High Times in the Granite Belt
Nestled in one of Australia’s most elevated wine-growing regions with unspoilt landscapes in every direction, the Granite Belt is a double-threat of great wine and the pristine outdoors.
When you speak of winemaking and Queensland in the same breath, it can sometimes raise a metaphorical eyebrow among people. After all, the Sunshine State is synonymous with varying tropical climes: many suppose this vast, hot segment of Australia is incapable of growing vines. But how wrong they are.
The Granite Belt has been a long-time favourite for winter escapes and summer sojourns for those in Brisbane and nearby Gold Coast – yet the word is slowly getting out further afield. The area has a striking backdrop conveyed best by its granite boulder-strewn national parks, quirky contemporary cellar doors, and vast, star-filled night skies. At the northernmost part of the New England Tablelands, the region sits in and around 1,000m of elevation, with the town of Stanthorpe considered the epicentre and neighbouring Ballandean a hub around which most wineries and vineyards find themselves today.
The area is sprawling, and for the exploratory-minded, there is plenty to see, do and taste around this southern extremity of Queensland – a destination where top-quality wineries illuminate depths of varietal character and winemaking nuance around nearly every corner.
Even with frequent parallels drawn to the Rhône Valley, France, it often comes as a surprise to learn that the Granite Belt is classed as a cool wine-growing region. Still, this doesn’t stop the conditions from being unusual; defined by sub-zero winter nights, spring frosts, and high temperatures moderated by sub-tropical monsoon influences. However, overall, altitude keeps winemaking possible here.
For a long time, there has been a decent reputation for Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay. These varieties remain, but intrepid, curious growers mitigating extreme weather patterns and seeking the next best drop have sought to widen their horizons with extensive plantings of Verdelho, Viognier, Sangiovese and Saperavi. They have admiringly become known as the “strange bird” varieties amongst resident growers – a moniker only earnt if they represent 1% or less of Australia’s vines.
The Sphinx rock formation in Girraween National Park.
Along the Pyramid Trail in Ballandean.
If the Big Apple is Stanthorpe’s unofficial slap on the back as you drive in, then Mount Marley Lookout backs up this welcome with popular unhindered views across the township. Drop by the Stanthorpe Regional Gallery and the Stanthorpe Regional Museum for an authentic take on the verve and bucolic culture of the Darling Downs Region.
A superb way to see local produce outside of food and drink is at Washpool Supply Co.’s recently opened new premises, which expands its already impressive line of handmade skincare, soaps, home health and gifts; and no Saturday morning is complete without dropping by the Granite Belt Farmers Markets.
A scattering of national parks and state forests provides copious chances to immerse yourself in nature between sips of wine and delicious bites. Hosting a selection of trails to choose from, Girraween National Park might be the pinnacle, however. The renowned Pyramid Trail weaves through eucalypti forests, before a gigantic balancing granite boulder at the peak is the spoils for your exertion.
Nearby Wallangarra straddles the New South Wales/Queensland border, and the iconic disused railway station holds a museum and café, perfect for a post-hike pitstop – recently bought, and about to undergo a big and exciting renovation.
Capitalise on Queensland’s truffle-growing conditions and go to Folly Truffles for an all-encompassing experience of one of the most desired ingredients in world gastronomy. Hunting and cooking courses with black truffles at this picturesque property are offered year-round, but the highlight of the growing season is during the winter months. Coming by motorhome or towing a caravan? Their off-grid, eco-friendly campground is a perfect spot to unwind by the Severn River.
Nearby are multiple stays ideal for any getaway with farm stays and charming cottages galore. Around Stanthorpe, 31 The Rocks are treelined villas offering seclusion and proximity to the town; further afield, the standout is undoubtedly Barrel View Luxury Cabins. Designed to look like huge wine barrels on their sides, these tucked-away tiny homes are some of the most distinctive and characterful stays you’ll ever encounter in Australia. Think polished concrete floors, plush interiors, and incredible views – from the comfort of bed, no less – across their 16-hectare escarpment to nearby vineyards.
Barrel View Luxury Cabins.
The beautiful bottles of Balancing Heart Vineyard. (Credit: Alex Mitcheson).
SAVOUR THE FLAVOURS
The most elevated wineries sit in the north and on a sweeping southwards line past Stanthorpe and down to Ballandean is where most of the vineyards are scattered. The 315+ hectare growing area, for the most part, is defined by gently sloping blocks with easy-draining granitic gravel soils. Pairing these attributes with four distinct seasons hinging on a markedly long growing season, the result can be uber-complex wines of understated elegance.
Wherever you decide to stay or concentrate your time, there is never more than 45 minutes between you and your next tasting glass. If you decide you’re up for seeing as much as possible, you’d be best splitting your time and focusing on Stanthorpe/surrounds and Ballandean/Glen Aplin separately, although, in truth, they organically f low into one another with little tangible separation.
One of the newest and most creative vineyards you’ll come across is at Art of Krupinski in Glen Aplin. With an overriding Polish theme to their tasting room, you’ll notice a series of road signs on the way telling you you’re ‘Entering Bear Country’ with the comical mascot saluting you with a glass of wine. After a couple of vintages, they’re already knocking out superb Merlot, interesting Cabernet Franc, and refreshing Verdelho – textbook with their gourmet cheese boards.
A little further on, there’s an opportunity to cleanse your palate and taste some deftly produced small-batch beers at Brass Monkey Brew House. Navigate a dusty track, but do not be put off, as this humble brewery/bar holds a trove of beer styles and types from all over the globe, and you’re assured of tasting something you won’t find anywhere else.
The majestic landscape of Tobin Wines in the Granite Belt wine region.
Digging for some truffles with Folly Truffles.
Continue north and come across Summit Estate Wines with warm welcomes and sunset sessions the modus operandi, accompanied by perfumed Syrah and zesty Albariño. What’s more, they don’t mind if you bring a picnic, and encourage you to snag a spot around their outdoor fire in the cooler months.
Nearby Heritage Estate boasts some of the highest vineyards in the Granite Belt plus eclectic, fun-filled dinners and events, such as candle-lit poetry reading between the vines. Prefer a day visit? The Vine and Dine Journey is a lavish five-course wine-matched lunchtime encounter you cannot miss.
Around Ballandean St Jude’s Cellar Door & Bistro is the place to grab fantastic coffee and gourmet breakfasts – the constant queue of locals at the kiosk window awaiting their caffeine fix should be all the proof you need. From here, you’re only a minute away from celebrated Bent Road Winery’s newest cellar door. From a sophisticated lounge area overlooking the fruit, winemaker Andrew Scott hosts masterclasses covering the diversity and innovation of the many thought-provoking ranges and styles they produce.
Try your best to make time for Tobin Wines, a smaller boutique winery with an unwavering ethos of allowing genuine varietal character and the unique terroir of Queensland to do all the talking. An aged Semillon that could compete with the Hunter Valley in a blind tasting is a testament to this.
And close by, Ballandean Estate is where you can try internationally acclaimed Saperavi and award-winning Fiano side by side. Balancing Heart Vineyard is best experienced with a fire-red sunset, live music, and stonebaked pizza on its lakeside deck. Under new ownership since 2020, they make full use of local winemaking legend Mike Hayes in producing quaffable wines and batch-released bottles available periodically throughout the year.
There’s demonstrable passion and vigour around the people and places of this often-forgotten wine-growing region. It doesn’t matter if you choose to spend a day or a week here: the area will reward you with a roster of taste-filled experiences and pastoral charm from the moment you arrive.