Getting a taste for Granite Belt wines (and beer!) »
And denouncing the myth about Queensland wines
By Kerry Scambler
“You come from Tassie and you went wine tasting in Stanthorpe? Why on earth did you do that?” This question came from a wine-loving Queensland friend over dinner on the Gold Coast.
It epitomises the perception problem that continues to be faced by winemakers on the Granite Belt. No wonder some wish the border of NSW extended a bit further north!
Yes we have some great wines in Tasmania and some world class wines at that (House of Arras sparkling and Domaine A to mention just two). But there are a few average wines too, and the same could surely be said of every wine region around the world.
But sadly the two words 'Queensland' and 'wine' have not had a close and loving relationship in the past, so from now on we’ll just call it like the locals – the Granite Belt.
En route to a recent conference on the Gold Coast, Lismore friends offered to take us exploring around Stanthorpe. Our friend Frank, taking the initiative, booked us accommodation AND a full day wine tour. He’s a good man!
These are our highlights:
Tasting at Ballandean Estate
The Puglisi family has been making wine at Ballandean since 1931 so it's the oldest winery on the Belt. In 2015 James Halliday’s Wine Companion rated it a Top 10 Dark Horse, and for good reason we concluded.
What we liked: the warm welcome from Robyn, daughter of Angelo and Mary Puglisi, who shared the family’s stories as she shared the wines.
One tale that remains with me was how the family came to terms with the devastating shed fire in December 2011 that wiped out over five years of stock, including aged wines and precious back vintages, plus machinery and equipment, valued into the millions. Thankfully the winery and cellar door were saved so more wine could be made and visitors still welcomed.
But the family still felt the loss deeply and even wondered if it was worth continuing.
A few weeks later there was another Queensland tragedy when chef Matt Golinski lost his family and nearly his own life in a housefire. Robyn told us this put their own disaster keenly into perspective – they had just lost “stuff”, they hadn’t lost any loved ones. And so the Puglisi family kept going and we are very happy they did, as are the many visitors who continue to walk into the cellar door.
What we drank: looking at the ticks and notes on my tasting page, suffice to say there were wines aplenty to choose from when it came to the all important cellar door purchases. Some wines were not to our personal taste but that's not unusual. (Let it be clear that unlike my VisitVineyards colleagues, I’m not a wine expert by any stretch – but I'm working on it!)
So we walked out the door with smiles and of course, a Fiano for that very evening and some Ballandean beauties sitting in a carton that was just beginning its Granite Belt journey.
Staying in Stannum Lodge, Stanthorpe (say that after a day’s wine tour!)
What we liked: It was spotless! I have a thing about hotel cleanliness and bemoan the schmick hotel rooms with their modern arty feel, so clean to the eye but step into the bathroom and the black lines of mould and dull taps take the gloss of the experience.
Not so Stannum Lodge. It was meticulously clean from end to end – neat as a pin you might say – and there were some lovely little touches like good sized coffee mugs, decent wine glasses (crucial here!), fluffy towels and makeup remover pads.
Our genial hosts, Mark and Maurice can't do enough for their guests and are always ready with a quick "hello and where are you off to today then?" (We loved the story of Mark’s 80+ year old mother who has a Harley “with training wheels”! )
Sustenance: our first evening we went next door for Anna's renowned Italian buffet in the old house of many rooms. Book early for this one, popular with tourists, return visitors and locals alike.
On our second evening, after a hard day’s wine touring, we gathered together some delicious gourmet goodies, a bottle or two of Brass Monkey beer and a bottle of Ballandean Fiano and sat in the garden gazebo. Sitting around grazing on food, sipping on your favourite tipple of the day and sharing a tale and good laugh or two with friends really is one of life’s simplest and most enjoyable pleasures.
What we liked: the affable and knowledgeable Tony picked us up for our day of wining and dining on the GB. There wasn’t much he couldn’t tell us as we wound our way around the Belt. From how and why the pyramid was built to why the local granite isn’t for your kitchen benchtops!
Filippo's Tour: the timetable was well-paced, with the first vineyard for the day doing most of the local education – a good move with everyone’s concentration span degenerating as the day went on. It included a good range and diversity of vineyards, lunch and a perfect stop at the end of the day.
