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Queensland wine is having a moment. But where exactly is Queensland wine country? Drive 2.5 hours south-west of Brisbane and you’ll find it on a rocky plateau 800 metres above sea level. This is the Granite Belt, and it’s a long way from the tropical Queensland you’ve seen in the tourism ads – sometimes it even snows up this way.
Here, winemakers such as La Petite Mort, Golden Grove, Ridgemill Estate and Symphony Hill are producing drops far removed from the big, blockbuster wines of Australia’s more well-established wine regions. Instead, it’s about cool-climate European varieties and blends – vermentinos, shiraz viogniers, barberas, mourvèdres and tempranillos.
But the Granite Belt doesn’t begin and end with wine. Around the town of Stanthorpe is a cottage industry of cheesemakers, chocolatiers and craft brewers, as well as tonnes of fresh produce picked and packed daily for markets in Brisbane and Sydney.
There are also spectacular, boulder-strewn national parks and epic hiking trails to explore, as well as beautiful country cottages with roaring fireplaces in which to warm yourself afterwards.
Here’s a guide to the Granite Belt – what to eat, drink and do, and where to stay.
St Jude’s Ballandean
Doubling as a local cellar door for Sirromet (the vast majority of the well-known Brisbane winery’s grapes are grown up this way), locals and tourists hit St Jude’s for slap-up breakfasts and lunches washed down with Fonzie Abbott coffee.
This is where to charge up before taking on the wineries – or perhaps a pit stop after a more laissez faire tasting. On the menu is a three-egg omelette; confit Eukey mushrooms with poached eggs; and a breakfast burger that comes crammed with bacon, egg, guacamole, cheddar, aioli and house relish. There are also wraps, toasties and a ham-and-cheese croissant if you want to grab and go.
St Jude’s is housed in a handsome bullnose cottage on the highway in the middle of the tiny hamlet of Ballandean, south of Stanthorpe, so you’ll get numerous opportunities to drop in as you crisscross your way around the region to the different vineyards.
Ballandean Estate’s first claim to fame: it’s one of the oldest working wineries in the Granite Belt. Its second: The Barrelroom, which many locals will tell you is the region’s best restaurant.
Run by Matt Wells and Bobbi Wells, The Barrelroom splits the difference between Italian and modern-Australian influences, a reflection of the Granite Belt’s rich Italian migrant history. Menus change regularly, but you might eat lamb-ragu pappardelle with confit cherry tomatoes and pesto; pan-fried veal scallopini with duck-fat roasted potatoes, peas, and a white wine and sage sauce; or baked Israeli cauliflower with house-made labneh and grated tomatoes.
The setting is rustic, with tables arranged in front of a phalanx of 160-year-old port barrels. And of course, you’re at a winery: for drinks go large on Ballandean Estate’s nebbiolo, viognier or famous Opera Block shiraz.
A night at this tiny restaurant has quickly become essential during any self-respecting Granite Belt getaway.
Essen, which opened in late 2019, is chef Clarissa Pabst’s ode to the Austrian cooking of her parents and grandparents – but here the dishes are anchored by local produce.
The set menu changes weekly, but you might eat braised octopus with pumpkin-seed hummus, olives, paprika and lemon dressing; Rangers Valley striploin with a wedge salad and chimichurri; and a family-recipe apple strudel served with a vanilla-bean anglaise. Choose from two courses ($54) or three ($68), and add a side for $10. Easy. And it’s BYO, so it’s a great spot to retire with a drop you’ve just discovered.
Appropriately enough, this family-inspired restaurant feels a little bit like a family dining room. It’s in an unassuming old shop that’s been given new life with a frontage wrapped in a creeper vine and fairy lights, and a fit-out that features plenty of timber furniture, chequerboard floors, and greenery.
Wallangarra Railway Cafe
You don’t come to Wallangarra Railway Cafe so much for the food as you do for the history.
This fabulous old railway station straddles the border between Queensland and NSW, servicing passengers switching from the standard-gauge NSW railways to the sunshine state’s narrower tracks. Stand on the platform with a foot in each state ¬– even the architecture changes from one facade to the other.
The cafe itself is open from 8am to 3pm, and it’s a terrific little place to get a dose of local history while going large on unfussy breakfasts such as house-made savoury mince, three-egg omelettes and pancakes. For lunch there’s pasta, burgers and toasties.
Try to line up your visit with the last Sunday of the month, when a market takes over the railway grounds with art, local crafts and fresh produce.
Granite Belt Brewery
Granite Belt Brewery is typical of bars and pubs in and around Stanthorpe. There’s nothing complicated here – no artifice or pomp – just an easygoing focus on doing the simple things well.
It starts with the building. Set in a fabulous timber-framed pavilion, Granite Belt Brewery feels more like an enormous laid-back rumpus room than a snazzy brewpub. But brewer and co-owner Geoff Davenport means serious business with his beers. The 1000-litre microbrewery’s core range includes a kolsch, an Irish red ale, a pale ale, an IPA and a wheat beer, plus seasonals such as a merlot sour and a plum porter.
To eat, there’s a spring-summer set menu with dishes such as a local smoked duck salad; drunken beef ribs; and pork belly served with cauliflower puree, roast fennel and pear.
Granite Belt Brewery even has accommodation, with 20 cabins scattered among the 30 acres of natural bushland that surround the brewery – in case you decide to order a couple of extra paddles and make a night of it.
