For the past few months my younger brother has been doing labour work on fruit farms in Southern Queensland. He did a few weeks picking the next-big-superfood, Queen Garnet plums, one day at the vineyards of Symphony Hill Wines, and is now two weeks away from finishing a stint at a strawberry farm.
He works long hours at least six days a week, and never knows when his next day off is. This suits him fine as all he wants is as much money as possible so that he can go and live in Cambodia again, but was a royal pain when we were trying to plan a big milestone birthday for Dad. So instead of tentatively booking a weekend away on the Gold Coast as per original plans, we brought the party to Jonny.
Cue family adventure to Stanthorpe.
We finally arrived in Queensland’s weird little wine capital in late evening. The first thing I noticed about Stanthorpe was the weather – unlike Brisbane, Stanthorpe knows it’s Autumn. Hot sun, cold breezes, and very little humidity – I even got to wear my favourite wool scarf for the first time in months, so I was instantly impressed.
After retrieving my brother from the house he shares with two large Estonians, we headed to our accommodation, the very cute Vineyard Cottages & Café in Ballandean, about 10 minutes out of Stanthorpe itself. Our cottage was super sweet, with a large mezzanine loft with polished timber stairs, a big jar of home-made biscotti from the caretakers and gorgeous gardens.
The next day we set off on a winery tour of Stanthorpe with a young couple who were staying in one of the other cottages, and Greg, our guide from Filippos Tours.
I was a little bit wary of this, to be honest. Since I was 16 I have in some way worked in or around the hospitality industry, so although I get the general premises of wine tasting and can’t enjoy the really cheap and nasty stuff, I’m fully aware of how little I know – so I was ready for a day of feeling a bit stupid.
Instead, I was in for a pretty lovely day of 5 wineries, 1 craft brewery, sticky date pudding and a weird pyramid on a hill, with a down-to-earth tour guide and people who knew less about wine than I did.
The highlight of the trip, for me, was the wine tasting at Tobins Wines, which we visited based solely because James (one half of the young couple) had a Tobins wine with dinner the night before, despite our guide’s best efforts not to take us there.
All I can say is thank goodness for James! We were brought into an unassuming tin shed, sat at a the bar, and given the best wine lesson of my life.
Adrian Tobin is a perfectionist, and Tobin Wines are a passion for him (although I did some quick math, and I imagine they’re a pretty profitable passion). As he told us, he loves wine, he’s retired, and he’s setting out to make some truly exceptional wine before he dies -and if he can help other people learn about wine along the way, all the better. Adrian’s winemaking philosophy is all about the fruit, and everything is done without huge industrial machines – if you grow the perfect fruit, blending shouldn’t be necessary.
I should also mention that he made me, the girl who regularly says “anything but Chardonnay” when it’s time to share a bottle, fall in love with just that – the 2011 Barrel Fermented ‘Lily’ Chardonnay if we want to get specific. Dad bought a bottle – I might have to steal it.
Our tour included a three course lunch at a gorgeous family-run cafe, and a stop at the Ballandean Pyramid – the privately owned result of $1000 and too many spare boulders.
Greg was an excellent guide with a sixth sense for when we were “wined out” – he dropped the boys at the Brass Monkey Brewery (try the pale ale!) to fix it – and even drove me back to the middle of the town to catch my bus back to Brisbane.
If you’ve always wanted to do “the wine tour thing” but felt like you didn’t know enough, I definitely recommend a weekend away in Stanthorpe. Queensland’s wine industry is just a baby in comparison to regions like Margaret River or the Barossa, so the towns, wineries and prices are all smaller, meaning things are slower, people are friendlier, and bonus – you’ll know the up-and-comers of the Australian wine industry.
Where was your most recent quick getaway? I’d love to hear about it!
Stanthorpe quick facts:
Known for fruit-growing (most specifically apples) and wine.
Location: Just north of the QLD-NSW border, about a 2.5 hour drive from Brisbane