Granite Belt: Rock-hard resilience
DRIVING along the New England Highway, between Warwick and Tenterfield, you'll find yourself in Granite Belt country. There are visible signs the countryside has sprung back to life after a severe drought that culminated in bushfires at the end of last year.
The fields are wavy emeralds, sheep and cattle graze contentedly, even the trees with black trunks are greening nicely and dams are looking healthy.
Thousands of visitors turned out for the Stanthorpe Apple and Grape Harvest Festival in late February and early March, before COVID-19 measures restricted travel.
Before the recent rains, tourists stayed away because of the perception the whole region was destroyed by fires, which simply was not true. Like the heavy summer deluge following the fire season, the festival-goer numbers were a welcome sight for the local tourism industry.
It was "business as usual" when I visited in early February. That was until many were forced to close their doors or diversify just weeks later due to the outbreak of COVID-19. Another blow for a region, like so many, that is still finding its feet after the events of summer.
Even then, the town of Stanthorpe had a new buzz about it, albeit for a short while.
The main street was near deserted on weekends earlier this year and the small businesses who rely on tourists were in dire straits. But they kept going, helped largely by the supportive local community.
Granite Belt Motel owner Michael Jensen says for the whole of the summer season, he had many cancellations because people thought the town had run out of water.
"We had guests bringing their own water for drinking and showering in the belief that we had none," he said.
"The truth is that water was being trucked in until we're confident that recent rains will fill the dams," he said. "This is now happening."
Kristy O'Brien, owner of Stanthorpe's trendy Brinx Deli/cafe, echoes Michael's thoughts about the past year.
"It's been really tough for us, with the downturn in visitor numbers making it hard to keep going. But we're a resilient community," she said.
Out of town, there's quiet optimism among the wine fraternity. Ridgemill Estate owners Martin Cooper and Michelle Feenan, together with winemaker Peter McGlashan are delighted with several award wins for their Chardonnay and a Georgian grape, Saperavi (which amazingly won gold in a Tbilisi, Georgia competition).
Ridgemill is also on the local Strange Birds Trail, offering a wide range of unusual varieties to sample. Looking to the future, they've invested in eight romantic, deluxe guest cabins with more planned … including pet friendly cabins.
For now, their cellar door is open for wine sales, including their online store, and they're also offering virtual wine experiences with their winemaker.
Robert Channon Wines is another example of dogged resilience.
The winery has won several awards (including accolades from James Halliday) for their Verdelho and other varieties; another ingredient of success is their pre-COVID-19 live weekend concerts featuring top performers from classical to modern music. Can't go wrong with Jazz 'n Shiraz in Swigmore Hall, or lunch in Paola's Kitchen at Singing Lake cafe when it reopens.
Geoff at Granite Belt Brewery is also optimistic about a turnaround in visitor numbers.
His crafty beers made onsite are top quality light to dark ales; another big seller is a tasty 1.6 per cent ginger beer for lunchtime or if you're driving. His beers are available online to buy, while the brewery's cabins, dotted within an easy stagger, await when travel restrictions ease.
In the meantime, plan your post-isolation getaway to the Granite Belt or have a taste of the region's food, wine, beer and more delivered to your door.
GRANITE BELT DELIVERED
Ridgemill Estate: Ridgemill has won both national and international gold medals for its wine. It was the first Queensland winery to plant the world's oldest grape variety - Saperavi, which dates back 8000 years to Georgia. Stay tuned on their Facebook page for their next online cellar door experience. MORE: ridgemillestate.com
Robert Channon Wines: Robert's newly released Working From Home Half Dozen special includes six bottles of wine for $126 including free freight. MORE: robertchannonwines.com
Tobin Wines: Tobin Wines have closed their cellar door to visitors amid this crisis, but like dozens of Granite Belt Wineries, their premium wines can be purchased online via the order form. MORE: tobinwines.com/wines
Heritage Estate:Heritage Estate is among the top 8 per cent of wineries in Australia, having received the prestigious five-star James Halliday winery rating for the fourth year out of the past five. Receive a 19 per cent discount, plus free delivery when you order online. MORE: heritageestate.wine/shop
Jester Hill Wines: Mick Bourke is the winemaker behind this French Provincial style vineyard outside Stanthorpe. Together with his wife Ann and son Mackenzie, they produce the wine themselves - from grape to glass. Enjoy free delivery with online orders. MORE: jesterhillwines.com.au
Granite Belt Brewery: Granite Belt Brewery's ales and lagers are hand crafted in the 1000 litre microbrewery. Enjoy the range of beers and ciders at home. MORE: granitebeltretreat.com.au/brewery
Sutton's Juice Factory: Sutton's Juice Factory is famed for their apple products, produced on their apple farm in the centre of Queensland's apple country. Juice bottles are available in packs of 8 for $45, plus delivery, straight from the apple farm.
There are also ciders, vinegars, liqueurs and preserves. MORE: suttonsfarm.com.au/shop
Jamworks: Homemade jams, relishes, chutneys, pickles, marmalades and butters. More than 100 products are made onsite using local produce. Their strawberry, ginger and rose jam won a gold medal in the Australian Food Awards. MORE: jamworks.com.au.
Washpool: If you need another excuse to wash your hands this is it. Washpool dispatches orders daily of soap, face and body products and cleaning solutions. MORE: washpool.com.au
For more information, visit granitebeltwinecountry.com.au.