Every cloud has a silver lining.
Queenslanders often head for interstate wine destinations, but due to the restrictions we’ve all experienced of late, many wine-loving folk have opened their minds and their wallets
to the wonderful wines produced on our doorstep on the Granite Belt.
A leisurely four-hour drive from the Sunshine Coast will see your feet perched 800 to 1000 metres above sea level in Queensland’s premier wine district. With a landscape dotted with incredible formations of granite boulders, a couple of nights in this picturesque region will ensure the worries of the world are nowhere to be seen.
One thing that differentiates the Granite Belt from other wine regions in Australia is the fact there is no ‘hero’ variety, but some suggest tempranillo may claim the prize. Many other Australian regions hang their hats on riesling, chardonnay, pinot noir, shiraz or cabernet, but as Ridgemill Estate winemaker Peter McGlashan says, “Diversity is embraced and we’re not hamstrung by regional identity.”
Peter knows a thing or two about the region’s diversity as he was one of the co-founders of the Strange Bird Wine Trail. He tells me that 40 per cent of the region’s vines are now planted to emerging varieties. Have you come across white varieties such as fiano, gewürztraminer, petit manseng, roussanne or vermentino? Or perhaps reds are more your style? Consider durif, graciano, malbec, nero d’avola, pinotage, tempranillo or saperavi.
Very much a forward thinker, Peter would love to plant some arinto or greco given the opportunity. Both are white varieties, with the latter showing big flavours possessing a lot of strings to its bow, enabling it to be handled differently. But Peter’s pride and joy is the Georgian variety saperavi, which he describes as “graceful and elegant with power”. The first in the district to plant it, he’s taken his work to the world and won a gold medal on the Georgian’s home turf. Ballandean Estate did so too.
To be called an emerging variety, it must represent less than one per cent of the total fruit-bearing vines in Australia as defined by Wine Australia. To make the Strange Bird Trail, these wines need to be made from 100 per cent Granite Belt fruit.
What also makes the Granite Belt unique is its climate. Sure, the district’s elevation plays its part here, but the warm days and cool-to-cold nights ensure a long ripening period delivering medium-bodied wines. The diurnal shift helps the grapes to produce great colour and fruit character.
As we become conscious of climate, so too are winemakers. On the front line in a drought-prone region, some forward thinking has seen the Queensland College of Wine Tourism plant what they call the ‘Vineyard of the Future’.
Some 70 varieties of vines as well as different rootstocks have been planted to see how they fare. All up, there are 400 vines and many of these varieties hail from Mediterranean climates. The college’s chief executive officer Peter O’Reilly says the pursuit of finding varieties which perform well under our Queensland conditions is never-ending. Successful field tests lead to small-batch winemaking. Ideally, a variety that handles humidity and produces a later bud burst to starve off frost threats would be ideal.
Not all vineyards are the same so it’s a ‘horses for courses’ approach. Peter O’Reilly says the Italian favourite montepulciano has been most favourable to some coastal regions where some high schools on the Gold Coast and Caboolture have been planting vineyards for their students’ studies.
But if you are one to stretch your vinous curiosity that bit further, booking an appointment at the Bent Road winery is a must. Where hipster street styling meets suave sophistication, winemakers of the La Petit Mort label Glen Robert and Andrew Scott aren’t afraid to push boundaries. Not only will you find clever wines made with interest and complexity but their use of Georgian qvevri sets them apart. Housed in the ground beside the winery, these vessels are a nod to the wines and winemaking traditions from thousands of years ago.
But the region is not just about wine. Dig deep and you’ll find a rich tapestry of apple, pear and cherry orchards along with countless producers of berries, tomatoes, capsicums, lettuce, melons, herbs – the list goes on.
Wine and food are best friends and the district has a number of splendid options to tickle your tastebuds. Consider breakfast at the Brinx Deli, your morning brew at the Commercial Coffee Stop, a classy lunch or dinner at St Jude’s Cellar Door & Bistro, some casual fare at Hidden Creek’s cafe overlooking their lake or even head to the Blue Topaz for an old-school American-style diner experience for the best burgers and milkshakes in town.
