The Granite Belt is about a 3 hour drive south-west from Queensland’s capital, Brisbane. The drive passes both grand and ramshackle homesteads, fields with horses and cows, and road-side tin letter boxes that signal someone lives down the long dirt road. This is quintessential Queensland countryside: the blades of the windmills turn slowly as smoke rises from the blackened bush and gum trees are dotted through the fields.
But there is something that is striking about the landscape of the Granite Belt, which also acts as a clear sign you have reached it: the large granite boulders scattered in fields.
Although winter is a popular time for Queenslanders to visit the Granite Belt to experience a ‘real’ winter, the spring is a marvellous time to visit because the wattle trees are blossoming with canary yellow flowers, casting a bright, vibrant film over the region.
The Granite Belt wine region stretches from just north of Stanthorpe to just south of Ballandean. The region has a history of growing apples, signified by the giant red apple sculpture (the Big Apple) at Vincenzo’s Café, as well as growing table grapes. But thanks to the Italian immigrants to the region, the growing of table grapes changed over time to grow wine grapes and make wine of increasing quality.
The region is home to some of the most unusual wines in Australia. Grape varieties that are rarely grown in Australia, such as Savagnin, Durif, and Saperavi, are grown in the region and used to make alternative varietal wines referred to in the region as ‘Strange Birds’. Although the Granite Belt is in the warm ‘Sunshine State’, it is just under 1000 metres altitude, and so the region produces cool climate wines.
Wineries to Visit
The view to the lake is beautiful here, and the grounds and tasting room are a warm welcome to Granite Belt wine country. Robert Channon Wines are most well-known for their Verdelho and Petit Verdot, which is warranted since these wines were delightful, charming and well-balanced. Their Chardonnay was very good, too.
The elegant tasting room for Heritage Wines is in an old church on the New England Highway opposite the Big Apple. My favourite wines here were the Reserve Chardonnay, Pinot Gris (it was such a gorgeous colour) and the Rabbit Fence Red, which is a Shiraz, Cabernet, Merlot blend.
The tasting room and the wines are elegant, and as I tasted their wines, I realised how special Symphony Hill is for its consistency with regards to quality and attention to detail. I liked all the wines, but the Reserve Reds were superb. The Reserve Shiraz ‘The Rock’ was served to Prince William and Kate when they were in Brisbane and I loved the Reserve Petit Verdot, which is described by Symphony Hill as “Big purple cuddly monster…”
Golden Grove Estate has a tranquil outlook to the vines and some good strange bird wines, such as the Durif, which is a tannic, deep purple-red wine with blackberry and liquorice on the nose. The gnomes in the gardens are a nice touch, too.
As the first cellar door in the region and the winner of numerous awards at the 2016 Queensland Wine Awards, a trip to the Granite Belt would not be complete without a visit to Ballandean Estate Wines. I fell in love with their Messing About Saperavi (2013), which is a strange bird varietal from Georgia that makes a dark purple wine with cherry and blackcurrant on the palate.
Where to Stay
The Vineyard Cottages in Ballandean are quaint and each cottage is nestled in gardens with lavender planted along the doorstep. The on-site restaurant is wonderful and on certain nights of the week it is only open for house guests.
Where to Eat
For lunch, the Queensland College of Wine Tourism’s Varias restaurant offers a Medley of Mains paired with Banca Ridge wines. For a café-style lunch, the Singing Lake Café at Robert Channon Wines offers a glorious view to the lake and country-side as well as a menu that includes kangaroo pie (how Australian!).
For dinner, the Vineyard Café at the Vineyard Cottages serves delicious à la carte meals in the old church and there is a fireplace in the reception area to enjoy in the cooler months.
Who to Tour With
Pete Gray from Wine Discovery Tours knows the area well and is always smiling.
Note. All links were correct when posted.