A local’s guide to the food and wine of the Granite Belt
Just a few hours’ drive from Brisbane, on the western side of the Great Dividing Range, the fertile fields and big sky of the Granite Belt makes it the perfect destination for a country escape.
Since settling in amongst the vines of their Ballandean property in 2007, Michelle Coelli – along with her husband Tim – from Twisted Gum Wines has been a passionate advocate for this well-endowed food region and has so many tips to share.
Let us take you into Michelle’s adopted hometown, a place that delivers fireplaces to cosy up next to in winter, shapeshifting granite national parks, and a wine scene that will knock the wind out of any preconceptions you have about Australian vino only thriving in the southern and western states!
Let’s kick things off with a real local’s secret. During winter, Michelle and Tim hold their highly-anticipated Table for Sixteen dinners at Twisted Gum.
Gourmands will want to book ahead for the exclusive five-course degustation inside their gorgeous cellar door – a classic 1920’s Queenslander with wrap-around verandas on three sides – matched with complementary wines. (Psst, they also offer accommodation on-site. More on that below.)
Beyond that? “Ballandean Estates’ Barrelroom Café offers nose-to-tail dining and is only a few minutes drive away,” Michelle says. “But my favourite is The Vineyard Café which lets you relax in the converted church on the hill, while John and Penny attend to your every wish with that wonderful hospitality you come to expect.”
If your vice comes from a bean…
“In the cute township of Stanthorpe you’re spoilt for options for good coffee,” Michelle says. “Head to small bakeries like Zest and The Little Bread and Coffee Shop, where you can choose to sit inside or sit on the street and watch as locals come and go.
“Or take a stroll up past the town clock to Brinx Deli where a small mother-daughter team offers a great coffee and breakfast option, infused with plenty of Italian heritage most fitting of the region.
“For me though, my favorite place is The Bramble Patch, a short drive out of town just past the village of Glen Aplin, you will take a left turn and continue a short way past vineyards and through rugged granite country to be rewarded with wonderful country hospitality, outstanding deserts, award-winning jams, preserves and a berry coulis that I am unable to resist. Oh, and the coffee is excellent too.
“Formerly a wheat farmer from Western Australia, Don is the talent behind the jams and conserves. Don’t be surprised if Don is a little reclusive, he’s very happy to handover to wife Patsy and daughter Hayley for the front-of-house, which completes this terrific team.”
Or if it’s grapes you prefer…
Want to test out Michelle and Tim’s single-vineyard wines? Besides popping in for a tasting in their cellar door, Twisted Gum Wines appear on the menu at The Aussie Beef Steak House in Stanthorpe, The Vineyard Cottages and Café, Ballandean, and The Rocks Restaurant, Stanthorpe.
“Stanthorpe and the Granite Belt is well known for its fine food and wine, with many wineries achieving scores from James Halliday of 4 stars or better,” Michelle says. “Golden Grove Estate, Ballandean Estate, and Symphony Hill, are three of the larger wineries in the region, are family owned and operated and all are regarded highly in the group by Halliday.
“Other wineries such as Jester Hill, Ridgemill, Summit Estate and Heritage Wines continue to impress, while some of the small wineries such as Twisted Gum and Tobin Wines and Savina Lane offer rare insights into small batches of single-vineyard wines.”
“When I go away I love to stay where I can relax and soak up my surroundings,” Michelle says. “Access to good walks and a deck where you can sit and enjoy time with friends or family are a priority.
“The option to stay in and cook up local produce is made easy in our cottage at Twisted Gum with a fully equipped kitchen and even a herb garden by the kitchen door, but it’s also nice to dine out and we’re spoilt with the choice of two excellent restaurants close-by.”
“I would also recommend Girraween Environmental Lodge as a wonderful place to relax and truly lose yourself in nature. Located right on the boundary of the world-class Girraween National Park, it is everything you could want in a weekend getaway.
“It is also located in a cluster of wineries such as Pyramids Road, Girraween Estate and a new one this year, Balancing Rock. Likewise, Brad and Stacy from Sancerre Estate offer an outstanding bed and breakfast service in their home in Ballandean. You will experience country hospitality at its best, with the bonus of being in a vineyard too.”
“There are too many things to do in a weekend on the Granite Belt,” Michelle says. “My favourite thing (apart from wine tasting of course) would have to be exploring the national park.
While climbing The Pyramid Track in the national park is a must do, I more often than not, enjoy the easier stroll to the junction.
“Following Bald Rock Creek through amazing folds of granite, past shallow pools, and bubbling rapids, the junction track meanders through wildflowers, and twisted gum trees, until you reach the junction, where the immensity of the granite is intense.”
“There is no better place to stargaze than in the Granite Belt. The clear nights and high altitude give excellent viewing conditions. If you’re staying in a country house outside of the town, you have it made, as there will be no lights from the town to filter the intensity of the stars.
“Take yourself away from the lights of the house, and find a good comfortable spot to spread your rug. I like to take a good 15-20 minutes, just laying under the stars and looking up. Whether it is summer or winter, you’ll need warm clothes and a warming drink of a fortified wine or hot chocolate to finish off the night.
“It is a wonderful escape to experience – I hope you try it!”
“Apple juice from Suttons Juice Factory & Cidery is a must-buy for all visitors on the Granite Belt,” Michelle says. “A chat with David and Roz will let you see first-hand what is involved with growing apples and the reality of orchard life.
“The fresh produce grown in the Granite Belt covers everything from apples to stone fruit, tomatoes and capsicums to broccoli zucchini, and much much more.
“We have a great fresh food street market on Fridays market from 8am in the Farley Street Piazza. Also check out Sam’s Fresh Fruit and Veg at Cottonvale.”
WHEN TO VISIT
“My favourite time in the Granite Belt is spring,” Michelle says. “The vineyards spring to life after their winter dormancy, and the promise of the new season that comes with bud burst is uplifting.
“Everything is a vibrant green and perfectly formed. Flowers abound, blossoms create the most beautiful impact in the apple orchards, and the scent is intoxicating. Everything is so beautiful and delicate.
“Winter is our peak season, and while it is not bitterly cold like it is in winter here the nights are still cool enough to sit with a warming glass of Granite Belt red, in front of a cosy wood fire… pure bliss.”
“The Granite Belt is famous for its fine wine and food, and national parks. What it is less well known for is the vibrant arts community that resides here,” Michelle says.
“The Stanthorpe Regional Art Gallery is well respected in the art world, with many world famous artists often exhibiting, Community art facilities such as Artworks.
“It’s a Case of Art in the Mill, is an annual exhibition of high-calibre local and invited artists, who exhibit on the long weekend in May. The old case mill in Ballandean, now Pedros shed, is transformed into an art space for the weekend.
“Complete with mulled wine on the opening night, and all the artists present to speak to guests, it is the best-kept secret on the Granite Belt. A number of wineries and cafes exhibit local artworks, and at Twisted Gum Wines, we have two artists’ work on permanent show – Tenterfield-born artist Michael Peiper (also one of the integral artists for the Art in the Mill exhibition) and Emily Coelli, who has completed a degree in fine arts and creates modern watercolour paintings of people.
“Michael’s work often involves found wood or reclaimed wood from local buildings. Furniture and mirrors are among the major items of his work.”