Last updated 11 June 2020
Discovering Queensland’s world-class wineries
I’m partial to being outdoors and love to follow the hiking trails through the Australian bush. It had been way too long between visits to Girraween National Park.
My eldest, James was almost six when I last clambered over the magnificent granite boulders with some very special friends from America. And he’s soon turning 21!
Girraween is yet another destination close to home I wonder why I’ve left it so long between visits.
Recently I was with a group of enthusiastic Americans visiting Australia for a wine conference (as you do!) You’ll find the first part of my story here
A few in our group (and I) decided to take a break from the wineries to explore some of the almost 30 kilometres of walking trails inside the 11,000 hectare park. The bush is tinder dry currently and there is evidence a bushfire has swept through the park Sadly, a side effect of the longest-running drought experienced in the region.
But today the sky is azure blue and a gentle breeze cools the morning air as we climb the trail towards the Pyramids. At the section where the incline takes a more vertical route, a few decide not to continue to the top. With my dicky knee, I figure it’s best not to test it up that steep incline and we watch the others clamber from sight.
The balancing boulders known as Pyramid Rock at the very top are an incredible sight. Allan Wright, a keen climber in our group shares an image from the top in his story
I manage to capture some of those incredible balancing rocks at Granite Arch. It hasn’t changed much in 15 years!
When we collect the rest of our gang who declined the climb preferring wine from Pyramid Road Wines my Brisbane colleagues inform us they’ve made another fabulous winery discovery. They met owners Sue and Warren Smith and here’s an excerpt from a post written by Kerri McConnel of Beer and Croissants.com
“As I sat listening firstly to Sue, and later Warren Smith, I realised how truly special the connection with the owners and winemakers was. How often, I thought, do we really get to speak so directly with a business owner? How often are we afforded such an honest and genuine conversation that reaches deep into the soul of each business, where owners discuss their dreams but also their challenges?
Their philosophy that washes across everything they do is about integrity in their products, always striving for quality and don’t ever compromise. They sell what they are proud of and they are connected to everything they do. As such, this comes across consistently in their wines. “Grapes will grow,” says Sue, “but good grapes need work. Every day there is something for us to do and save for some friends and volunteers that help out at harvest time, we do everything themselves.”
Twisted Gum Wines
Hearing a name like Twisted Gum I’d no idea what to expect. I certainly wasn’t expecting a classic old 1920’s Queenslander with wide wrap-around verandas and a silver corrugated tin roof.
This old dairy farmer’s house was relocated to their property east of Ballandean in 2012 by new owners Tim and Michelle Coelli who purchased the vineyard in 2007. The couple have built a unique business around its timber-framed walls which now acts as their cellar door.
We’re greeted warmly by Michelle who invites us inside the cottage, and we sit around a long solid timber table. Michelle explains they approach winemaking using sustainable agricultural techniques. Their vineyard covers three hectares and is one of the smaller wineries of the region. The first vines were planted in 1992, the last in 1995 and they are dry-grown – meaning they don’t irrigate. “We use composting to try and increase the soil’s organic matter to help with the drought conditions,” explains Michelle. “I feel like we’re in a slightly better position over vineyards that have been irrigating well,” she adds as she pours a refreshing blend of Verdhello/Semillon 2017 into our tasting glasses.
Because their operation is on a smaller scale, they prune and harvest by hand. And it’s apparent from the way she talks, they’ve poured their heart and soul in this place. They work on the land seven days a week and are proud of the wines they’ve been able to produce.
Michelle admits there are advantages to the dry conditions. “The vines produce looser bunches with thicker skins which are less of an attraction to insects.” There is no need for insecticides. They allow nature, including birds from the nearby eucalyptus forest to eradicate any unwelcome insects.
Their unique wines are only found through the cellar door. The couple has renovated the original 1920’s farmhouse and turned it into a three-bedroom two-bathroom self-contained cottage for couples or a family to rent.
Inside the tasting room of Golden Grove Estate, I see a proud father, Sam Costanzo standing in the corner watching his son. It’s a family affair. Sam stands quietly listening as his son Raymond shares his knowledge (and obvious passion) for their wines. Raymond’s mother Grace stands near him, no doubt hearing the Golden Grove backstory for the 100th time but listening attentively, as we are too!
Raymond studied wine-making at University and spent some time in overseas wine regions.
“Drinking lots,” he says with a chuckle.
