Granite Belt Drive - Part one

Queensland’s Granite Belt is open and ready for business.

With the recent bushfires and drought, people have been less inclined to visit the Granite Belt, but the region’s tourist attractions, cellar doors, restaurants and accommodation are well and truly open and ready for business.

While drought is affecting this area, most of the landscape around Stanthorpe and nearby communities has been untouched by bushfires and this great part of the Sunshine State more than ever is welcoming drive travellers. 

Summer is a great time to visit. While the days can be hot, they are less humid than coastal areas and the summer nights are cool, typically around 15 degrees. And it really is a beautiful part of Queensland.

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Few things can better a road trip to a wine and produce area. 

I had an uncle and aunty who loved their wine region road trips. Once, when travelling through the Hunter Valley with a car full of recently purchased wine, they broke down due to an overheated engine and empty radiator. A short discussion between the resourceful couple determined that a bottle of chardonnay from the boot would be sacrificed as makeshift radiator coolant. The radiator was filled and the engine switched on. Although the warm, heady aroma of bubbling chardonnay attracted some bees, the makeshift repairs sufficed to get them to the next town to get their car properly sorted.

Resourcefulness and resilience seem to be recurring themes in wine and produce regions. 

In the face of the drought, several Granite Belt vineyards and businesses recently banded together in a Wine4Water initiative. This delivered a proportion of W4W wine pack sales to local drought relief initiatives. It says a lot about the character of the people in the region that some who are struggling due to the drought would forego income to help others who are worse off.

One of the best ways fellow Queenslanders from Brisbane and other regions can help the area is to visit and spend money in the local communities.

Vineyard heritage

It’s said that vines were first planted in the Granite Belt in the 1860s by a local catholic parish priest. Later, Italian families who settled here planted vines for their own wine consumption.

The Granite Belt is still hallowed turf. At just under 1000m, it’s one of the highest altitude wine regions in Australia, produces many varieties and styles of wine and actively promotes its ‘Strangebird Wines’ persona. 

The Strangebird Wine Trail has been established in the Granite Belt to introduce visitors to some alternative varieties of wine. To qualify as ‘alternative’, a wine must not represent more than one percent of Australia’s total bearing vines. So, expect to encounter such varieties as Saperavi, Nebbiolo, Petit Verdot, Fiano, Verdelho and Viognier, as well as shiraz, chardonnay, port and muscat.

For example, three wineries now produce wine from the Saperavi grape – an old variety that has its origins in eastern European country Georgia. Saperavi is a distinctive, full-bodied red wine and Ballandean Estate, Symphony Hill and Ridgemill Estate all have won gold medals in an international competition for this variety.

Wineries in this region are mostly owned and operated by families, some with a long history in the area. 

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Ballandean Estate (ballandeanestate.com), for example, owned by the Puglisi family, has been making wine since 1932 and opened its cellar door in 1970. Ballandean Estate opens daily from 9am and offers a winery tours at 11am. Ballandean’s Barrelroom Restaurant is open for lunch Thursday to Sunday and dinner on Friday and Saturday. 

There is plenty of good wine produced here. The two dozen wines on offer at the cellar door range from Shiraz to Nebbiolo and Sinatlis (largely Saperavi, a rich and beautiful red), and Chardonnay to Viognier and Fiano. Plus, it has some delicious fortifieds.

Ballandean Estate is one of the many quality wine producers in the Granite Belt, which jointly run some 40 cellar doors. So, plan your visit well and check cellar door opening times. Some wineries open every day, but many tend to open from Friday to Monday. You’d need to spend at least a few days here to sample the great wine on offer. If you want to have a day off driving, there are some local wine tour operators who will ferry you around.

Prefer a cold beer? In next month’s Road trip, we’ll showcase two Granite Belt breweries making their mark as well as provide plenty of food for thought (and indulgence).

Story: Jim Mathers

Photo: Tourism and Events Queensland