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A wine lover’s guide to Stanthorpe, Ballandean, and the Granite Belt

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.

Granite Belt scene, near Stanthorpe, 31st July 2019
Pentax K-x, 18-125mm lens @ 110mm, 1/200 sec, f/6.3, ISO 160

Wineries

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. 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, 535 Bents Road, Ballandean, Qld 4382. One of the few organic producers in the region, they make an excellent Tempranillo. 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.

  • 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.

Other attractions

  • 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.)

This was originally written for inclusion in JancisRobinson.com’s summer 2019 writing competition, but was not selected. I am therefore republishing it here.

Château de Bas-Beechmont, part 3

In the third, and perhaps final, instalment of this saga (coughs), I finally bottled the wine. Part 1 can be found here, and part 2 can be found here. It had been on lees since April, with no racking or lees stirring. Time on lees can add complexity to wine, so although I’d originally planned to bottle the wine in May or June, the additional time on lees was most likely beneficial. No need to panic yet!

Bottling… 25th August 2019
iPhone SE, built-in 4 mm (~29 mm) lens, 1/100 sec, f/2.2, ISO 32.

The hardest part,as is often the case, was cleaning. Since I am cheapskate, I was re-using bottles, which needed washing with water, and then with hot water and sodium metabisulfite in the form of a half a campden tablet. I also used the same food-grade bucket that had been used as a fermenter for blending. I emptied both demijohns into the bucket, along with half of a campden tablet, after tasting the wines to ensure that they had not spoiled or developed taints. Thankfully, neither had.

The wines were bottled using a funnel and some muslin as a filter. Despite this, a small amount of lees made it into the bottled wine, just enough to make the wine slightly cloudy. In the past, this would likely have been seen as a fault, but there has been increasing tolerance of cloudy wines in part due to the natural wine movement — so I wasn’t unduly worried by this. Thankfully, it was all a fairly simple task, and nothing went wrong. Even if it makes it a bit boring to read about…

Making labels… some have since had ‘Chateau de Bas-Beechmont’ added to them.
25th August 2019.
iPhone SE, built-in 4 mm (~29 mm) lens, 1/33 sec, f/2.2, ISO 125.

The last task was to label the bottles. Since the grenache grapes were grown near Red Cliffs in the Murray-Darling region, I labelled it as a Murray-Darling Grenache. Most were labelled as ‘Maison Duley’, some with ‘Chateau de Bas-Beechmont’ as well. (I also noted the grape grower, as it was labelled on the crate of grapes I bought at the Rocklea Market).

So, the real question… how was the wine? Well, it seems good. The colour is a moderate to light strawberry/pink, which is quite good for grenache. When first bottled, it was still quite dominated by liquorice and medicinal characters, with raspberry and strawberry in the background, as well as some more yeasty, leesy character. There was also some stemmy, woody character in there too, presumably from the whole bunches. It was also quite carbonic and fresh, with some carbon dioxide still in solution.

After being left in a glass for a few hours, it seemed more fruity, with raspberry, strawberry, and maybe a hint of balsamic. The stemminess is still present, maybe providing some slightly herbaceous elements to the flavour, but is not dominant or over-bearing. The acidity is fresh and lively, and the tannins are very smooth and understated. Overall, I’m happy with it, and will see what it’s like after it’s like after a month or two. And it’s been fun — which, I guess, was the point…

Wine colour

Continued from: Part 1; Part 2.

Château de Bas-Beechmont, part 2

It’s been about ten days since my last post, and since then I’ve pressed the wine into two 5 L demijohns. I made the decision to press when the ferments where almost dry. I had added the EC1118 a day before I planned to press, to ensure they fermented successfully to dry.

Wineries often use ‘clinitest‘ tablets to test for dryness, since refractometers don’t work well at lower sugar concentrations. These were originally designed for testing for diabetes, but helpfully are also perfect for wine. Lacking these, I used a dipstick test that may or may not also be effective for wine.

Fermenting must, on skins
iPhone SE, built-in 4 mm (~29 mm) lens, 1/17 sec, f/2.2, ISO 400.

As predicted, pressing was an ‘interesting’ affair given the lack of an actual press, and one that took several hours. I initially began by attempting to press using the potato masher I’d been using to plunge the ferment, which did not really provide the level of pressure required. I ended up reverting to the age old technique of foot crushing — after cleaning my feet, I should add. In the event, it was a challenge to fill both demijohns; by the end I was pressing off maybe 20 or 30 mL at a time. Almost not worth it… The first demijohn received mostly free-run, plus some pressings, the second only pressings.

