Wine Tasting in the Granite Belt during COVID

Wine Tasting in the Granite Belt during COVID

A travel and photo blog by Kerry Cleasby – August 2020

1. You need to pre-book your cellar door wine tastings.

I am usually not this organized before a wine tasting holiday. I have the accommodation booked and will perhaps look into the local restaurants, but the wine tasting usually involves picking up a wine trail map on arrival, making a vague plan for the day, then pulling into the ones that suit our mood at that moment.
COVID has put an end to the vague plan and last-minute drop-ins. New regulations require the wine tastings to take place seated, not standing at the bar. Additionally, they have the same issue as in city bars, they are limited to a restricted number of people indoors, especially if it is a small space, as many small winery cellar doors are.
When I visited the Granite Belt last week, the winemakers begged me to tell my clients to make bookings ahead of their visit, as they were very sad to have to turn people away.  They often do have space, but they need to spread out the bookings over the day.
If you need a hand with your selections and bookings, I have listed a curated personal list of our favourite winemakers on the Granite Belt along with their contacts below.

2. The Granite Belt is busy this winter.

We were all pretty keen to get out of lockdown back in June and many of us had the same idea at the same time when they told us “Queensland you are good to go”.
The Granite Belt was like many other Queensland regional holiday hot spots, their phones ran hot with new bookings. Within weeks I found it almost impossible to find accommodation over the weekends through the winter months. I think we traditionally think about visiting the Granite Belt in winter to enjoy the fireplaces and cooler weather, but it can be equally charming in spring, with local produce blooming and berry picking at their best. Or even summer where the heat is less humid than on the coast and you could really enjoy some jumping into some of the local water holes. If you are keen to visit this year, you might need to push your booking towards the end of the year, or look at midweek escapes like I did.
We stayed at my preferred accommodation in the area. Azjure Studio Retreat. The little luxurious touches such It took quite some hunting before I found availability and luxury 

3. Not everything is open mid-week.

While getting away mid-week might offer reduced pricing and greater availability of accommodation, you will need to once again do a little research on where you want to eat and taste. The Granite Belt has many small winemakers and restauranteurs who have other jobs and businesses and are therefore only open for the peak times on the weekend. Additionally, the ravages of COVID in the restaurant industry has required cutbacks.
We travelled mid-week due to the limited availability of accommodation over the weekends and with some planning found some great restaurants and wineries to enjoy.
If your interest in pre-planning is limited, below is my list of where we personally ate and wine tasted, with the contacts so you can quickly make a plan.

4. There is some great wine coming out of Queensland!

Its been quite a number of years since I did some wine tasting on the Granite Belt. In the meantime, I have been spoilt by travelling to some of the best wine regions around the world, so I must say was not expecting this wine escape to be just about the wine. However, with some recommendations from our “wine educated” friends, we found some small wine producers doing some really great things. One winemaker explained to me that while the Granite Belt didn’t have the reputation of some of the other wine areas in Australia, their ability to grow great wine grapes was not the issue. With careful selection of the grape type, the climate is perfect for many excellent cool climate wine styles. While my preferred Pinot Noir grape doesn’t grow well in Stanthorpe due to summer rain, I did find some really enjoyable Shiraz and Merlots in some of the boutique wineries. The Granite Belt Tourism has introduced an initiative called Strangebird Wines, which is an alternative wine trail, providing a list of emerging varieties of grapes that and they are really making a name for themselves in the hands of our Queensland winemakers.
Strangebird Wine Trail

How to Escape to the Granite Belt Mid Week 

Here is your Pre-planned itinerary for a fast getaway.

Designed for a mid-week escape Wed-Fri -using wineries and restaurants open mid-week.

Day 1 

Brisbane to the Granite Belt

Stanthorpe is 215 km’s from Brisbane. A drive of approximately 3 hours.
Your coffee stop – Avoid the highway coffee and persist until you get to- Maleny Coffee at Aratula, an artisan Roaster with the added bonus of some lovely local produce for sale. Just over an hours drive from Brisbane, this made a perfect stop for a coffee and quick stretch. Right next door is Arthur Clive’s Family Bake House if you are like me and enjoy the hunt for the best country bakery apple slice.
1st Wine Tasting at Heritage Wines
Just north of Stanthorpe at Cottonvale (07 4685 2197) Heritage Estate Wine
This was a great start and Heritage boast a number of highly awarded wines. I grabbed a bottle of their Tawny Port called Bootleggers Tawny.  An interest in Tawny Port began for me as a child, when my Dad took me wineries all over Victoria looking for the perfect Tawny Port.
Lunch at Varias –  Tel. 4685 5050 Varias Restaurant
The Restaurant attached to the Queensland College of Wine Tourism, a local venture developed to train and keep the regions young people in the area.
I had the Signature Lunch – “A Medley of Mains” matched with their own wines followed by dessert. Delicious- see the photo below.
2nd Wine Tasting – Symphony Hill Wines – Contact Symphony on 4684 1388. Symphony Hill Wine
 You will need to head down towards Ballandean for this one, which is where we were staying at Azjure Studio villas so this was the right direction for us.
Symphony Hill Wines has been awarded Best Australian Winemaker 2 years in a row for winemaker Mike Hayes.
Finish your day with a glass of something you purchased earlier, on the deck of your accommodation.
We stayed at Azjure Studio Villas and on the first night cooked on our BBQ a local fillet steak from the Stanthorpe butcher, while doing some star gazing and surprisingly owl watching.
After the drive from Brisbane, we didn’t want to head out again for dinner as our villa was so lovely with a fireplace, spa and Kangaroo filled sunsets. 

