Make wine, eat and drink your way around the Granite Belt.
In the soft early morning light the trees are surrounded by halos of fog while a placid black and white cow munches through a lush, but soggy green field. From the warmth of my cottage couch I can also see that my fire is once again a pile of smouldering sticks. Time to enrol in firemaking 101 again, not a skill I have the chance to practise in steamy Brisbane.
Deep in rural relaxation, I could be anywhere far from home but I’m curled up in a cute farmhouse cottage on the Granite Belt, just a skip away from some of the region’s best wineries. I’ve slept in Alba Conti’s crisp white sheets, dried myself with her fluffy towels and eaten off her hand-thrown pottery in Wisteria Cottage, located along the road to Girraween National Park. Wisteria Cottage’s breakfast basket included a colourful clutch of fresh eggs for breakfast, just-baked bread and her own preserved peaches, which I washed down with a glass of fresh local Sutton’s Farm apple juice.
The weekend got off to a ‘wow’ start with a gourmet dinner prepared before our eyes by chef ‘Drew’ (aka Andrew Simpson) in our own cottage. Nothing like enjoying a great meal and a good bottle of wine and not having to worry about who is the designated driver. Seated at a flower-filled, candlelit table, we worked our way through a six-course menu featuring the freshest seasonal local produce – ruby red ripe tomatoes, haloumi from Eke, local tender Mallow Organic lamb and New England fillet mignon, finished with a strudel made from Stanthorpe Granny Smith apples.
Chef Drew also has a great ‘esky drop’ service which gives weekenders all they need for a fabulous feed without any of the preparation. It’s ‘throw a steak on the barbecue’ gourmet-style. With more than 55 vineyards and 40 boutique cellar doors there is plenty of wine to taste in the region but I’m here to do more than taste. The Queensland College of Wine’s Winemaker for a Weekend course is held during vintage each year offering hands on experiences from picking and crushing the grapes through to fermentation and even making your own label.
The lessons continue at dinner in the college’s Varias Restaurant with matched wines and tasting tips. Over the past 10 years Granite Belt wines have significantly improved and matured. If you haven’t visited the area recently, or at least tried some of the wines, you should really do yourself a favour and make the effort. With maturity has come wine diversification and specialisation, I discover while sipping on very fine Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc made by ex-chemical engineer Steve Messiter at Girraween Estate. Steve is still new to the winemaking game and is building his vineyard specialising in fruit-driven sparkling wines with a reputation for high quality.
Close by at Hidden Creek, winemaker Jim Barnes talks me through a tasting of their wines that has me asking about case prices for their 2009 Chardonnay. At Ewan McPherson’s Symphony Hill Wines, winemaker Mike Hayes works with up to 17 yeasts to craft his drops. The second largest wine producer in the district, Symphony Hill has been rated five stars by wine guru James Halliday and has won gold medals at the Sydney and Melbourne Royal Wine Shows.
It’s the Spanish winemaking techniques used by Paola Cabezas Rhymer, the Granite Belt’s only female winemaker, that have captured the attention of James Halliday and five stars for Summit Estate Wines. This large winery also has an aroma room to help visitors identify wine flavours and aromas.
The newly establishedGranite Belt Brewery proves it’s not all about wine on the Granite Belt. Here you can work your way through a four glass tasting paddle and see exactly where the beer has been brewed. We took a break from wine and beer tasting at Granite Belt Dairy and tucked into their local farmhouse cheeses, all their own product from pasture to the plate. Their herd of placid Jersey cows gives its name to the cheesery’s Jersey Girls Cafe. The menu naturally includes plenty of cheese plus a range of non-cheese and cheese-inspired mains and desserts.
The veal here is particularly noteworthy as it is direct from the farm in a most humane manner. From Stanthorpe, at the ‘top’ end of the Granite Belt, it’s around a three-hour drive down the highway back to Brisbane and don’t forget to take the relaxed country vibe home with you.