Girraween National Park, near Ballandean, Granite Belt, Queensland, Australia. An early morning walk from 6am-7:30am, before the punishing heat of the drought made walking unpleasant.
Queensland is not the first destination that would come to mind for food and wine tourism. However, one part of the state is slowly gaining a reputation for producing high quality wines. The Granite Belt has the advantage of sandy, granitic soils and a relatively high altitude that provides it with a cooler climate than its latitude would suggest.
In recent years, an increasing number of small to medium sized producers have started to produce some exceptional wines, particularly as the styles and cultivars that suit the region are beginning to be determined. Equally, other producers have experimented with unusual or lesser known cultivars as part of the “Strange Birds” scheme, which has been organised by the local tourism authority. Many of these wines are well worth trying.
In my opinion, the main attraction for visitors in the area is the numerous cellar doors. Unusually for a wine region, there is little outstanding in the way of restaurants or, except for a few local producers, food shops. However, this is more than made up for by the many cellar doors. I would recommend the region as a good destination for a short break for those living in or visiting south-east Queensland.
There are a lot of wineries locally, and consequently I have only listed a small number of them. I have limited myself to wineries I have visited and can recommend, but there are others I am not familiar with that are also no doubt excellent.
Ballandean and surrounds
- Ballandean Estate, 54 Sundown Rd, Ballandean, Qld 4382. The oldest and largest winery in the district, which was established in 1932. They have a large range of wines, including some easy-drinking wines that may not interest wine enthusiasts, as well as more serious, age-worthy wines. They also have the oldest plantings of Shiraz in the region. The Opera Block Shiraz, “Messing About” Shiraz Viognier, and Saperavi are always excellent quality. Open 9am-5pm daily, except Good Friday and Christmas day.
- Pyramids Road Wines, 25 Wyberba Lane (off Pyramids Road), Wyberba Qld 4382. An excellent small producer who make distinctive wines. In particular, their Mourvèdre and Petit Verdot are worth trying, and Bernie’s Blend is generally excellent (the exact blend varies from year to year). Open 10am-4:30pm daily.
- Bungawarra Wines, 181 Bents Rd, Ballandean, Qld 4382. Another excellent small producer, with one of the oldest vineyards in the region, producing nuanced, age-worthy wines. Open 10am-4pm daily.
- Bent Road Wine/La Petite Mort, 535 Bents Road, Ballandean, Qld 4382. One of the few organic producers in the region (but note they’re not certified), they produce interesting, distinctive wines that go well with food. They make excellent Tempranillo and Marsanne. They are also experimenting with extended maceration for both red and amber/orange wines, and use of Georgian kvevri for many of their fermentations. Open by appointment only.
- Wild Soul Wines, Horans Gorge Road, Glen Aplin, Qld 4381. A tiny local producer who make wine from their 1 ha organic vineyard, which is planted with Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and some Merlot. The wines are light to medium bodied compared with other local wineries, but age well. Open 10am-4pm on weekends and public holidays (i.e., bank holidays), but it’s worth phoning in advance (+61 7 4683 4201) to confirm that they are open.
Stanthorpe and surrounds
- Ridgemill Estate, 218 Donges Road, Severnlea, Qld 4380. Producer of perhaps one of the best Chardonnays in the region–in my opinion, anyway. They are also one of two local wineries to produce a Riesling. The Granite Belt would seem an ideal region for Riesling given its cool climate and granite soils, but unfortunately it produces vanishingly low yields when grown here. The resultant wine is lovely, nonetheless. They also have accommodation in small cabins near to the vineyard. Open 10am-5pm Monday-Saturday, and 10am-3pm Sunday.
- Robert Channon Wines, 32 Bradley Lane, Stanthorpe, Qld 4380. Famous for their Verdelho—which they make dry, sweet, and sparking versions. They are also one of the only producers in the region to make a decent Pinot Noir. Open 10am-5pm on weekends, and11am-4pm on Friday, Monday, and Tuesday.
- Severn Brae Estate, 49 Back Creek Road, Severnlea, Qld 4352. A good small producer, who also makes his own cheese and preserves. Open 10am-5pm daily.
