Granite Belt wine country: The wine and landscape
The Granite Belt is Australia’s highest wine region with some vineyards at more than 1000 metres before sea level. Its undulating mountainous landscape and enormous outcrops of granite rocks make it one of the most breathtaking wine regions to explore in Australia
The outlook in Granite Belt wine country is harsh yet mystifying. Standing in the region, you can see pockets of wildflowers, cool rivers, and mountainous landscape. Stanthorpe, Ballandean, and the surrounding countryside are diverse areas where many different grape varieties can be grown. We recently spoke to Mike Hayes, winemaker and viticulturist at Balancing Heart Vineyard about life in the region and the vibrant future ahead of it.
An ancient and breathtaking landscape
The decomposed granite and sandy soils in Granite Belt wine country have been forming for over 250 million years. Located 2.5 hours’ drive from Brisbane and the Gold Coast, the region dangles on the side of the Great Dividing Range. The daytime temperatures can reach 25 – 30 degrees, but mountainous air glides through the valleys and the high altitude grants a cool climate for growing grapes.
There are also four distinct seasons. From beautiful orange flora in autumn to a kaleidoscope of colour in spring when the wildflowers bloom, the countryside is always willing to put on a show.
Most of the vineyards are boutique, sitting on small 3-15 acre blocks that benefit from the fruitful growing conditions.
Image credit: Louise Wright
Nurturing new grape varieties in The Granite Belt
The pioneers of the Queensland wine industry, such as Angello Puglisi and Adrian Tobin, worked hard, shaped their vineyards, and believed in themselves. They have learnt how to grow grapes through hell and high water, dealing with droughts, floods, hailstorms, and frosts, yet putting their heads up each year. The future also looks bright with a new generation of energetic winemakers
The most common varieties of Granite Belt wine are Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, and Shiraz. However, the region’s strength is its ability to nurture emerging grape varieties. Many Italian and Spanish varieties, such as Fiano, Vermentino, Albariño, Pinot Grigio, Tempranillo, Graciano, Barbera, Montepulciano, and Nebbiolo are well suited to the warmer temperatures.
Saperavi, one of the oldest cultivated wine grapes originating from Georgia can also be grown in the Granite Belt. Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso from Italy also has tiny berries, loose bunches, and an upright canopy that can handle warmer temperatures. Falanghina and Pecorino also have thicker skins and looser bunches, helping them to thrive in warmer climates.
Building Climate Resillience
Mike is passionate about building climate resilience in the region and adopting sustainable techniques. He is working on different ways of making wines and moving away from oak barrels which only last a few years but take up to 150 years to grow. Using insects for biological control rather than insecticides and natural yeasts, he is helping the Granite Belt to evolve with a softer, more modern approach to winemaking.
He has observed the humidity increasing in the summertime and the weather becoming less cool. His father planted Pinot Noir in 1978 and it hasn’t handled the climatic shift. While spending time in Italy on a scholarship, he noticed that the landscape was similar to the Granite Belt and knew that varieties that grow straight up instead of hanging down, and with a stronger canopy would better withstand hard rain and harsh sun. He has since pulled out the Pinot Noir vines for Italian varieties that can handle the heat.
Experimenting with Mediterranean varieties that are drought tolerant and adapted to a broader band of weather conditions is key to building climate resilience.
The Mediterranean Shift
Mediterranean food and wine also suit the Australian way of life. They make for easy drinking and speak to our al fresco lifestyle. They’re not high in tannins and many millennials are starting to prefer a lighter style with less alcohol.
The pioneers of the Queensland wine industry, such as Angello Puglisi and Adrian Tobin, worked hard, shaped their vineyards, and believed in themselves. They have learnt how to grow grapes through hell and high water, dealing with droughts, floods, hailstorms, and frosts, yet putting their heads up each year. The future also looks bright with a new generation of energetic winemakers.
Art of Krupinski, Jester Hill Wines, and Ravenscroft Vineyard are all trialing different techniques that work with Mother Nature and respect the Earth. Sculpting their grapes throughout the growing season, their meticulous growing practices produce beautiful flavours six to twelve months down the track.
The people are warm and look at each other as friends. Many have an Irish or Italian background and have a lot of respect for where they have come from, as well as how far the region has come.
The Future Looks Kind
The COVID pandemic sparked a wave of tourism in the Granite Belt and wine sales are still up. The climate will get warmer, but not as severely in this cooler alpine region. The strength of the region lies in resilient Southern Italian and Iberian varieties, as well as those originating from Georgia.
Granite Belt wine country is a magical piece of land producing extraordinary flavours and aromas that are hard to beat.