I was surprised — though I shouldn’t have been — that there were a lot of intact berries remaining in the ferment. I suppose I’m used to larger ferments, where the weight of the ferment would have crushed them. As a consequence, these berries released quite a bit of sugar back into the ferments, which restarted in the demijohns. Demijohns I had not bough air-locks for, so had to seal with clingfilm(!). Again, I should not have been surprised.

Intact berries can undergo intracellular fermentation, but this can only produce about 2.5% alcohol, at which point fermentation stops until the berry is crushed, and the yeasts can ferment the juice. This is not dissimilar to the carbonic maceration that is tyical of Beaujolais, but without the blanketing layer of CO2 — hence, it is often called semi-carbonic maceration. It is not uncommon in whole bunch ferments.

Demijohns
iPhone SE, built-in 4 mm (~29 mm) lens, 1/17 sec, f/2.2, ISO 400.

The free-run demijohn finished its primary ferment only a few days after, and I added another 25 g/L of sulfites. It is still bubbling slowly, however, so may have decided to undergo at least a partial malolactic fermentation. I have no way to test for this, however. This really is primitive winemaking!

The pressings demijohn is still bubbling away, two weeks after the ferments had first been inoculated. I’m used to inoculated wine ferments only taking 7 – 10 days, so I am somewhat surprised by how slowly it is progressing. I’m also beginning to wonder whether it is also undergoing a malolactic fermentation, which can occur concurrently with the primary, alcoholic, fermentation. Luckily, the grapes had plenty of fresh, lively acidity, so a malolactic fermentation would only help the wines.

It’s a bit hard to sample from the demijohns, so I don’t know how the wines are tasting. Hopefully, I will get to try them in April. As with any wine making, it is a matter of patience.

Continues: Part 1; Part 3.

Château de Bas-Beechmont, part 1

Destemming grapes by handDe-stemming by hand
iPhone SE, built-in 4 mm (~29 mm) lens, 1/17 sec, f/2.2, ISO 500.

I have been wanting to try my hand at making my own wine for some time. I have, of course, helped others make wine numerous times, first during my oenology course at the University of Adelaide, and as a cellar hand. But I was always following someone else’s instructions, and had little input myself. Perhaps it’s an ego thing, but I wanted to try making a wine myself.

The problem for some years has been obtaining grapes. For years, I’d tried to grow them myself, but without luck. Perhaps it was the south facing slope, the lack of rain, or the poor (free-draining, eucalypt mulch) soil. In Sydney, at least, it’s possible to buy wine grapes from Flemington Market, and this is widely publicised. In Brisbane, there did not seem to be any equivalent… at least, not that I could find online. As it happened, there was. Eventually, I found that Ireland 53 at Rocklea Markets sells wine grapes for a few weeks in March, if you order in advance. Last year, I missed out by a few weeks. This year, I was ready…

After ‘phoning to confirm, I got up at 5:30 am to be at the market by 8 am on Sunday. I bought a crate with 20 kg of Murray-Darling grenache for AU$30. There wasn’t a choice, it was a matter of what was available at the time. The quality seemed decent — a bit of rot, but nothing too serious. I don’t have a refractometer, but the fruit tasted very sweet, and the juice was rich and delicious. Being grenache, it was safe to assume it probably at least 13,5° Baumé, which works out as approximately 14% potential alcohol.

Riverina GrenacheMurray-Darling Grenache
iPhone SE, built-in 4 mm (~29 mm) lens, 1/20 sec, f/2.2, ISO 200.

The first problem was to de-stem the grapes. Not having a de-stemmer (this was being done on the cheap!), I hand de-stemmed the grapes into a food grade 20 L plastic bucket, throwing in maybe a dozen or so whole bunches. The idea was that the stems would add some tannins and some structure, something which grenache can sometimes lack.

 

Interestingly, I noticed some of the bunches were more ‘gris’ than ‘noire’ in colour. This would be a phenomenon that would be more explicable in France, where I’d assume that a few vines of grenache gris were planted in among the grenache noir. Since grenache gris is rare in Australia, I assume it’s either within normal variation from grenache noir, or it’s something else altogether. Either way, the bunches were ripe and so went into the ferment…

Fermenting mustFermenting must
iPhone SE, built-in 4 mm (~29 mm) lens, 1/33 sec, f/2.2, ISO 25.

Finally, I crushed the grapes as best as I could, and inoculated with R56 yeast (with EC1118 on standby, in case the alcohol levels are too high for this particular yeast). A potato masher served to plunge the ferment. After a few days, the colour looked good, and the wine was starting to taste pleasantly of strawberries. So far, it had not gone volatile or oxidised (a problem with grenache in particular, and with small ferments in general). But, of course, that can always change.

The next challenge is pressing into barrel… given that I have neither press nor a barrel. While small presses and 10 L barrels are available, they are expensive. I am trying to do this on a budget, so I will improvise…

Continued – Part 2; Part 3.