‘Eat, drink and be merry’ is the mantra at the heart of Queensland’s premier wine country.

Under a four-hour drive from the Sunshine Coast, Queensland country’s Southern Downs and Granite Belt used to be known just for apples and the promise of snow in winter.

But in recent decades, the rural hubs of Stanthorpe and Warwick – and a sprinkling of smaller border towns and villages including Ballandean, Applethorpe, The Summit and Wallangarra – have made a name for themselves as an under-rated Australian wine-producing area that likes to over-deliver on country hospitality and foodie experiences.

With more than 30 wineries and cellar doors, new accommodation styles and an increasing number of artisan and fresh food outlets, the region has become a four-seasons destination. And the reasons to visit – to taste something a little different – grow year on year.

 

‘New kids on the block’

Boutique winery View Wine in Ballandean will open its cellar door in August, showcasing memorable drops, including a sauvignon blanc as buttery as any chardonnay.

The View Wine grape-to-glass experience starts in the vineyard where visitors can immerse themselves in the wine-producing process. Stroll the rows of vines at any time in the growing season, taste the hand-harvested grapes and see the prunings. The journey continues inside with the working equipment of the winery, tasting samples from the barrels like a true winemaker.

“It’s about making the vineyard more a part of the wine tasting,” says owner Stacey Allan, who runs the venture with husband Brad.

Formerly Gladstone-based and with a background in civil construction, the Allans had decided to leave behind the all-consuming industry and “do something” for themselves.

A winery or accommodation business loomed large in their minds as the change they needed. Travelling throughout Europe in 2012, they were inspired by a friend of a family  friend who ran a winery south of Paris in the hilltop village  of Sancerre.

The Allans found what they were looking for in Ballandean, purchasing the Smiths Vineyard the following year and becoming, as Stacey acknowledges, “the new kids on the block”. They now grow six varieties that form the basis of all their wines: sauvignon blanc, semillon, alvarinho, gros manseng, merlot and shiraz.

View Wine also offers a private wine-tasting experience for up to eight guests, overlooking the vineyard from the deck or by the fireplace.

View Wine by Sancerre Estate, 60 Zambelli Road, Ballandean. Visit viewwine.au or call 0428 777 166.

Passion projects

Winery owner Adam Penberthy hopes St Judes Estate – home of Dear Vincent Wines, in a nod to the patron saint of winemakers – will become a leading tourism development for the region.

March 30 and 31 this year offered a taste of big things to come when Adam and his team hosted a pop-up cellar door at the vineyard. Visitors were treated to tastings of the initial range of five 100 per cent estate wines (2023 Field Blend Pet Nat, 2023 Viognier, 2023 Skinsy Pinot Gris, 2021 Shiraz Viognier and 2023 Cabernet Durif), served off the back of a ute.

The pop-up – located next to the 25 years-plus shiraz vines, overlooking Ballandean village, with views to Sundown National Park – is open every weekend until the permanent cellar door is completed by about the end of September. Plans also include a restaurant, function spaces and accommodation.

The winery isn’t the only passion project, however. Adam, wife Sammie and their three children recently renovated and re-opened Ballandean Pub, with a large kids’ playground, beer garden out the front and old Bedford truck stage for live music.

Dear Vincent Wines at St Judes Estate, 64 St Judes Lane, Ballandean. Visit stjudesestate.com.au or call 0422 057 333.

Accommodating all tastes

The diverse range of Southern Downs and Granite Belt accommodation has spouted like local Country Farm mushrooms in recent years.

Visitors can lounge among the vines in a Ridgemill Estate villa, stay crawling distance from brew tastings in a Granite Belt Retreat and Brewery cabin, or relax in the lap of luxury within a national park at Girraween Environmental Lodge, for example.

But few properties have garnered the celebrity status of Barrel View Luxury Cabins at Ballandean. Amy and Steven Torrisi elevated a quirky idea and created something special within their 16 hectares (40 acres), complete with hiking trails and 180-degree views over Girraween and Sundown national parks.

Billed as Australia’s first wine barrel accommodation, the trio of lavish retreats are named after Strange Bird grape varieties (that account for less than one per cent of Australia’s plantings):  barbera, tempranillo and saperavi (this one includes an  outdoor bath).

From their king-size bed, couples can stargaze or watch the sunrise through the arch window.

Barrel View Luxury Cabins, 137 Days Road, Ballandean. Visit barrelview.com.au or call 0488 020 808.

Immersed in truffles

The Folly – a gamble on setting up Queensland’s first commercial truffle farm in 2016 – is paying off for the Egerton family.

The business is known for weekend truffle hunts from mid to late winter, cooking demonstrations, year-round farm tours and farmgate sales of truffles and truffle-infused products.

Now, visitors can immerse themselves in the farm experience with off-grid campsites for self-sufficient caravans, motorhomes and camper trailers.

The 16 tranquil, eco-friendly sites in the tourist park have 360-degree views.

Guests can explore the working truffle farm and surrounding 688 hectares, including seven kilometres of Severn River frontage.

The Folly Truffles, 1110 Bents Road, Ballandean. Visit thefollytruffles.com.au or call 0488 392 979. Book a campsite at thefollyballandean.com.au/caravans/

 Serendipitous adventure

Caitlin and Nick Roberts had no intention of buying a winery in the Southern Downs and Granite Belt.

With backgrounds in marketing and finance, the couple was living in London when Caitlin’s father took ill, prompting an urgent trip to Australia to see him. After his recovery, Caitlin and Nick joined him on a wine-tasting tour of the region where they met boutique winemaker Mark Ravenscroft.

Mark told the group he was selling the winery and vineyard, which is located 12 kilometres northwest of Stanthorpe. What happened next is what Caitlin describes as “very serendipitous”.

“We signed the contract at the property and found out I was pregnant on the same day,” she says. “Twenty-six acres (10.5 hectares) but 2.5 (one hectare) under vine. We’re a small, boutique vineyard, and that’s enough for us.”

Ravenscroft Vineyard specialises in high-quality, vegan-friendly, small-batch wines using minimal intervention and additives. The small yields mean that every step of the winemaking process is done on-site – from tending the vines and hand-harvesting to crushing and pressing, bottling and labelling.

Pinotage – a South African hybrid of pinot noir and cinsault grapes – is Ravenscroft Vineyard’s specialty, being one of only about five producers Australia-wide who grow and produce it.

Ravenscroft Vineyard, 274 Spring Creek Road, Stanthorpe. Visit ravenscroftvineyard.com or call 0403 357 596.

Download the visitor app at: granitebeltwinecountry.com.au/download-the-visitor-app/