It’s about the wine. That’s what Sirromet will tell you.
But when people talk about this expansive estate half an hour south of Brisbane, they often don’t mention the wine. Not at first, at least.
They talk instead about an extravagant wedding or long lunches at Restaurant Lurleen’s, the winery’s handsome dining room. Or perhaps one of the enormously popular A Day on the Green concerts, which are held among Sirromet’s rolling hills with their views out towards the bay.
When you consider the vast majority of Sirromet’s grapes are grown not on the estate but three hours south-west in the Granite Belt, it’s easy to shorthand the place not as a winery but as a Disneyland-style set, just with more plonk and fewer animatronics.
Sanctuary, a glamping experience at Sirromet, is part of this broad approach to business. Initially it feels like one more perfectly executed diversion; there are 18 tented pavilions scattered across a lower section of the property overlooking a beautiful, tree-lined lagoon.
The digs themselves are something else. Each is an enormous space with a queen bed, lounge area and bureau. The back of the pavilion, with its ensuite, wardrobe and well-stocked minibar, is built more like a cabin in crisp-white VJ boards. But zip down the canvas sides of the living area and you can soon pretend you’re on safari (in south-east Queensland).
Angled towards the water, the pavilions feel relatively secluded despite their proximity to one another. Still, make no mistake, Sanctuary is designed with groups in mind.
“We do a lot of weddings and we kept hearing, ‘I wish you had accommodation’,” Sirromet general manager Rod Hill says. “But also the tour operators we work with – their feedback was, ‘It would be great to fly into Brisbane and spend a night here before taking people on to the Gold Coast’.”
The development application for Sanctuary was filed two years prior to opening. From there the process of finalising designs and building the pavilions was surprisingly quick, Hill says. “We went down to a site at Byron Bay where there was a prototype pavilion. We all walked in and immediately felt relaxed and comfortable.”
The pavilions are terrific to sleep in and, nestled under the trees surrounding the lagoon, you’re protected from the early-morning Queensland sun – a 5am killjoy for summer glampers in the state’s south-east. It’s comfortable and quiet and cosy.
Still, what does it have to do with wine? It has everything to do with wine, Hill says.
When he joined Sirromet nine years ago, the company was competing hard in a market experiencing a worldwide glut in supply. In the background, the GFC loomed.
“The wine industry is really competitive,” Hill says. “In terms of recognition [the Granite Belt] isn’t as well known as other regions. It takes time.
“It makes you think differently. When I arrived, Sirromet was trying to compete in the wholesale, retail and consumer space, which is very hard on margins. We’ve changed that approach a lot.”
A Day on the Green, Lurleen’s, the weddings, a thriving direct-to-customer export business, and now Sanctuary – they’re not distractions but diversification, Hill says, designed as clever ways to get Sirromet’s core product into the hands of drinkers. And not the high-volume table wines you might add to a mixed dozen, but Sirromet’s best drops, which by 2018 have collected close to 1000 domestic and international awards.
“It comes down to taking responsibility for who our consumers are and who we want them to be,” Hill says. “We know we’re producing world-class wines. The challenge is to get back into people’s consideration so that when they’re thinking about wine, we’re there.”
It’s true. During your stay at Sanctuary, Sirromet’s core product is always in front of you, whether it’s in the pavilion’s minibar or accompanying chef Mat Fulford’s fabulous paddock-to-plate degustation menu in Lurleen’s, or at a cellar door that, on a Saturday morning, is a glorious kind of chaos, with tourists squeezing themselves in with hens’ parties and wine tours to taste an award-winning chardonnay or reserve cabernet sauvignon.
“[It all] circles back to the wine,” Hill says.
“The Granite Belt has lifted its status. This year the winemaker of the year was Mike Hayes from Symphony Hill. And you have Golden Grove – some really great wineries.
“[Sirromet] is now at a stage where we have a very strong business base that’s quite diverse, so you have all these elements covering for each other. That diversity is really important to us. It makes us stronger overall.”
Matt Shea stayed at Sanctuary as a guest of Sirromet.
This article first appeared on Broadsheet on August 9, 2018. Some details may have changed since publication.