- Casley Mount Hutton, 94 Mount Hutton Road, Greenlands, Stanthorpe, QLD 4380 (GPS: 28.6664 S 151.8045 E). This winery is a bit off the beaten track—I got thoroughly lost on my visit there—but worth the detour. As well as excellent Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, they make a complex, age-worthy Chenin Blanc—a rarity in Australia. Another rarity is that they offer a wide range of back vintages at fairly reasonable prices. Open 9:30am-4:30pm Friday-Monday, including public holidays and school holidays
- Boireann Winery, 26 Donnellys Castle Road, The Summit, Qld 4377. One of the most widely known Granite Belt estates, who produce a range of complex, age-worthy red wines. I haven’t yet visited them since they changed ownership, but I presume the new owners are continuing in the footsteps of the winery’s founders. Open 10am-4pm Friday-Monday.
- Heritage Estate, New England Highway, Thulimbah, Qld 4376 or 747 Granite Belt Drive, Cottonvale, Qld 4375. A small winery that is known for its excellent Chardonnay. They also make an excellent Marsanne, as well as some very good red wines. I haven’t visited since the change of ownership, but they have retained the same winemaker, and the original owners have stayed on as advisors. The Thulimbah cellar door is open 10am-4pm every day, and the Cottonvale cellar door (which is attached to the winery) is open 10am-4pm Monday-Friday, and 9am-5pm on weekends.
Restaurants and cafés
Many wineries, including Ballandean Estate and Robert Channon Wines, have restaurants or cafés as part of their cellar door. I haven’t yet visited any of these, so am reluctant to make recommendations.
- Hanasuka, 13 Davadi St, Stanthorpe, Qld 4380. An excellent small Japanese restaurant, serving a range of simple but delicious Japanese dishes; opened in mid-2019. Open 10:30am-3pm & 5pm-8pm Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, and 11am-3pm & 5pm-8pm Saturday and Sunday. Closed Tuesday.
- Sutton’s Juice Factory Cidery & Café, 10 Halloran Drive, Thulimbah, Qld 4376. This local orchard has a very good café and known for its excellent (but expensive) apple pie. It also produces ciders, juices, and preserves, and offers pick-your-own apples, see the entry under ‘Other food and wine attractions’. Open 9:30am-4:10pm daily.
- Aussie Beef Steakhouse, 1 High St, Stanthorpe, Qld 4380. A decent small restaurant attached to a local motel. They serve a selection of local wines. Open 6pm-late Tuesday-Friday, 5:30pm-late Saturday, 7:30am-9am Sunday; table reservations +61 7 4681 1533.
- Vixen’s Bakery Cafe, 23 Maryland Street, Stanthorpe, Qld 4380. A good small bakery and café that’s great for a quick breakfast, lunch, or coffee. Open 7:30am-4:30pm Monday-Friday, and 7:30am-1pm Saturday.
Other food and wine attractions
Regular visitors may remember Vincenzo’s at the Big Apple as being an excellent, well stocked delicatessen. Sadly, they closed in 2018.
- Heavenly Chocolates, Pyramids Road, Wyberba, Qld 4382. A small, local chocolate producer that provides an excellent stop off on the way to Girraween National Park. Their hot chocolates are also excellent. Open 10am-4pm Mon-Fri, as well as on public holidays and school holidays.
- Sutton’s Juice Factory Cidery & Café, 10 Halloran Drive, Thulimbah, Qld 4376. A local orchard that produces excellent ciders, apple juices, and preserves. It is also possible to pick your own apples during the harvest period, and they have a wide range of heritage varieties. The café is also very good—see the entry under ‘Restaurants and Cafés’. Open 9:30am-4:10pm daily.
- Stanthorpe Cheese and Jersey Girls Café, 4 Duncan Lane, Thulimbah, Qld 4376. A small cheesemaker who produce some excellent (if expensive) cheese from their own herd of Jersey cattle.
- Severn Brae Estate, 49 Back Creek Road, Severnlea, Qld 4352. A local winemaker who also produces his own cheese and preserves. Open daily 10am-5pm.
- Stanthorpe Museum, 12 High Street, Stanthorpe, Qld 4380. An excellent small museum housed in a number of historic buildings that have been moved to the site. The museum chronicles the history of the area, particularly that of the early pioneers. There is also an interesting (but small) display of Aboriginal artefacts. While the museum doesn’t focus on the wine industry, an exhibit on the Italian heritage of the region contains some history of winegrowing in the area. Open 10am-4pm Wednesday-Friday, 1pm-5pm Saturday, and 9am-1pm Sunday; Admission $7.
- Girraween National Park. A beautiful national park that’s a great place to see some grey kangaroos, and to go for either a short, easy walk—or to try walking all the way to the top of the Pyramid for the views. “Girraween” means “place of flowers”, a name that it more than lives up to during the spring. Girraween National Park is a short drive from Ballandean and is on the same road as Pyramids Roads Wines and Heavenly Chocolates.
