The Granite Belt – a garden of earthly delights

Drought. Bushfires. Floods. Sadly, Australia has gone full Dorothea Mackellar this summer. Heroically, the people touched by disaster keep on keeping on. Miraculously, they laugh because if they didn’t they’d cry. The call to #bringemptyeskys and #holidayherethisyear has gone out. But we need to buy more and stay longer. One region fighting the good fight is South East Queensland’s Granite Belt – aka Granite Belt Wine Country.

Granite Belt Wine Country This Magnificent Life

People around here aren’t sentimental. They’re not even nostalgic. Working the land in Australia has never been easy unless you’re a multi-millionaire grazier. Our PM told us last year if “You have a go, you’ll get a go”. Nothing could be further from the truth for many Australians in the city and the country. Sometimes all your hard work just goes up in smoke. Or it’s washed away. Now’s the time for us to start doing more for our country cousins who need our dollars.

Granite Belt This Magnificent Life

One of Australia’s food bowls, the Granite Belt is renowned for apples, stone fruit, and wine. Only 3 hours from Brisbane or the Gold Coast, the region is perfect for a weekend away with wine tasting and national park hiking top of the list. Last weekend we road-tripped with a group of travel writers to explore, taste, sip, and marvel at its unique landscape. We also listened to strawberry and apple growers, soap makers, brewers, winemakers, restaurateurs, and chocolatiers. Briefly here are some of their stories.

25 apples in every pie
Dave and Roz Sutton have done it all from wheat farming to trawling and now they’re orchardists. They saw the writing on the wall some years ago and started to diversify and value add. Their shingle now reads ‘ Sutton’s Juice Factory, Cidery and Cafe. Jars and bottles of juice, cider, preserves and sweet treats are stacked high. They even do a Limoncello!

Granite Belt Wine Country This Magnificent Life

Sutton’s enormous apple pies are legendary. Manager Deb Gavin tells us it takes 25 Pink Ladies to make each pie. (That’s apples, not employees). The variety holds its shape better and is sweeter than a Granny Smith. Slabs not slices of these full-figured beauties are served with whipped cream topped with Sutton’s Apple Syrup and a scoop of Spiced Cider Ice Cream. Big enough for two to share.

Granite Belt Wine Country This Magnificent Life

If you crave even more handcrafted goodies like jams, relishes, chutneys, and sauces make a stop at Jamworks  – local and luscious.

Granite Belt Wine Country This Magnificent Life

Getting schooled on wine – Queensland College of Wine Tourism
Queensland College of Wine Tourism, CEO Peter O’Reilly knows a thing or two about tourism as the former CEO of Enterprise Whitsundays. He also knows the heartbreak of drought and bushfire as part of the family who owns and operates O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat in the nearby Scenic Rim.

Vanias Restaurant This Magnificent Life

Peter tells us the college is a joint venture with the state government and USQ and aims to engage schools with industry training in wine science and hospitality. Nearby Stanthorpe High is the only school in the Southern Hemisphere that grows and crushes grapes on their property as well as serving it at Vanias the onsite restaurant.

The College’s Banca Ridge label has had particular success with its Sparkling Marsanne and Sparkling Merlot. Visitors can join a guided tour of the facility, finishing in the ‘Tastes of the Granite Belt’ room where they enjoy a wine tasting.  Guests also enjoy a cooking demonstration and then have the opportunity to taste the finished product.

Queensland College of Wine TourismThis Magnificent Life

Wine tourism is an imperative on the Granite Belt and Peter says, “it’s all about making boutique wine and selling it to people as part of a wine experience”.

“It’s been horrific in terms of tourist numbers. January was the worst month in six years. December was horrendous as well. (The drought means) key wineries won’t pick fruit this year. If it’s not one thing, that gets you, it’s another.”
I love to have a beer with Phil and Dee and so will you
When we arrive at Granite Belt Brewery dark clouds are brewing but a different sort of brewing is what we’re here to see, hear and most importantly taste. 5 minutes from Stanthorpe, set in 30 acres of natural bushland, the property seems to have recovered remarkably from last year’s fires.

Granite Belt Brewery This Magnificent Life

The beer gods were smiling when bushfires reached the Brewery’s back fence last September. Determined firies said to Brewery owner Geoff Davenport and volunteer firefighter himself, “if we’re going to save anything it’ll be the brewery”.
Phil and Dee are business partners and partners in life. They’re both looking forward now, buying local for their restaurant and supporting those who helped keep the micro-brewery safe. $3 from every Beer and Bratwurst Lunch goes to various charities including Wildlife Carers or Rural Men’s Health.

Image: Granite Belt Brewery

You can not only sample craft beer and eat your fill from the hearty menu, but you can also stay in one of the Tennessee-style, cedar log cabins on the property. The comfy cabins sit proudly in an unmistakably Aussie bush setting you share with wallabies, the occasional roaming echidna, and some all-knowing koalas up high. An idyllic spot mid-week or for a weekend of Granite Belt exploration.

Ridgemill Estate – Elegance in a glass
Winemaker Peter McGlashan welcomes us to the winery’s deck with glasses of Ridgemill Estate’s 2018 ‘Ellie’ Sparkling Brut de Blanc. Corks pop as we listen to stories of not enough water, hail storms and marauding cockatoos. All tests to the winemaker’s craft in these parts.

