by Martin Field
The kind folk at Granite Belt Wine and Tourism invited us to look around the Granite Belt wine region. ‘Take the scenic route to the Granite Belt,’ they said. We did, it was mid-summer, and on the five-hour drive from Noosa the scenic route was off, it rained all the way. In Stanthorpe, it was about fifteen degrees. Luckily, log fires were commonplace and we were happy to find one in our B&B at Heather’s Cottage.
The coolish weather was due no doubt to the Granite Belt’s elevation, some 1,000 metres above sea level – making it the only Queensland region with four seasons. The altitude has created a grape growing climate similar to that of South Australia’s Clare Valley and has made the area unarguably Queensland’s premium wine region.
We couldn’t visit all of the 60 or so cellar doors but on a madcap two-day trip, we grazed on a fine selection of regional wines and tucker. Here are some of the highlights.
At Summit Estate, Argentinean winemaker Paola Cabezas, poured me a barrel sample of her 2007 petit verdot. An inky dark drop with concentrated fruit and a very firm finish. John Handy, winemaker at Heritage Estate had an impressive 2008 reserve chardonnay: a big, dry, perfumed style showing musk and apricot nectar.
At Whiskey Gully Wines, I tucked into a gourmet pizza and salivated over owner John Arlidge’s baker’s dozen of vintage guitars adorning the walls: Martins, Gibsons, Nationals and more.
Jim Barnes of Hidden Creek showed me a still very youthful 2005 chardonnay, with a lemon and peachy nose and a hint of toasted oak. At Robert Channon Wines, the standout was a superb 2008 verdelho – with a distinctly limey nose and a palate like a freshly cut dish of lychees and grapefruit.
We then headed off to the Granite Belt’s major olive producer, Mt Stirling Olives, where owner Jim Miller fed us a range of spiced and herbed olives and a slurp or two of his green and grassy extra virgin olive oil.
As we continued our sippin’ and spittin’ tour of Granite Belt wines, the vintage and the apple harvest were in full swing. Backpacking pickers were everywhere and the vines were mostly netted to prevent birds joining the fruit gathering.
As you tour the wineries, you can’t miss seeing Sirromet vineyards all over the place. Sirromet has the largest plantings in the region – but no local outlet. Their current strategy is to feature cellar door and restaurant facilities at Mt Cotton, much nearer to Brisbane and Gold Coast punters. Some locals, we noticed, have a touch of the Hyacinth Bucket – “Boo–Kay!” – about them. They spin up the name Sirromet to Sirromay – as if there’s a French derivation in there somewhere. Hardly likely, it’s simply the owner’s name – T.E. Morris – spelt backwards.
At the Shiraz Restaurant in Ballandean, we sampled local wines by the glass as I tucked into an entrée composed of grilled Turkish bread, extra virgin olive oil, and tangy macadamia dukka. For the main, I enjoyed a creamy dish of ravioli stuffed with mushrooms, pine nuts and fetta.
At the next winery, Tobin Wines, the 2008 Jacob Tempranillo was first class: a sweet tobacco pouch nose leading to a dryish palate of cherries and leather.
Golden Grove Estate has been making wine in the region for decades. Grace Costanzo related that in the early days her family would send bulk wines by rail to Italian canecutters in northern Queensland. I was taken with their 2007 durif, a nearly opaque, gutsy number, full of dark cherry essence and thick, chewy tannins.
Along with its many wineries, Stanthorpe boasts the Queensland College of Wine Tourism. This is a world-class facility where high school, TAFE, and university students study winemaking, tourism and hospitality. They have their own vineyard and a smart 60-seat training bistro, which also serves wines made by the students.
Last call was lunch at the rustic Sutton’s Cidery, where Dave Sutton showed us his lip-smacking dry cider and a superior apple brandy he’d distilled from cider and aged in small oak.
Wine quality and Queensland verdelho
Like most wine drinkers who’ve grown up on wine from the southern states, my experience with Queensland wines has been very limited. The more Queensland wines I taste the more I believe that if there is any variety particularly suited to this and other Queensland regions it is verdelho. I’m happy to report that the general quality of Granite belt wines at most price brackets is comparable with wines from the more familiar regions.