What’s strange in the Granite Belt Wine Region?
Something strange is happening in the Granite Belt Wine Region of South East Queensland, and it’s not just the birds.
Soon after driving into Stanthorpe last November, I heard about the Strange Bird Wine Trail, which advertises its wineries as offering personalised, unhurried wine experiences.
To qualify as a Strange Bird wine, the alternative wines of the Granite Belt Wine Region must represent no more than one per cent of Australian wines varieties.
Excellent! I’d experience something different here.
Well, that statement was certainly true. As I nosed around the area I found not only Strange Birds but also a number of other strange things that raised my eyebrows.
The South African ex-pat owners of Rumbulara Estate Wines were showing Buffalos, Elephants, Rhinos, Leopards and Lions.
Ridgemill Estate had Moggies, Three-legged foxes, Sly dogs, Howling dogs and even Hungry horses.
At Wyberba, what used to be a Balancing Rock was now a Balancing Heart. And, near Glen Aplin, there was a Jester on the Hill.
The strangest of the strange was at Harrington Glen Estate where the jovial host took great delight in showing off not only the train he was converting into cabins but also his man cave!
My New Guinea-born host invited me to look behind his bar to the mezzanine floor where his man cave was located, complete with a large television, computer games and books.
He also gave me a great commentary on the upcoming US presidential election and his reviews of the movie streaming services.
Oh, and I did get to taste his Verdelho, as well as some dessert and fortified wines, eventually.
As I left, my host said that next time, I might like to invite some friends along, bring some cheese and crackers from ALDI, relax beside his bar, and enjoy his wine and vineyard view.
Clearly, the winery owners in and around Stanthorpe, a three-hour drive southwest of Brisbane, have a sense of humour.
They’ve needed it. The year 2020 has gone down in history as one of their worst yet.
After five years of drought and devastating bushfires in the summer of 2019-20 that burned more than 12.6 million hectares of land across Australia, many wineries were left with no crop to harvest and others with just 10 to 25 per cent.
Hot on the heels of these disasters was the Covid-19 pandemic and global shutdowns.
Faced with such adversities, the Granite Belt Wine Region people had to get creative if they were to survive.
Most had water trucked in to keep their vines alive; many bought grapes from other regions and others started blending varieties, something they wouldn’t do normally, from what little was left of their harvest.
My host at Ballandean Estate Wines said that when the Covid-19 shutdowns started in March 2020, they were seriously concerned about their future.
“By August, no one was coming in, no one was buying. But, soon people started buying online and once we re-opened we were smashed,” she said.
“My daughter said we should tell Scott Morrison to get organised now to close Australia down every five years so people will spend their money in this country.”
And spend I did, visiting eight wineries over my two-day whirlwind tour of the Granite Belt Wine Region. At each, I bought one or two, and sometimes three or more, of their finest wines.
Granite Belt Wine Region Tour
Granite Ridge Wines
The range at Granite Ridge Wines included Chardonello and Caberaz. The Chardonello was a combination of Chardonnay and Verdelho, crisp but not too dry.
Its brother, the Caberaz, was a blend of Cabernet and Shiraz, making it a light easy-drinking red with coconut, leather and spice aromas.
Website: Granite Ridge Wines
Balancing Heart Vineyards
New owner Greg Kentish has made significant changes at what used to be Balancing Rock Wines.
Not only had he changed the winery’s name but he also introduced new wines and a range of modern, colourful labels.
Their Energy & Grace Chardonnay had a typical Chardonnay character but was lighter and more delicate with wild fig and rockmelon aromas.
The Evolve & Inspire Viognier had lots of stone fruit character such as dried apricot and creamy peach.
Blossom, a Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé, had lots of strawberry character with a well-developed ruby colour.
Website: Balancing Heart Vineyards
Golden Grove Estate Wines
The 2020 Vermentino, made with fruit sourced from Mildura, was a 60/40 blend of Chardonnay and Sémillon, with floral, stone fruit and sea spray aromas.
Their 2019 Durif had a red berry flavour and hints of cedar. It’s ideal for drinking now for freshness or tuck away for up to eight years to soften and mellow.
The 2018 Joven Tempranillo was a medium-bodied style of Tempranillo made for early consumption with fresh cherry and red berry fruit to set the tone for things to come.
Website: Golden Grove Estate
Rumbulara Estate Wines
The five animal-themed wines – Buffalo, Elephant, Rhino, Leopard and Lion – were designed to be consumed much colder than traditional wines and are preservative-free.
Buffalo, a lunchtime Chardonnay, was deliberately made not to taste like a Chardonnay.
Elephant, more suited to mid-afternoon, was designed to be consumed without food. It has residual sweetness with more fruit and body.
Rhino was made to drink with strong cheeses such as blue or vintage. Customers wanted a wine that tastes like fresh grapes, so Rhino was made from Waltham Cross, an eating grape, not a wine grape. Our host said Rhino was the only wine in the world made from Waltham Cross grapes.
Leopard and Lion are simply grape juice and alcohol. Our host said they’re the only wines made in Australia deliberately to go to zero degrees Celsius. Made the same initially, they both sit in the tanks as Lion. When they want to bottle some Leopard, they add unfermented Shiraz, which sweetens it from Lion to Leopard.
Website: Rumbulara Estate Wines
Jester Hill Wines
Our host at Jester Hill Wines said it’s the only winery in Queensland to commercially make wine with Roussanne, a white wine grape grown originally in the Rhône wine region in France.
Eleven other Australian wineries that use it are located in the other states.
Jester Hill’s 2017 Touchstone Roussanne is dry crisp wooded white.
Their Chardonnay is a lighter style. Rather than being full buttery, it has a creamy feel to it with some of the pineapple flavour coming through. It’s not as heavy as some Chardonnays.
Joker’s Blush Rosé is made on Merlot and is a sweater style with a hint of dryness.
Their Sangiovese Rosé is a dry, crisp style with a lot of guava.
The 2 Fools Trinculo Red is a Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon blend and light, like a Pinot, with an aroma of cherries and soft plums.
The Muckle John Fortified Shiraz is smooth with a hint of dryness and tastes much like a Christmas cake.
Website: Jester Hill Wines
At Ridgemill Estate, their Semillon Viognier Riesling, named Hungry Horse, is nice and light.
They also have an off-dry Riesling that’s fruitier than Hungry Horse, if you want something dryer than a Chardonnay.
They had a new 2020 Rosé that’s a unique blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Grenache, and Chardonnay that’s very floral on the nose.
Their straight Verdelho is a sweet fruity white called Moggies.
Howling Dog is their liqueur Black Muscat, aged at just over five years, and not for drinking on a full moon!
As our host said, their Sly Dog, a fortified Verdelho with a touch of liqueur Muscat, sneaks up on you so it comes in a smaller bottle for your own protection. It has nougat, raisins and nut flavours with a hint of rosewater.
The Three-Legged Fox is a bitza – bits of Cabernet and bits of Merlot and even bits of other varieties from time to time.
Website: Ridgemill Estate