Many people dream of owning a winery. These couples actually did it and are leading the Australian industry with their alternative wine varietals.
For these couples, wine making is a labor of love, and many in in Queensland, Australia have chosen this as a second career.
The Granite Belt is an emerging wine region in Queensland that has distinguished itself by growing unusual grapes they have dubbed “Strange Birds”.
Strange Bird Wines
It has worked as a very effective marketing campaign to differentiate themselves from the rest of the Australian wine industry.
Beyond the usual and massively popular shiraz and chardonnay, these winemakers are dipping into verdehlo, fiano, graciano, saperavi, and viognier.
The business model of most of these boutique wineries is to sell the wine out of their tasting rooms (or cellar doors as they call it in Australia).
Thus, the invitation to try new varietals beckons tourists and weekend getawayers from nearby Brisbane to their cellar doors.
Lovebirds Making Wine
Here is a peek at 6 wineries in the Granite Belt, and the couples behind these strange bird wines.
I had the chance to visit these wineries with the Wine Media Conference in October 2019.
#1 Apple Orchard to Award Winning Winery
Robert and Therese Fenwick purchased Heritage Estate Wines in 2019. The previous lovebirds who owned the winery, Bryce and Paddy Kassulke, retired after purchasing an old apple orchard and converting it into a 5 star James Halliday (the Australian version of Robert Parker) winery.
Both Robert and Therese developed a love for wine at an early age and had always wanted to own a winery of their own. Robert had a career in science and GIS mapping until the opportunity to purchase the winery came up.
Both their shiraz viognier and shiraz mourvedre grenache blends are rated 95 points by James Halliday.
#2 This Winery Sells out of all their Wine
Savina Lane may be the newest cellar door on the block but are certainly not the least popular.
In fact, they have to close their cellar doors to the public because they haven’t got enough wine to sell.
Most of their 10,000 bottles per year are reserved for their wine club which is also currently capped at 600 members. You’ll have to get on the wait list.
Brad and Cheryl Hutchings built their sleek cellar door to “avoid the need for air conditioning, spraying only natural compounds wherever possible and using only organic fertilisers.”
Brad had a career as a qualified Agronomist while Cheryl worked as a writer and Creative Director in the advertising industry.
However, they left it behind to build a state of the art wine cellar that took six weeks just to blast out all the granite rock.
Some of their single vineyard, hand picked, and vegan strange bird wines include a fiano, graciano, and a wonderful petit mansang that pairs well with Asian food.
#3 The 2 Fools that bought a winery on a whim
Fools are what Michael and Ann Bourke affectionately call themselves and their aptly named Jester Hill Wines.
With seven children, they left for a weekend getaway to the Granite Belt on their motorcycles and ended up buying the winery in 1991 on a whim.
They make one of only three known sparkling rousannes in the world and are continuously experimenting with new styles and varieties of wine, since there are no “rules” in the region.
#4 Sustainable, Dry Farmed Wines
Tim and Michelle Coelli of Twisted Gum Wines live and work on the farm seven days a week. On just 3.5 hectares of land, they produce sustainable, single vineyard, non-irrigated wines.
With the help of free draining granite soil and the use of mulch, their unirrigated vines produce fewer but more intensely grapes.
The couple also does not use insecticides but relies on the birds in the surrounding eucalpyt forest to to assist with unwanted pests.
In addition, they are also planning to put in solar panels and electric vehicle recharging stations on the property to encourage the use of renewable energy sources.
In their tasting room made of largely recycled materials, you can try their strange bird verdehlo/semillon blend, which they always pair with goat feta cheese.
#5 Wine and Dine at this Hidden Creek
Andy and Leanne Williams do everything at Hidden Creek Winery and Café, the 2018 Queensland Winery of the Year.
From pruning vines to pouring wines, these lovebirds, much like the other couples, are proud and passionate vignerons.
They are currently phasing out their Merlot vines in favor of Strange Bird ones.
They have seen customers glaze over the Merlot in their tasting room and thus are ceding to popular demand for something new.
Some of their current Strange Bird wines include verdehlo, viognier, barbera, and tempranillo.
This winery is unique as well because it includes a cafe where Leanne makes beautiful cakes and sweets to have with an afternoon wine tasting.
#6 The Godfather of the Granite Belt
Angelo Pugilisi is largely credited as the godfather of the Granite Belt wine region. He and his wife Mary took over the family farm in 1968 and Ballandean Estate Wines.
They thought the region could be a premier wine growing area on par with Europe, even though no one else did at the time.
In 1976, Angelo received a scholarship to study winemaking in Europe where he discovered the business of wine tourism and brought the concept to the Granite Belt.
His daughters continue the tradition of crafting wine from the region paired with events and a fine Italian restaurant on site.
Their strange birds include a nebbiolo, saperavi, malvasia, and malbec.
Unlike most other boutique wineries in the region, they do export to China, Taiwan, and the US. However, their primary market are the Australian tourists that come through their cellar door each day.
$5 Tasting Fee
Tastings at these wineries is just $5, and it is waived with purchase of a bottle.
Get the official wine trail map here. You can taste all these Strange Birds, and meet all these lovely lovebirds too.
Read more about Australian wine
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