Granite Belt Wine and Tourism:www.granitebeltwinecountry.com.au
Granite Belt region
The Granite Belt is Queensland's premier wine-making region and is starting to gain the respect of the hardy band of wine lovers who make the trip up to Stanthorpe.
There are over 700 ha of vines which is just under half the total for all of Queensland. Despite this the wines are virtually impossible to get outside of Queensland even from specialist stores apart from direct ordering from the wineries.
This isn't because the wines aren't any good - the best wineries over the last five years have been racking up award after award at national shows. The most decisive factor is that wineries are too small to set up their own inter-state distribution/promotional networks or to break into the liquor chains.
Instead the larger operations have contented themselves with the export market or that Queensland peculiarity, where the inland vineyards set up satellite cellar doors in the prime tourism locations closer to the coast. Partly this reflects the fact that most "Mexicans" (as Queenslanders refer to the folk south of the Tweed River) regard Queensland and good wine as being mutually exclusive terms. This is no longer the case. However, wine consumer prejudices are harder to change than wine production techniques.
By Queensland standards the Granite Belt is an old region. Italian migrants in the 1920s identified this area high up in the Great Dividing Range as cool enough to make a decent Queensland wine. Stanthorpe itself is about 750m above the sea level, 95 km inland and close to the NSW border. It is really a northerly extension of the huge granitic-basaltic New England Tableland. The region's soils tend to be permeable sandy soils that contain speckles of granite. Climatically it is a bit like Mudgee - neither a classic cool climate (like the Orange and New England wine regions to it south), nor it is a warm climate region like the rest of Queensland.
In viticultural terms this means that it faces the hazards of spring frosts but also summer humidity, hailstorms and monsoons. However, when the weather is kind it is showing that it can produce red wines that hold up against the best of the Mudgee or Hunter.
Until the 1960s the wines were bulk wines for consumption by the local Italian families as there was no mainstream Queensland wine industry. The region was more famous for its apples, cheeses and strawberries but like elsewhere most of the wineries in region have come out of the boutique winery explosion of the last couple of decades. There are now about fifty cellar doors with most of the wineries are dotted just off the New England Highway.
Shiraz has been the flagship for the region but Cabernet Sauvignon can be exceptional if unheralded. The flavoursome Shiraz tends to have the Mudgee-like spice in its youth but becomes quite velvety with age. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are widely planted but the best mainstream whites have been the Semillons and Verdelhos.
The region is also trying out quite a good range of alternative varieties. There is a fair smattering of Viognier, Sangiovese, Chenin Blanc and surprisingly this far north of central Victoria, Marsanne. Ballandeen has Chenin Blanc, Malbec, Nebbiolo, Sylvaner, Viognier; Boireann has Barbera, Grenache, Mourvedre, Nebbiolo, Petit Verdot, Tannat, Viognier; and Symphony Hill has Mondeuse, Picpoul, Tannat, Verdelho, Viognier; while Ridgemill have the rare Georgian variety. Saperavi. Golden Grove are Summit Estate are other notable alternative variety producers, and are producing outstanding Tempranillo.
Wine tourism is beginning to take off with lots of farm stays, cottages and B&Bs aimed at the weekenders from Brisbane or NSW. The Strange Bird initiative promotes the region's alternative varieties to tourists.
The region has two regular showcases: the annual Apple and Grape Harvest Festival in March, and the Spring Wine Festival held in October; it also hosts the Australian Small Winemakers Show also in October.