Stanthorpe in QLD is one of four up-and-coming foodie hotspots to tantalise your tastebuds… Stanthorpe is home to over 20 ‘Strange Birds’. No, not a bizarre new species – ‘Strange Birds’ are Granite Belt wines, made from alternative grape varieties like Sylvaner, Nero d’Avola and Petit Verdot. The Strange Bird Wine Trail is one of the most unique wine routes in Australia, and just one of the many reasons visitors flock to the Granite Belt. With four distinct seasons and an abundance of fresh local produce, this picturesque food and wine destination located an easy three hour drive from Brisbane offers a tranquil escape from the big smoke and plenty of rural charm. And if you visit in winter, it just might snow.
This is the undisputed wine capital of Queensland, home to more than 40 boutique cellar doors, a range of unique food experiences and true country hospitality. Coming here can feel a bit like stepping back in time. There are no traffic lights, farms and vineyards line the roads, fruit stands come with honesty boxes and it seems everyone has time for a chat.
Don’t be surprised when the laconic bloke behind the counter turns out to be an award-winning winemaker. It’s simply that kind of place – friendly, laid-back and completely unpretentious.
Stanthorpe is the well-known commercial hub but the Granite Belt’s pretty hamlets are perhaps more worthy of your attention. Applethorpe is one of the first you’ll come across on the drive from Brisbane. Keep an eye out for Suttons Farm juice factory, cidery and distillery, which sells huge slices of deep-dish apple pie made with 22 rosy pieces of fruit and served with apple cider ice-cream. During the season you can pick apples in the orchard outside (which is actually lots of fun, even if you’re a grown up).
Down the road you’ll find an interesting selection of Strange Bird wines available for tasting at the Queensland College of Wine Tourism, which offers a hands-on Winemaker for a Weekend course during vintage. The Banca Ridge bistro, the well-priced onsite restaurant, features local produce and is a star attraction on the Nude Food Trail – a self-guided food trail linking the pleasures of good food with a commitment to community and the natural environment. Eating out is one of the great pleasures of visiting this area – especially since most of the restaurants offer stellar dining at country prices – but you can also go direct to the producers themselves. Stock up on figs, pears, apples, olives and apricots in the cooler months; warm weather brings on the berries, cherries, stone fruit and bunches of sweet-smelling lavender.
During summer you can feast on fresh berries at The Bramble Patch, a berry farm located at the end of a winding country road in Glen Aplin, a small town just south of Stanthorpe. Here you’ll find over 50 gourmet products available for tasting in the on-site store and the Awesome Ice Burger, an ice-cream-and-sorbet-filled chocolate sponge dripping with berry coulis. (Order one at your peril!) On the other side of Glen Aplin there’s Mt Stirling Olives, a working olive grove with over 3,500 trees, where everything is processed on-site within 24 hours of picking. Out the front there’s a fudge shop specialising in grown-up flavours which are impossible to resist. So is Barney, the resident bassett hound who greets everyone on arrival.
From here it’s a 10-minute drive to Ballandean which has a neat, cute little cluster of wineries, many of them part of the Strange Bird Wine Trail. Try Hidden Creek (the pretty on-site café alone is worth a visit), Tobin Wines where each complimentary tasting comes in a Riedel-style glass or Ballandean Estate, Queensland’s oldest family-run winery, which has been making wine since the early 1930s.
After all that delicious food and wine, you’ll likely be after somewhere to lay your head. Stanthorpe is renowned for its quaint B&Bs, but if you prefer something more contemporary, then 31 the rocks certainly fits the bill. Each modern villa has a cosy fireplace and charming rural views and the owners lavish guests with complimentary local treats. When the temperature drops below zero, there’s nothing better than snuggling up in front of the fire with a couple of Strange Birds.
Queensland College of Wine Tourism, usq.edu.au/qcwt
Suttons Farm, suttonsfarm.com.au
The Bramble Patch, bramblepatch.com.au
Tobin Wines, tobinwines.com.au
31 The Rocks, www.31therocks.com