Bent Road Wine
Bent Road Wine conducts tastings by appointment only, but don’t let that put you off – a visit to this tiny vineyard hidden in the hills west of the New England Highway is a trip into the minds of winemakers Glen Robert and Andrew Scott (Scott was a 2019 finalist in the celebrated Young Gun of Wine competition).
Robert and Scott’s best-known label is La Petite Mort, which is home to the winery’s more experimental wines. They’ll take you on a tour of the property, which includes a demonstration of their prized kvevri – large clay amphorae they bury in the ground and use to produce complex, Georgian-style wines.
Bent Road’s tastings take place in a beautiful old timber church that was moved onto the property in 2015. An afternoon here sipping saperavi or perhaps a barrel-fermented marsanne while discussing the ins and outs of cool-climate Queensland wine is a Granite Belt highlight.
Take a wine tour (of course)
The easiest way to familiarise yourself with the Granite Belt, its terroir and its distinctive wines is with a tour. Granite Highland Maxi-Tours runs full-day, half-day and personalised Stanthorpe winery trips (it also runs day trips from Brisbane, Toowoomba, Warwick, Dalby and Goondiwindi).
A personalised experience is best, allowing you and at least five mates to check out five or six wineries over the course of a day. The tour includes lunch and starts at $150 per person for six people, with the price dropping if you fit a few more people onboard.
Which wineries to visit? There’s a stack of options but our picks are Bent Road Wines, Golden Grove Estate, Symphony Hill, Ballandean Estate and Ridgemill Estate. You can also opt to visit other local spots such as Granite Belt Brewery, Jamworks Gourmet Foods and Stanthorpe Cheese.
Hike in Girraween National Park
There’s a clutch of terrific national parks scattered throughout Queensland’s Southern Downs region, but Girraween is arguably the best of the lot.
The terrain here is punctuated with enormous granite outcrops, boulders and spooky pinnacles. The geological drama meets the big Granite Belt sky to create a place of quiet reflection. But at certain times of the year the park also comes alive with colour – hike here in late winter and spring and you’ll be treated to some spectacular wildflower displays.
There are a bunch of hikes to tackle in the park, ranging from the 1.6-kilometre Granite Arch circuit (ideal for kids) to the grade-four 10-kilometre Mount Norman trail. Short on time? Take the 3.6-kilometre Pyramid trail. The hike up this enormous granite dome isn’t the easiest, but your reward at the top will be breathtaking views across much of the park.
Take a hands-on winemaking course
Sure, you can just drink wine in the Granite Belt. But there’s also the opportunity to make your own.
From hand-picking, crushing and pressing grapes right through to the fermentation and inoculation processes, the Winemaker for a Weekend program at the Queensland College of Wine Tourism lets you get up close and personal with winemaking, and, ultimately, make your own vino.
This is a government-backed course so you’ll definitely learn something, with the hands-on stuff interspersed with a bunch of masterclasses. The rest of the experience is about relaxing lunches and banquet-style evening meals with matched wines.
If you’re really keen, you can return later in the year for bottling, extra masterclasses and the opportunity to take home a half case of your prized plonk.
Just keep in mind that this happens in conjunction with vintage, with dates available in late February and late March – so plan well ahead.
Briar Rose Cottages
This quiver of beautiful white weatherboard cottages in Stanthorpe’s south gets you near (but not too near) to the New England Highway and the wineries just across the Severn River, but also close enough to Stanthorpe’s high street if you’re keen to spend a day strolling around town.
Which cottage you choose depends on how many folks you’re travelling with. The Cedar Cottage is the largest, accommodating up to six people, with open-style living areas. The Mulberry Cottage is a cosier, older-style house that accommodates four people. If you’re travelling as a couple, opt for Silky Oak Cottage. This small abode (with a steeply gabled roof) is the cutest of the lot with a loft bedroom and an Instagrammable spiral staircase.
All houses have a fireplace and a full kitchen, so you can haul your wine home and have a night in, if taking it easy takes your fancy.
Ridgemill Estate is known mostly for two things: its tempranillo – it has some of the oldest vines of the Spanish varietal in the region – and its accommodation.
These contemporary, studio-style corrugated-steel cabins all have views south across the valley, plus sumptuous furnishings, kitchens, decks and comfy living areas. There’s also the three-bedroom Winery Escape House, if you’re travelling in a group, and a communal barbeque area.
Best of all, it puts you on-site at one of the region’s best working wineries, and just a 10-minute drive from the centre of Stanthorpe.
Spicers Peak Lodge
Halfway between Brisbane and Stanthorpe in the Scenic Rim, Spicers Peak Lodge is a great spot to stay on your way to the Granite Belt. Situated in a large clearing in mountaintop eucalyptus forest, the luxury hotel has jaw-dropping views north towards Main Range National Park.
This being a Spicers retreat, things aren’t done by halves here. The rooms are decked out in timber and bluestone, with marble bathrooms and luxury furnishings. There are loft, lodge and spa suites to choose from, plus a couple of self-contained lodges – one one-bedroom, the other two bedroom – with front-row views of the valley below. The rates are premium here, but all meals and a minibar are included in the cost of your stay.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Tourism Australia. Whether you’re seeking a quick getaway, a lazy holiday or an epic trek, Australia is a land of endless adventures. There’s never been a better – or more important – time to get out and explore. Take a Holiday Here This Year.