosts, relatively low humidity, peak summer temperatures moderated by sub-tropical monsoon influences and intermittent seasonal rainfall all contribute to the unusual climate in the Granite Belt. Soils consist of decomposed granite and are generally well drained and naturally acidic, making them ideal for wine production, similarly to the Hermitage region in France which is the home of the Shiraz (or Syrah) grape.
With more than 50 wineries to visit, the region is complemented by a smorgasbord of gourmet treats. Orchards filled with apples and stone fruits, cheesemakers, jams and preserves, farmers’ markets, and seasonal produce available from the paddock to the pantry and plate. It is worth the three-hour drive from Brisbane just to devour the biggest slices of apple pie served with ice-cream, which beg to be washed down with cold refreshing Cider made on site at Suttons. It is a gourmet-foodie’s paradise!
The importance of supporting Queensland through eating and drinking locally is growing. Enjoying fresh and ethically sourced produce, boosting local economies, and backing ourselves with true Queensland pride is hardly a challenge. I for one feel relieved that no matter what happens with border closures, I have now found a permanent source to keep my cellar and glass well stocked should those WA or Barossa beauties not be able to travel here.
Another reason to be excited by our own backyard, is the vintage undergoing harvest this year. It is being sprouted by all in the Granite Belt to be a great vintage, particularly after some very challenging years of surviving drought and then bushfires, leaving the region’s cellars empty. At every winery I visited I felt the buzz and excitement of a much-needed harvest and knowing the 2021 vintage is going to be a saviour to the wineries and the wine drinker. It is reason to celebrate and anticipate some fantastic drinking.
The region’s traditionally favourite wines are the Shiraz, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Now there are several varieties added to the repertoire that were planted in the last 10 years in small quantities. These are the regions “strange birds”, referring to unusual and alternative grape varieties. To be considered alternative, a variety must represent no more than 1% of the total bearing vines in Australia as defined by the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation. The region’s unique terroir (the characteristics of geography, geology, and climate and how they interact with the vines) equals unusual wines. You will not find most of these labels in bottle shops and restaurants because production is boutique and small-run bottlings, meaning you can only taste or buy them at the cellar door or by special order.
The first winery visit at Symphony Hill Wines had me enjoying the symphony of life! Their winemaker Abraham de Klerk has decades of experience in some of the world’s best wineries including Chateau Clos du Clocher in Pomerol, working with three generations of French vignerons near the famous Chateau Petrus and Le Pin. He has a double degree in viticulture and oenology and his ability to distinguish between and appreciate different flavours and aromas is truly gifted. For the first time in my life, I started to enjoy Shiraz. Their Reserve Shiraz should be on every drinker’s bucket list.
The highlight was spending an evening by the campfire with our very own Andrew Corrigan, both Master of Wine and newly appointed President of the Queensland Wine Industry Association, at his Hidden Creek vineyard. The night featured an extensive line up of top Granite Belt wines to taste, a fine education in Queensland wines combined with a roaring fire to truly warm the soul.
They say you will experience some of the best winery hospitality in Queensland at the Hidden Creek cellar door, and they were not joking. The following day our group of wine lovers were treated to a long European-like lunch by the lake, curated by Andrew and his gun of a wine maker Andy Williams, who delighted us with bottle after bottle of show stopping wines. I particularly loved their Tempranillo, Chardonnay and Fiano. For the first time I experienced Mencia and a red named Prieto Picudo thanks to Andy’s strange birds, for which I will always be grateful.
A masterclass in the tasting room at Tobin Wines revealed just how classy our Queensland wines could be. I fell ridiculously in love with a barrel fermented Sauvignon Blanc called Charlotte, an aged Isabella Semillon that was stylish and exotic and a Max Shiraz Block One that sang with wild raspberry and olives. I can confidently say I now love Shiraz again.
There are so many great wineries and so many great wine moments to be had. I found myself in church on the Sunday with Glen Robert, owner and winemaker of Bent Road wines and La Petite Mort. Yes, they bought an old church and re-homed it on the property by converting it into one of the best tasting rooms I have visited. We were mesmerised by Glen and his church for most of the day, and I discovered so many new things to share but I will save that for another time.
Trying these Queensland beauties is a must – stay tuned for upcoming events at the Club that are focused on this unique spot in the wine producing world.
I am already missing the region, and the people, and the wine…