With a rich Italian inflection, Raymond introduces a few of their new varieties: Tempranillo, Nero d’Avola and Mourvedre.
He applies his knowledge and with input from the Costanzo clan has taken the family property, which once was a farm growing grapes for the fresh fruit market and turned it into a five-star rated James Halliday winery.
At the Courier Mail’s Queensland Wine Awards Raymond was named as the Queensland Winemaker of the Year (2019), whilst his father, Sam picked up the top honour for Viticulturalist of the Year (2019.)
Hidden Creek Wines
Relaxed couple Andy and Leanne Williams greet our group at the Hidden Creek cellar door appropriately adorned with vines. I feel almost ‘wined’ out (if that’s possible) and perk up when the couple suggests we tuck into a mixed platter filled with cheeses, fruit and crackers.
Resident dog Pepper waits eagerly for someone to pass (or drop) a morsel from the platter while Andy shares Hidden Creek’s story. As chief winemaker, he is justifiably proud of their 2018 Queensland Winery of the Year Award.
Liking the 2018 Tempranillo, I take my tasting glass and wander into the adjacent room. The seating area for their cafe overlooks a dam, partially filled with water. They’re one of the more fortunate wineries still able to draw water during these drought conditions.
Leanne advises their café offers lunch which can be served indoors or outdoors and the menu has been chosen to pair with a selection of their wines.
The last time I visited Sirromet was as part of a crowd of 1000s on the hill for one of their popular Day on the Greens. And it was an afternoon that stretched into the evening where plenty of Sirromet wine was consumed.
But there were no musical performances today. On this occasion, we were concluding our Granite Belt wine tour for lunch and a tour at this beautiful venue in Mt Cotton.
While you may think it strange to end a Granite Belt Wine tour on the outskirts of Brisbane, there is a very good reason.
Sirromet sources 98% of its grapes from three vineyards in the Granite Belt Region. They’re also are responsible for 40% of Queensland’s wine production. These and more interesting facts were given to us by the very affable and energetic Mike Hayes, Sirromet’s Director of Viticulture and Chief Winemaker.
Within minutes of arriving at the grand entrance, Mike has us enthralled with his in-depth winemaking knowledge. And he’s visibly excited about the future of Queensland’s wine industry.
“Queensland have been leaders with emerging varieties,” he says. “We have the opportunity to take our wine to the world and for Queensland to be recognised as a serious wine entity.”
When Mike says, he wants Queensland to become the little Europe down under, my heart swells with pride. This man is on a mission and it’s easy to be drawn into the journey.
With over 39 years working in the professional wine industry across 16 wine regions and two countries and the Australian Society of Viticulture & Oenology (ASVO) Winemaker of the Year for 2017, Mike is an expert.
“The Sirromet team is going to take it to the next level. The research we do now over the next 5 – 10 years is going to set up the Queensland wine industry and more importantly the Granite Wine Belt for the next 50 years.”
Mike openly acknowledges the challenges brought about by climate change and the need to adapt now, before it’s too late. By adapting he means working with grape varieties from around the world that can handle the extreme temperatures and lack of water. “We are looking at temperature increases of between four and six degrees. If we don’t start drought-proofing our vineyards we will have no future.”
Mike is the architect behind the Vineyard of the Future project at the Stanthorpe based Queensland College of Wine Tourism (QCWT)
The college is a joint venture between the Queensland State Government and the University of Southern Queensland to encourage local students to study hospitality and the wine business. On our last night in Stanthorpe, we were invited to a dinner at the QCWT where we met CEO, Peter O’Reilly. On a tour around the campus, Peter explained the Vineyard of the Future project, where 70 varieties of vines, many from Portugal and Spain, have been planted to determine their suitability to the local climate.
Mike Hayes is in the driver’s seat determined to place Queensland on the map as a dominant force in the world’s wine market. And for that to happen, he knows research into token varieties is vital.
“With over 8,000 varieties in the world, my goodness we are going to have fun researching these over the next 50 years.”
As a proud Queenslander, I’m looking forward to tasting the results of the research!
All opinions expressed are my own.
In Stanthorpe, I stayed at Grovely House Bed and Breakfast. Run by Faith Simon who lives elsewhere but pops in during the afternoon offering afternoon tea and back for a cooked breakfast in the morning. And she makes a delicious selection of jams too available to purchase.