Ray Costanzo may be a third-generation winemaker, but even his depth of experience couldn’t prepare him for the sudden shock to business when Covid-19 hit Queensland. As winemaker at the family-owned Golden Grove Estate in the cool-climate Granite Belt, Costanzo had to quickly adapt to a new reality in the face of lockdowns.
“We were gutted, like everyone else,” he says. “We wondered how we would get through this, because cellar door sales accounted for about 75 per cent of our sales. But straight away we focused our energy on online sales. We’ve got a very loyal wine club [too], and they came through for us.”
The first Queenslander to ever make the Top 50 in Australia’s Young Gun of Wine awards, Costanzo lives on the vineyard’s 25-acre block of land with his wife Jenny and their two daughters, aged 8 and 11. He grew up there himself, on the same land where his Italian-migrant grandparents began making wine from leftover table grapes that weren’t suitable for market. His father eventually took over the winery and opened the cellar door about 30 years ago, while Costanzo studied winemaking, with stints in the US and Adelaide, before returning to Golden Grove almost two decades ago.
Like so many parents and small-business owners, he and Jenny had to juggle home schooling with trying to keep their business afloat. “It was a surreal moment,” says Costanzo, who has endured drought, bushfire smoke and hailstorms on Golden Grove in the past couple of years alone. His brother Jason, a chef who runs a catering company out of the cellar door in addition to working in the vineyard, has had to stop hosting functions since the pandemic hit Australia.
As part of an effort to help small producers during these difficult times, First Choice Liquor Market reached out to the winery and is now carrying some of Golden Grove’s most popular wines, including their 2018 Shiraz, 2018 Barbera, and 2019 Nero D’Avola.
“It was huge,” Costanzo says. “It’s been absolutely brilliant to get our brand further afield.” Since that timely boost, the reopening of Golden Grove’s cellar door has helped to complete its recovery. “Once things opened back up, we got absolutely inundated,” he says. “It’s been amazing. There are a lot of new visitors to the area, which is fantastic. People who haven’t been to the Granite Belt before.”
For those unfamiliar with the area, the Granite Belt is a winery-laden stretch of Queensland’s high country nestled in the Great Dividing Range. Golden Grove itself is located in Ballandean, 20 minutes south of Stanthorpe and three hours from Brisbane. Situated at 820 metres above sea level, Golden Grove is among a clutch of high-elevation, cool-climate wineries that are becoming quite well-known in Brisbane.
“The soil here is quite light and granite-y,” he says, “so we make lighter, more elegant styles. Lots of flavour, but in a very elegant, cool-climate sort of way. That absolutely suits the Brisbane market, especially this new generation of sommeliers who are looking at what drinks best in a warm climate.”
Golden Grove is part of the Granite Belt’s high-profile alternative wine trail, linking fellow wineries that specialise in alternative varieties (i.e. lesser-known grapes). The collaborative initiative Strange Bird has brought some of those varieties to the forefront.
“Granite Belt doesn’t have a local hero – a variety we can call our own, like a Hunter semillon or a Barossa shiraz,” says Costanzo. “But we have all these alternative varieties. For example, tempranillo goes really well here.” Those varieties have gradually become Golden Grove’s signature, growing steadily in stature since Costanzo’s father first planted them for his returning son “to play around with.”
With the cellar door open again, Golden Grove has enjoyed a rush of visitors to the cellar door – so much so that certain stocks are starting to run low. After so much uncertainty just a few months ago, that’s exactly what the winery needs.
“To put it into perspective, the four days over Easter is usually our busiest time,” he says. “And it’s been like that for three weeks straight.”
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This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with First Choice Liquor Market.