Granite Belt Wine Country This Magnificent Life

Tasting here is a learning experience and most importantly fun. Taste a Black Dog or the Mongrel. And don’t forget their Saperavi – an 8,000-year-old Georgian grape with red skin and unusual dark flesh. The birds really like this one so much that the first harvest only produced 17 bottles. It’s one of the Granite Belt’s *’Strange Birds’ and also one of Mr Halliday’s favourites.

A few years ago owners Martin Cooper and Michelle Feenan added elegant studio cabins to the grounds. Cozy, modern and luxurious they make a winter stay here with a roaring fire, some local cheese and a glass of Ridgemill Estate red mandatory.
Essen – Grow local, eat local
Essen is a new addition to Stanthorpe. Big fruity grapes on lush vines adorn the old-school shopfront. Family run, the BYO restaurant combines traditional favourites with modern Euro-Oz dishes. Produce is sourced locally and served with style.

Essen This Magnificent Life

Don’t miss the roast baby peppers and smoked eggplant with labneh or the excellent Scotch Fillet served simply with portobello mushrooms and salsa verde. Pork schnitzel is accompanied by a traditional German-style potato salad with dill and gherkins. The pretty as a picture, house-made lemon ‘fruche’ is ethereal with a tuile ‘veil’ and summer sweet strawberry and verbena coulis.
St Jude’s Cellar Door and Bistro – the new home of the long lunch?
Chef Robert Davison greets us with the widest of smiles. Best known for his epic Robertos at Noosa, he’s swapped the beach for a chance to grow wine on the Granite Belt. Things have been tough, to say the least, but he’s still smiling.

On the New England Highway opposite one of Sirromet Wines’ vineyards, you can taste Sirromet wines five days a week, grab an early morning coffee or feast on some of the best food on the Granite Belt. If the figs/honey/mascarpone wonder is on the specials board order it stat.

Granite Belt Wine Country This Magnificent Life

St Judes Cellar Door and Bistro is a special treat as his knowledge is second to none, he takes us through a few Sirromet wines, some produced by the former Australian Winemaker of the Year, Mike Hayes.
Strawberry fields forever
We all try our luck at picking the biggest berry in the perky green strawberry patch at Ashbern Farm Today it’s fruity Monterey and juicy Albion varieties to pick. Visitors can pick Wednesday to Sunday during the summer season from October to May.

Granite Belt This Magnificent Life

After the ‘big berry’ weigh-in (I was off the mark by 5 grams), we sample some of the best strawberry desserts every assembled. Here sundaes look more like skyscrapers if skyscrapers were made with juicy strawberries. You can pick berries, eat them chocolate-covered or with special balsamic blend vinegars (highly recommended). Nothing beats a just-picked berry.

Granite Belt Wine Country This Magnificent Life

When asked what the current rain means to the farm, co-owner Brendan Hoyle says “It’s life-changing”. The normal summer season should mean 500 kilograms or 1 kg per bush. Although they haven’t had to cart in water, times are tough with tourists staying home.
Robert Channon Wines – where Paola makes the wine and cooks too 
We feast on a glorious selection of tapas lovingly cooked by Paola Andrea Cabezas Bono the winemaker who also operates Paola’s The Winemaker Kitchen here at Robert Channon Wines The Chopin Chardonnay is the perfect accompaniment to the tortilla and roasted capsicums.

Granite Belt Wine country
Image: Granite Belt Wine Country

James Halliday is a very big fan of the Verdelho. It’s been served to the Queen and the various vintages have won countless state and national awards.
Growing wine at Australia’s highest altitude with hot summers and sometimes snowy winters is not for the faint-hearted. Patience is more than a virtue – it’s mandatory for all winemakers but especially those who survive drought. It’s not just the rain or lack of it. A very well-known Champagne label challenged the Channon name on their labels and the outcry was heard from hear to France. The big boys backed down.
And now for something completely different- WashPool Skin Wellness
First, it was the dust and now the mud. But the value of the sweet-smelling treats at WashPool Skin Wellness runs more than skin deep.

Granite Belt Wine Country This Magnificent Life

Take a class here with the owner and former educator Melissa Thomas to learn why store-bought soap should never, ever touch your skin again. The ethics, marketing manipulation and down-right dodgy and environmentally detrimental ingredients in most soaps will take your breath away. Melissa rightfully evangelizes the benefits of pure coconut, shea butter, and olive oil.

Granite Belt Wine Country This Magnificent Life

If you can’t make it here for a little indulgence, all products are easily available online. But it’s not quite the same as feeling and smelling the earthy wholesomeness.

Right now there are a whole lot of different sounds from the Gulf in the north to the NSW/Victorian border. Or are they just old sounds that have been forgotten – splashing puddles, gushing downpipes and dripping gutters? In most places, it’s a little damp but we can still take a weekend drive with empty cooler bags and eskys. Take a trip, buy breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Stay awhile. Drink some wine and bring some home. You’ll be rewarded with fabulous food and the warmest smiles.

Special mention to Granite Highlands Maxi Tours owner and driver Allan Foster who ferried our ragtag bunch of Australian Society of Travel Writers from Brisbane and beyond, across the Granite Belt and safely back home again.

TML were guests of Granite Belt Wine Country and Tourism and Events Queensland

The Stanthorpe Apple and Grape Festival is back on February 28-March 8.

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Liz Bond

Liz Bond comes from a PR background and loves fine wine, great food and rewarding travel - all the magnificent things in life. She prides herself in meeting famous celebrities at baggage carousels.

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