To cap off a great day, be sure to grab a seat at Essen or The Barrelroom for dinner – easily the two best dining spots in the region. But your belly won’t forgive you if you don’t head to Sutton’s for its insanely delicious apple pie as you depart.
A trip to the region will not only warm your heart, but one of a small business.
NINE TO TRY:
AN IMPRESSIVE DEBUT – LA PETITE MORT ALBARINO 2019, $28
Queensland’s first albarino, this light aperitif style screams for seafood. Honeyed tones, poached pears and faint apricot with delicate spice and refreshing acidity. Thirst quenchability and then some.
GET IN MY BELLY – GOLDEN GROVE NERO D’AVOLA 2019, $28
So juicy. So supple. So delicious. It’s loaded with black cherries and black plums plus sarsaparilla and cherry cola. Entrancing aromas of violets scream of indulgence and beauty. Lip smacking width fills the mouth yet the juicy factor continues to flourish.
ASIAN NIGHT – BUNGAWARRA GEWÜRZTRAMINER 2018, $29
There’s a wonderful balance between the aromatics and fruit in this wine. Lavender, purple flowers plus rose water build appealing aromas. Well balanced acidity, a delicate spice caresses the mouth on close. A beauty.
SUNSHINE AND SMILES – BALLANDEAN ESTATE MALVASIA 2019, $30
Summer seafood lunches are done easy with this beauty. A cracker! Clever use of oak adds a delicate creamy drive. Baked apple and a wicked citrus tang seals the deal. Fabulous.
FIRE UP THE CHAR GRILL – HIDDEN CREEK TEMPRANILLO 2018, $38
Charcuterie in a glass. Meaty and smoky, dark plums and dark cherry fruit sit in the driver’s seat. There’s plenty of depth on offer here with spicy sausage chiming in. Robust tannins call for that meat board or barbecue.
PIZZA AND PASTA – WITCHES FALLS SANGIOVESE 2018, $40
Pretty scents of red cherries, char and a little smoke. Red plums chime in with an undertow of thyme and oregano. It’s bright and energetic with a red apple crunch and whip cracking acidity. Great stuff.
GRANITE BELT CLASSIC – TOBINS WINES MAX SHIRAZ BLOCK TWO 2019, $59
Made the same as Block One, the difference is purely site expression. Delicately spiced with bevelled edges, mulberry and blueberry fruit provide a wonderful drive. Structure, focused and serious, longevity is in its veins.
SPECIAL OCCASION – RAVENS CROFT WAAGEE 2018, $60
A mightily impressive Bordeaux blend. Wonderfully savoury with well-handled dark fruits, it’s a wine that will reward cellaring and repay the faith for well over a decade. Terrific craftsmanship.
PURPLE RAIN – RIDGEMILL ESTATE THE CZAR SAPERAVI 2018, $60
Dripping with blueberries laced with a Christmas cake spice, it’s voluptuous and mouth filling. Sheets of textural interest are interwoven with faint licks of liquorice adding further appeal. One glass just isn’t enough.
Say cheers with a Sunshine Coast beer!
Brouhaha Strawberry and Rhubarb Sour
Exactly what the can says – it’s bursting with ripe strawberries followed by a rush of rhubarb, and, of course, it’s sour. Local Maleny Dairy yoghurt is used as the souring culture. Dry to finish with a super refreshment factor.
Boiling Pot Brewing Co 22 Patels IPA
Low bitterness for an IPA and dripping in tropical fruit make this a smashing brew to kick back with. Add some hoppiness and biscuity malt and you have a moderately intense beer ready for you to crush.
Steve Leszczynski is a wine writer, wine dinner host and MC. Apart from writing for his website QwineReviews.com, Steve contributes to Halliday Wine Companion Magazine, Vinomofo, Wine Business Magazine, Grapegrower & Winemaker Magazine and has previously written for Must Do Brisbane. Steve is a passionate supporter of the Queensland wine industry.