- Bald Rock National Park. This is just across the state border from Girraween National Park and is contiguous with it. Consequently, it’s quite a drive to get there, but well worth it. The view from the top of Bald Rock is worth the walk. Parking is $8 per vehicle.
- Note that national parks can be closed due to bad weather or bushfire danger—it’s worth checking online prior to travel.
(Disclaimer: I have no commercial or personal interest in any of the places mentioned. I did, however, work as an apprentice winemaker at Heritage Estate for a few months in 2011-2012, under the previous owners.)
5th January 2020: added a new restaurant (Hanasuka), and a bit more detail about Bents Road Wines and Pyramids Road Wines.
Anyone who knows me in real life will know that I have somewhat of an obsession with Burgundy — the region, the countryside, the towns and villages, the cuisine, and the wine — and that ‘somewhat’ is somewhat of an understatement. Equally, anyone who lives in Australia will realise that the wines of Burgundy, expensive at the best of times, are even more so by the time they reach Australia. The taxes on imported wines here are, I gather, among the most expensive in the developed world, on top of which must be added a profit margin for the importer and the retailer. As a consequence, the wines are often two to three times more expensive than in the region. On top of this, many of the wines that represent good value in the region are hard to find, or are simply not imported.
Consequently, there is a certain perverse desire to find local wines that — while they are not Burgundy wines, cannot be Burgundy wines, and should not even attempt to be Burgundy wines — have that vitality that distinguishes the most memorable of Burgundies. As an aside, I note that they should not attempt to be Burgundy wines, since this is not something any Burgundian winemaker would ever attempt. A good Burgundy wine is one which is true to its region and its vineyard; it does not attempt to emulate any other wine, however good or famous. Attempting to emulate a Volnay or a Gevrey-Chambertin is, therefore, attempting something that no Burgundian winemaker would consider, and — in a sense — missing the point completely. The attempt to be Burgundian makes it, by definition, not Burgundian.
In part, one could consider this about determining the best regions in Australia for Pinot Noir. This would only be partly the case. My experience of tasting Australian Pinot Noirs is partial at best; there are many well regarded examples that I have yet to try, as well as many that are no doubt equally good but as yet unknown. My budget is one limitation; retail availability is another. I have yet to try Mount Mary Pinot Noir, or any of Bindi Winegrowers’ well regarded wines. No doubt these, and others, deserve their place here; no doubt at some point I will get to try them, and I’ll mentally add them to my list. There are also likely wines that I have tried, and which should be included, but I have forgotten. It is worth restating that the limits of my own tasting experience, and of my preferences, do not in any way define the limits of what could be considered ‘good’ Pinot Noir wines; as such, these thoughts are my opinions, and my opinions only.
Equally, I am sure that there are regions which have great potential for Pinot Noir, but that potential has not yet been reached. While I have tried many very good Adelaide Hills Pinot Noirs, I have yet to try any truly great Pinot Noirs from this region — perhaps, again, because they exist but I haven’t found them yet, perhaps because the potential exists but is not yet being exploited, or perhaps because the region better suits other grapes than Pinot Noir. It is, after all, a fickle and difficult grape with notoriously specific requirements.
This all comes before we get into any discussion as to what represents typically ‘Burgundian’ Pinot Noir. It is obvious to anyone who has tried a few Burgundies that the region encompasses a range of styles, from quite robust, full bodied wines (such as Grand-Echezeaux) to more delicate, light, ethereal wines (as Volnay is often considered to be).
Even these generalisations are difficult: while Volnay is, as I just noted, stereotypically regarded to be at the more light, ethereal end of the Burgundy spectrum; this is not invariably true. It depends on the specific vineyard within Volnay, as well as vintage, and vigneron. Within Volnay, for example, the premier cru vineyards “Taillepieds” or “Santenots du Bas” produce richer, fuller wines than the more ethereal wines of the premier cru vineyard “Cailleret”. As an aside, my somewhat simplistic assumptions about the wines of Volnay were reshaped by a tasting at Nicolas Rossignol‘s new winery, which provided an enjoyable crash-course in the different terroirs of the Côte de Beaune.
Having put that all to one side, I will begin with one observation: for whatever reason (terroir? winemaking talent? coincidence based on my limited range of wines tasted?) the majority of truly excellent Australian Pinot Noirs I have tried have been from Victoria. I won’t attempt to guess why. Here follows a few of them.