First stop – Summit Estate
Cellar Door Manager Eugene Paramonoff met us with a smile on arrival and talked us through the region, told us how vintage had gone and answered many questions from our group on all manner of subjects.
What we liked: Eugene's simple and honest explanations of Summit's wines, their makeup and characteristics and the necessity of balance in any wine. The StrangeBirds were on show with the first wine of the day: the High Country White, made up of marsanne, verdehlo and viognier, and continued through to the Amapola Roja, a Spanish style malbec.
Diverting from the tasting sheet, we also tried and enjoyed the Monastrell Cabernet, a 2012 wine made in Spain by Summit's winemaker at the time, Paola Andrea Cabezas. Paola also co-wrote this article on the region's 50 varietals with Sonia Gigghiolli »
Boutique winery – Casley Mount Hutton
Sonya Casley walks us through the winery shed, talking of their journey to here and the recent vintage. Being a boutique size, it's not a long walk so we're soon back for a tasting. The wine list is long so our advice is to pick a couple of styles you know and like and a few you've not tried.
What we liked: the Casley Mount Hutton cellar door bar is surrounded by gleaming vats and oak barrels while wafts of the recently harvested grapes, now resting and fermenting, flowing through the air. It makes the tasting experience feel up close and personal with the actual winemaking. Sonya and Grant were both friendly and knowledgeable hosts.
And yes, some purchases were made including a surprising one for us, the Liqueur Muscat. As usual with fortified, we just have to remember it's in the cabinet.
The animals at Rumbalara
David Higgins was an excellent tasting host, seating us at a table then bringing out the animals one by one for introduction. You see Rumbalara has a rather unique naming philosophy for their most popular five wines. No remembering fancy names and blends, just the names of African animals which can be a lot easier. The whites are the Buffalo, Elephant and Rhino and the reds are the Leopard and the Lion.
We thought these were easy drinking wines and probably priced way too cheaply. But, as David explains, the wines are consistent as are the prices and that's what their customers around Australia line up for each year so they have no plans for changes.
What we liked: there were ticks aplenty on the tasting sheet and David's easy way of explaining the wines, the winemaking philosophy and process made the whole experience very enjoyable. As was the Impi Cream milkshake!
A cleansing ale at Brass Monkey Brewhouse
When driver Tony mentioned our last stop there was a definite "oh yes please" from our seats. It was time for a cleansing ale at the Brass Monkey Brewhouse.
Classified as a 'nano brewery', owner and brewer Ernie Butler manages to handcraft a very good range of boutique beers, available fresh off tap or in bottles. Favourites were the German Pilsner and the Old English Brown Ale for flavours and the crisp lager for a cleanser.
What we liked: it really was a refreshing way to end the day and Ernie was a friendly bloke who can brew up a decent beer or three.
Other places to check out:
- The pyramid at Ballandean – built with a digger and a good eye for detail!
- Vincenzo’s – local gourmet goodies and great coffee
- Sutton's – apple juice and cider. We loved the Apple Juice with Ginger, which we hear also tastes great with a dash of Bundaberg Rum.
- Heritage Wines – beautiful old building with antique décor and a basket of dress ups for the big kids!
AND THE CONCLUSION ON QUEENSLAND WINES?
Well Bernard, we're not sure you know what you're missing out on. We tasted some great wines, discovered many new varieties and met some wonderful people who love what they do despite some of the challenges from mother nature (and their fellow state citizens).
We're looking forward to that wayward case of wine arriving soon so we can re-live our Granite Belt tasting experiences. We've also placed an order from one of the wineries above.
Yes, our home state remains number one in our hearts – one of our favourite ways of sharing the love is taking friends straight to cellar doors around the state. But with open minds and tastebuds, those Queensland wines and winemakers deserve far more respect than it seems they receive.
Note: there were a couple of disappointmenting experiences on this tour, but we felt the above were some of the Granite Belt stars and well worth sharing.
Kerry Scambler and her partner were independent travellers (and wine buyers).
- Granite Belt (QLD)
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