Day 2

We started our morning quite slowly, with no need to rush off thanks to the fresh bean-packed coffee machine in our studio.
However, if you are good with early morning exercise, I would suggest you head out early to Girraween National Park and hike one of the trails to see some of the balancing rocks.
Breakfast and more Coffee at the Wallangarra Railway Cafe and Museum on the border with NSW. Once a strategically important rail station, now converted into a quaint coffee shop and museum.
1st wine tasting – Pyramids Road Wines, Contact – 4684 5151. 
On the road to Girraween National Park or on the way back from Wallangarra. 
We really enjoyed chatting with Warren, owner and winemaker. He gave us some great insight into winemaking practices and Granite Belt wine.
2nd Wine Tasting – Bent Road Wines– Contact Glen on [email protected] or 0418 19 01 04  Bent Road Wine
You must book ahead quite a way for this one, we didn’t so didn’t get in, however, it was highly recommended by friends and we were sorry we missed them.
3rd Wine Tasting and Lunch – Ballandean Estate. Call ahead to prebook on  (07) 4684 1226 or email info@ballandean
One of the largest and most influential wineries on the Granite Belt and has a wide selection of wines to taste.
Something a little different today. Start with wine tasting at their cellar door, and then head off for a gourmet picnic with your chosen bottle of wine and a picnic hamper showcasing the
best Granite Belt produce.
Find a secluded corner in their Opera Block Vineyard, where Angelo Puglisi planted his first Shiraz grapes in 1968. $80
Head back to Azjure Studios for a rest and freshen up before heading into Stanthorpe this evening for dinner at Essen. Essen boasts “food home-cooked with love using the freshest local ingredients.”
Essen Restaurant – 07 4681 4254 http://Essen
 McGregor Terrace, Stanthorpe QLD 4380
Open for Dinner – Tuesday to Saturday:- from 5:30 pm

Day 3

Sadly its time to check out of our lovely accommodation and we head for the nearby St Judes for coffee and breakfast.
1st tasting Tobin Wines – Still in Ballandean. We really enjoyed our experience here meeting with the passionate winemaker and owner.
We struggled to choose between the Shiraz and their Cab Sav.
Please book ahead at 4684 1291
2nd Tasting Golden Grove Wines, just next door to Tobin wine. This was a lovely way to finish off our tastings.
We purchased
Contact 4684 1291
Time to start the trip home. I like to make some local produce and gift purchases on my last day so have included a couple of stops you might like to make.
For some beautiful hand made local soaps in Ballandean – washpool handmade-soap
The JamWorks at Glen Alpin, 10 minutes south of Stanthorpe for locally made Jams, sauces, pickles and relishes. You could also stop here for yummy casual lunch
Sams Fruit at Thulimbah for just-picked local fruit and veggies.
Stanthorpe Cheese at Thulimbah.
A casual lunch today on route home at either The JamWorks – phone 4683 4171
or Suttons Farms at Thulimbah, see if you can sit outside in the farm garden full of fruit trees and chickens. Great Apple pie.
My Purchase – Their 3 pack special of Apple, Strawberry and Raspberry Cider Vinegars.
We arrived back in Brisbane by 4.oopm, despite some torrential rain that made the trip down the range a slow one.
I hope this brief outline will help you to quickly get an itinerary pre-booked before you travel. There is space here for additional cellar door visits, however, my pallet is numb after about 3 wineries so for me this is enough each day.
There are many more lovely treats in the region not mentioned here and I look forward to my next visit to taste test a few more.

Do you need some help finding your perfect escape to the Granite Belt, or anywhere. It is what I do best. Please reach out and save yourself the time and stress of organising a holiday.

This is the accommodation I chose for my midweek escape. Azjure Studio Retreat
It has what I consider essential features for a luxurious time out….a fire, a bath, and a comfy bed. As a great bonus, I loved our coffee machine packed with beans and the view over the farm and vineyards, complete with resident kangaroos. There is plenty of accommodation in the region, however, if you like a little luxury, it can take a bit of finding once you leave the big cities. However, there is a reason Azjure has was so quickly inducted into the Queensland Tourism Hall of Fame. Please contact me to book your Escape and I will assist you with your cellar door planning.
Kerry Cleasby
Based in South Brisbane, QLD
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