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Located just a few kilometres north of the New South Wales/Queensland state border and three hours south west of Brisbane is one of Australia's premier food and wine destinations – the Granite Belt. The high altitude and cool climate lends itself to superb grape growing conditions and wineries and stone fruit orchards abound here. Since the Granite Belt region sits atop of the Great Dividing Range spectacular views of the tablelands and rugged scenery can be appreciated from numerous vantage points. Forget humidity - it gets bitterly cold in winter here and its the only place in Queensland where snow is even possible.
Around these parts you not only feel like you could be in a different state but a different country entirely. Visiting during the peak of the autumn season I was treated to a show of leaves changing colour from green to brilliant orange and scarlet. Yes this was definitely not what I'd associate with the typical Queensland outdoors and I set off armed with a detailed map of the region to discover what the area is best know for – its diverse selection of wine.
By the end of my action-packed day I was more than slightly tipsy and rosy-cheeked but had learned more than a thing or two about the mystery that surrounds wine and its production. Here is a pick of three of the most impressive wineries in a region producing more than 55 vineyards and 40 boutique cellar doors. Think you don't know wine? You will after a visit to the Granite Belt – Queensland's wine and food epicentre.
A stately building greeted us upon arrival as well as the resident family pooch who was happily lazing in the sun at our first winery visit of the day. The Puglisi family have produced outstanding wines for over four generations on this site and it was here that we christened our taste buds with a 2010 cabernet sauvignon. The cab-sav was a little drier than I would have liked however was well balanced and with a good amount of complexity. It was followed by a reserve Shiraz which in my opinion was just like a good Shiraz should be - rich and powerful.
Thankfully both varieties were without an acidic aftertaste which can be present in so many cheaper-mass produced reds. Our third tasting proved to be the bottle we ultimately selected for purchase which was a 2008 Shiraz/Malbec blend and was somewhere between the medium bodied Cabernet Sauvignon and the reserve Shiraz. The Malbec grape we were kindly informed is a French variety which has been growing in popularity worldwide especially in regions like Argentina and Chile.
20 later we had already purchased our first bottle and it was not even 11am yet however there was a lot more of the property awaiting us to explore. We were invited by the staff to step outside and wander the vineyards which we were happy to do since it gave us an excuse to take pictures and warm up in the midday sun. A few photos later we moved on to admire the colossal oak barrels in the adjoining cafe which originated from Germany and were shipped to Queensland in the 1900s.
According to a plaque in the cafe they are oldest working barrels in the state and they have a capacity to hold 4500 litres or fill 6000 bottles of wine. Could have just a few parties with this supply I bet. While we didn't stop for lunch here the ambience of the Barrel Room Cafe looked to be an appealing place to stop for lunch before continuing on to explore the Granite Belt Region further.
Ballandean Estate's enormous oak barrels filled with tawny port and muscat liqueur. Orginally made in Germany and shipped to Australia in the early 1900s they were used by Penfolds until inherited they now complete the ambience in Ballandean's barrel-room cafe
Next on the itinerary was the Golden Grove Estate winery, located just down the road from Ballandean and known for its wide selection of Italian grape varieties. Golden Grove, we had read in the car has received plenty of acclaim for their white varieties, in particular their 2010 Semillon Sauvignon Blanc. According to my brochure on the region this wine had won numerous awards and received recognition from Australia most respected and widely read wine critic, James Halliday.
Needless to say we were keen to try this one out. Not being a particular fan of many white wines because of the unusual tangy aftertaste I often experience I was blown away with the cleanness and fresh aftertaste of the Semillon Sauvignon Blanc which had hints of citrus fruits and was not as dry as I had anticipated.
After the Semillon Sauvignon Blanc we tried some unusual varieties of white which I had never heard of. I was informed that Golden Grove is known in the Granite Belt region to specialise in alternative varieties of grape including Italian red varieties Nero D'Avola and Barbera. However since we had stringently self imposed a ban on red varieties at this winery (I had read its better for tastings not to mix red and white varieties too close together when tastings wine ) we continued sampling white wines varieties.
Next up was Vermentino – fermented from another grape originating in Italy. I was less sold on this one with my taste buds not responding to the murkiness left on the palate. Two tastings later and a busload of tourists arrived and we promptly decided we had seen enough. We purchased the famed Sem-Sauv Blanc however did not feel obligated by staff to purchase anything, it was simply my desire to bring our experience of wine tasting home with us. The Golden Grove cellar door which is open to the public is particularly unique in the fact that you can see some of the production going on behind the scenes with the huge grape fermentation vats in full view offering a glimpse into the complex process that goes into producing wine.
The large fermentation vats and production area at Golden Grove
We travelled 10 minutes north to the small hamlet of Glen Aplin for our final winery visit of the day and without doubt we left the best until last in terms of visual beauty. Located on top of a dramatic hillside Felsberg Winery offers those spectacular views of the rugged Granite Belt countryside I previously mentioned. A traditional Bavarian style building with an actual belltower awaited our entry and the decor inside matched the authentic German-ness of a winery which not surprisingly was established in by a German-born family in 1983.
It went without saying that we were more than impressed with the setting and location of this winery and I knew that even without tasting wine Felsberg is worth a visit simply for the setting alone. However we were also here for some serious wine tastings and got down to business looking over a massive list to look which made it difficult to decide what to try first.
Stunning views of the Glen Aplin valley from the hilltop where Felsberg winery sits
Here I was keen to try varieties of sparkling wine which is considered by some to be over-engineered and less authentic since the wine is carbonated and stored under pressure giving the unique fizz its known for. Engineered or not, sparkling wines are some of my favourite wines to drink especially on a special occasion and trying the options of sparkling was a must for me. First up was a sparkling Shiraz which I was told is mainly only drank in Australia and considered to be quite unusual elsewhere. I'd had a sparkling red over the previous Christmas period and I did enjoy it, however I concluded the richness of the Shiraz I tasted meant that it was not something I'd like a whole bottle of so I settled on the Cuvee Blanc.
This was a sparkling white that had a rich creamy consistency and smoothness which I highly enjoyed and I had no doubts about my abilities to polish off an entire bottle of this sparkling variety. After the tastings here I reverted back to taking photos and since the whole place is genuinely really good to look at it was hard to take just a few. Felsberg winery also has a cafe attached serving up rich hearty foods like pork knuckle and duck pie which in the cold winters on the Granite Belt would be the perfect accompaniment to a bottle of red.
In terms of gaining an experience apart from simply tasting wines Felsberg is highly recommended to be near the top of thee list on any visitors Granite Belt winery itinerary.