Granite Belt - Wines and Vines
By Mark Smith
Queensland’s Granite Belt is located around 220 kilometres southwest of Brisbane and occupies a small part of Australia’s Great Dividing Range. By car or bus, it is a three-hour drive from the Brisbane CBD along the New England Highway (National Highway 15.)
The Granite Belt is one of just two premium wine regions that collectively make up the entire Queensland zone. The remaining region is South Burnett.
The Granite Belt GI was finalised on 25 March 2002, when the name was entered in the Registrar of Protected Names. The term defines the region’s physical boundaries and proscribes its use under Commonwealth of Australia law (Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation Act 1980).
Like many cool climate regions of Australia, the Granite Belt is something of a recent arrival on the wine scene. However, vines were first planted at Stanthorpe in the 1860s by a Roman Catholic priest named Fr Jerome Davadi. The pioneering priest converted the horse paddock at the back of his presbytery into a vineyard to produce altar wine. A handful of other settlers in the region joined him in his winemaking exploits.
Growing wine grapes anywhere between 800 metres and 1000 metres above sea level is always a very challenging pursuit, and it wasn’t until the development of modern viticultural practices in the 1980s that vineyards established here could be regarded as genuinely commercial operations.
Today, the region’s vineyards are a mix of small and medium-sized players. The majority fall into family-sized and hobby grower camps. Recent investment activity – aided and abetted by a Queensland Government Minister for Wine – now sees the Granite Belt accounting for around one third of all that State’s vineyard area.
The region also provides home to the greatest number of vineyard cellar doors in Queensland, as well as Australia’s first college of wine tourism.
Vine age is a key factor in helping to determine wine quality. With the majority of vineyards in the Granite Belt being relatively recent plantings, wine quality in the region is expected to improve as producers come to grips with the vagaries of the climate and the lack of vine maturity here.
Boireann Wines is the star player presently but there are potentially more on the way, including Bungawarra, Kominos Wines, Lucas Estate, Mason Wines, Pyramids Road, Ravens Croft, Robert Channon, Symphony Hill, Whiskey Gully and Witches Falls.
Unlike McLaren Vale and the Barossa and Clare Valleys – which share almost identical mean January temperatures – the Granite Belt is a generally cool climate winegrowing region, albeit with some qualifications. High summer temperatures here are moderated to some extent by cold nights as harvest approaches, and late season rains are common.
Vintage often takes place from the end of February until April – something which is much more familiar to growers in cooler southern latitudes like the Yarra Valley.
In some years, early spring frosts can create picturesque vistas for visitors but rule out vintage almost entirely on some sites.
Average rainfall during the growing season from October to April amounts to around 520 mm
Australia’s domestic red wine boom of the 1980s brought many new players into the industry. Many of those who planted in the Granite Belt appear to have arrived on the crest of that red wine wave. Today, almost 65 percent of its 620ha of vines are devoted to red grape varieties.
Mainstream varieties like Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon lead the way, but do sit comfortably alongside Mediterranean varieties – frequently marketed here as ‘strange birds’ – such as Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Barbera and Tempranillo.
Queensland is rapidly gaining a reputation for producing some of the best Verdelhos in Australia. The variety – which accounts for around 5 percent of the Granite Belt’s total plantings - appears well suited to region’s mix of warm days and cool nights.
Chardonnay (12 percent of plantings) and Semillon (4 percent) are the only other varieties in significant numbers – but ‘strange birds’ with white feathers abound. Look out for Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Viognier, Marsanne, and Traminer among many more.
From vine to glass
The Granite Belt brand is largely unknown in international markets. In 2006-2007, for example, export sales for wine labelled Granite Belt amounted to around 8,500 12-bottle cases of wines. Indeed, the region’s small scale production limits wine distribution even within Australia’s domestic markets.
The solution? Visit the Granite Belt in person to really see what the cool climate region has to offer during this embryonic phase of its development. ‘Strange birds’ aside, it offers some unique visitor experiences.
Granite Belt vineyards at a glance:
- Queensland Zone
- GI registered 2002
- Located: 22'E 28°40'S, 151°56'E
- Altitude: 800m-1000m
- Heat degree days: 1602
- Mean annual rainfall: 766mm (Stanthorpe)
- Growing season rainfall: 519mm
- Mean January temperature: 21.5°C
- Planted area bearing vines (2007): 620ha
- Principal varieties (in order of planted area):
- Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Verdelho.>
- Typical harvest period: Mid-February to late April
- Total crush (2007): Approx 1600 tonnes
- Granite Belt (QLD)
- South East Queensland (QLD)
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