Bass Phillips Wines, Gippsland, Victoria
I have no notes on the Bass Phillips wines that I’ve tried, as I tasted these before I was in the habit of making notes for most of the wines I try, and before I’d even began to become familiar with Burgundy. Nonetheless, the combination of elegance, power, vitality, and complexity were immediately apparent, and marked these out as serious wines. Sadly, the prices they command make them unapproachable for me, and I admire them from a distance.
William Downie, Gippsland, Victoria
Again, no notes. I tried these a good few years after the wines of Bass Phillips, and after several trips to Burgundy. They are also not cheap wines (though not as expensive as those of Bass Phillips), hence, I tried them at an in-store tasting at East End Cellars in Adelaide (hence the lack of notes). They were profound, complex, vital, and Burgundian in the sense that they reflected their vineyard and did not attempt to be anything that they were not. Each of the three wines I tried, from the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, and Gippsland, were completely distinctive. If I were to try to convince a sceptic that Australia can produce truly great Pinot, these are the wines I’d choose.
Hochkirch Wines, Henty, Victoria
2013 Hochkirch Henty “Steinbruch” Pinot Noir
Colour: translucent cherry, touch of brick red
Nose: strawberry stewed in balsamic vinegar. Sour cherry. Plum. Beetroot. Touch of stemmy earthiness, whole bunch character. Sweet spice.
Palate: strawberry, balsamic vinegar. Sour cherry. Plum. Cassis. Beetroot. Earthy, stemmy whole bunch character. Sweet spice. Fresh berry like acidity, smooth slightly drying but structural tannins. Quite sauvage, but quite Burgundian. Elegant, vital, sappy. Medium bodied. Obviously made in a natural style, and a good example of such. 12,5% alcohol.
— Saturday, January 19, 2019
2011 Hochkirch Henty “Village” Pinot Noir
Colour: translucent burgundy, slightly cloudy (unfiltered, unfined)
Nose: stewed strawberries with balsamic vinegar. White pepper, nutmeg and other sweet spices. A touch of old oak. Cranberry. A touch of savouriness. Elegant.
Palate: stewed strawberries with balsamic vinegar. Cranberry and other sharp red berries. Sappy, elegant, lively. Stemmy. White pepper and sweet spice. Sharp fresh acidity – like slightly underripe strawberries. Very fine grained slightly drying tannins. Medium bodied, perfumed – could make a comparison with a particularly elegant village level Volnay. V v good. 12,9% alcohol.
— Sunday, July 19, 2015
Domaine Simha, Tasmania
2015 Domaine Simha Tasmania “Amphora Lionheart“ Pinot Noir
Colour: cloudy brick red
Nose: candied red fruit. Raspberry and cherry. Cranberry? Tobacco, hay, earthy, stemmy, savoury. Sweet and savoury, intense.
Palate: fresh berry like acidity, fresh red berries, raspberry, cherry. Tobacco, hay, earthy. Stemmy — some whole bunches in the ferment? Has the spicy, earthy, savoury, stemmy character I’d associate with stems. Very fine, smooth tannins. Complex, unusual, savoury. Eccentric, but really lovely. 12,5% alcohol.
— Sunday, February 5, 2017
… and, finally …
Tyrrell’s Wines, Hunter Valley, NSW
It seems improbable to see Pinot Noir wines from such a warm region included, but when they’re good, they can be really good. Perhaps the soil — clay over limestone — wins out over the climate?
2012 Tyrrell’s Hunter Valley “HVD & The Hill” Pinot Noir
Colour: bright, light cherry red, translucent
Nose: bright strawberry, stemmy (1/3 whole bunches), spices, sour cherry. Hint of earthy leatheriness. Dark cherry.
Palate: bright fresh strawberry, stemmy, sour cherry, hint of green — stems. Smooth but stemmy tannins. Fine grained. Savoury. Acid fresh, lively, citrussy. Declassified Vat 6. 12,9% alcohol.
— Sunday, July 21, 2013
2010 Tyrrell’s Hunter Valley “Vat 6” Pinot Noir
Colour: light, translucent, burgundy red
Nose: sour cherry, raspberry, strawberry, rhubarb. Sappy, young, alive, elegant. Spice. Hint of earthiness. Herbaceous/capsicum edge?
Palate: sour cherry, rhubarb, strawberry, maybe hints of raspberry. Some stemminess. Citrussy acid — lemon. Icing sugar? Firm, sculptural tannins. Fresh and alive. Elegant. Sweet fruit, w/ savoury edge. Medium bodied.
— Thursday, 3rd May 2012