Contrary to recent weather reports, there was not a snowflake in sight on my recent trip to Queensland's Granite Belt. An escape from Brisbane was in order, and I, along with seven other city slickers, had our sights set on Stanthorpe to experience what southerners may scoff at as a 'real' winter. They may be right – that fluffy white stuff is not common around these parts.
While the winter woollies were out in full force come sundown and evenings were spent in front of a log fire with glasses of red and cheese platters, the days were filled with what Aussie winter dreams are made of: topaz blue skies, a mild temperature, the sun's warm embrace and a rosy glow from one too many wine tastings. Life could be worse.
Amid a tough landscape peppered with precariously balanced granite boulders, wide, open pastures and glassy waterways, the Granite Belt offers country living at its best. Though the snow may have long melted, for the next twenty years at least, there's still a whole 'larder' to love even without that white fuzzy blanket we so longed for.
Southern Queensland's pantry is ripe for the taking, and take you shall. A high altitude of 700-1200-metres above sea level, crisp climate and unique terroir makes the region perfect for growing grapes.
From sweet and crisp to oaky and creamy vintages, Queensland's cool-climate wine region offers it all. There are 55 vineyards and 40 cellar doors scattered throughout the Granite Belt and innovative winemakers are carving out a name for themselves with award-winning drops that stack up to the best of the Barossa or Hunter Valleys.
Here, what will linger long in your memory after the tannins leave your palate is the interactions with the friendly faces at the cellar door. Many are the winemakers themselves eager to offer thirsty visitors an insight into their viticulture processes.
For those that tire of the stock-standard sauvignon blancs and shirazes, the Granite Belt's Strange Bird Alternative Wine Trail may be just the wine revival you're seeking.
This self-drive route identifies the alternative varietals produced in the region, so named as they must not represent more than one per cent of the total bearing vines in Australia. Highlights include Symphony Hill Wines, Golden Grove Estate and Summit Estate Wines. Tagged the next generation of wines, alternative grapes like durif, marsanne and my personal favourite, gewürztraminer, are rising in popularity due to their ability to pair perfectly with food.
Since the 1860s, the Granite Belt has been one of Australia's leading fruit and vegetable producers thanks to rich volcanic soil and the genuine four seasons this pocket of Queensland experiences. Stanthorpe's famed apples often find their way into most homes in the state, and at Sutton's Farm you can pick your own. Don't forget to order a mammoth slice of their famous apple pie with cider ice cream, washed down with a glass of heady apple cider.
The region's natural larder is transformed into a variety of gourmet grub by talented chefs and providores. An abundance of cheese makers, olive producers and fruit harvesters, as well as a brewery, flourish in the Granite Belt. Traverse the Nude Food Trail to stock up on ingredients as nature intended – in region and in season.
The Granite Belt also offers arguably Queensland's finest paddock-to-plate dining experiences. Ballandean Estate's Barrel Room is leading the way with its 'fresh is best' ethos and seasonal, local menu. Combine your wine tasting with a homey, yet refined lunch among 150-year old working wine barrels.
Life's all about balance and with so many delicious temptations, there's an equal number of outdoor pursuits to be found. The Granite Belt is also a nature lover's dream.
Walk off that extra scoop of cider ice cream with a light bushwalk through rock formations and eucalypt forests in Girraween National Park; feel the wind through your hair on a bike ride; try your luck at fossicking; or cast a line out in Storm King Dam for a chance at catching an elusive Murray Cod.
Sure, it's nice to cuddle up in front of fireplaces in the cooler months, but Stanthorpe and surrounds also shine in spring when the orchards heave with fruit. Ever wanted to stomp on grapes? You can do that in autumn. And as incredible as it may be to believe, this all can happen in Queensland.