The year 2007 saw further cementing of acceptance of consumers in Queensland of local wines. Despite the image of warm tropical weather and the Barrier Reef, the cool and even cold climate needed for grape growing is available in the state - in the high altitude locations. In winter on the Granite Belt, it snows and it is bitterly cold. Here the altitude at the highest point (called “The Summit”) is 950 metres above sea level. There was continuation of several wine promotion programmes in Brisbane and it is fair to say that the scepticism held by Brisbanites about wine from their own state, has faded. A selection of Queensland wines appears on wine lists and in retailers and they sell steadily. In James Halliday’s annual Australian Wine Companion he lists several Queensland producers as being up in the top levels of Australian wine – giving five stars to Boireann and four and a half stars to Hidden Creek, Lucas Estate, Kominos and Sirromet.
In 2007 there was continued consolidation of quality across the industry – driven mainly by a range of wine shows and competitions. Many wines are consistently winning awards at such shows and exhibitions not only in Queensland but interstate and abroad. An important development in 2007 was substantial recognition of tourism - it is big and growing and reflects the statistic that the majority of wines are sold by producers from their own cellar door rather than through distributors or retail outlets. In 2007 the wine producers and the tourist association of the Granite Belt amalgamated to form the Granite Belt Wine and Tourism Association. There is substantial growth in visits by Brisbanites – the Granite Belt is about 3 hours drive and there are many places to stay and eat; there are opera performances, festivals and even a celebration of cold weather and open fires called ”The Brass Monkey Season” – a wonderful method of turning a potential disadvantage into a positive. In this season, accommodation is booked out.
Queensland Govt and promotion of the Wine Regions
The brochure from the Queensland Govt (see www.dtftwid.qld.gov.au/wine) lists 10 regions! The three principle sub-regions are the Granite Belt, the South Burnett and Darling Downs with the first two already having a GI and the Darling Downs in the process of applying. There are small grape growing operations on the coastal ranges near Brisbane, the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast but most operations in these latter areas are cellar door facilities with appeal to tourists. The wines offered here are made mostly from the fruit main inland regions that have cooler drier climates than the coast. The wine maps show these latter regions – the Sunshine Coast Hinterland, the Gold Coast Hinterland, the Brisbane Scenic Rim and the North Burnett (from Gympie to Monto west of Bundaberg).
In 2007 Queensland’s premier, Peter Beattie, who had set up a unit to promote Queensland wine, retired. The unit continues but the department in which it resides no longer carries the name “Wine Industry Development” in its title. On 13 September 2007 the Department of Tourism, Fair Trading and Wine Industry Development was abolished, with its offices now being relocated to a number of Queensland Government departments. Tourism and Wine Industry Development are now located within the Dept of Tourism, Regional Development and Industry. The Liquor Licensing Division is now incorporated into The Dept of Justice and Attorney-General.
Current Trends in wine production
The trends show the success of particular grape varieties – Verdelho, Chardonnay, Semillon, Viognier, Shiraz, Merlot and Tempranillo. Cabernet has been inconsistent but the good examples are excellent wines. Stephen John, well known South Australian judge was recently in Brisbane for the Sofitel Qld Wine Awards and commented that there was a big cabernet class but without a lot of highlights. Local wine consultant Peter Scudamore-Smith MW is involved in winemaking across the South Burnett, Darling Downs and Granite Belt and explains that the juicy rich style of cabernet seen on premium wines from southern Australia, is not seen in Queensland. However a style with long length and savoury tannin, not unlike European wine, is emerging on the better Qld examples. The future trend is a greater understanding of which variety, particularly cabernet, best suits the climate pattern in each sub-region. Drawing upon the European experience will give good guidance, although some varieties are seen as “alternative” in Australia. This image has been turned into a celebration by a group of producers who have launched an alternative wine trail in November 2007 called “Strange Bird”. The selections include Hidden Creek Viognier, Whisky Gully Chenin Blanc, Rooklyn Tempranillo, Robert Channon Pinot Gris, Golden Grove Durif and also Barbera, Summit Estate Malbec, Ravenscroft Petit Verdot and Pyramid Road Mourvedre. The Winestate annual judging and the long running annual Sofitel Awards were dominated by mainstream varieties Chardonnay, Verdelho and Shiraz but “newer” varieties gained ground with Viognier, Tempranillo, Barbera, Petit Verdot performing well. Particularly good performers were Hidden Creek Rooklyn Shiraz 2006, Kooroomba Vineyards Chardonnay 2006, Robert Channon Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 and Ravenscroft Verdelho 2007.
Debate about Italian varieties continues. Whilst the climate profile is unlike Italy, there is considerable Italian heritage in Queensland wine growing. Italian varieties nebbiolo, sangiovese and barbera are planted and over recent years some reasonable wines have emerged. Cloveley from the South Burnett and Golden Grove from the Granite Belt have both produced excellent barbera in 2007. However despite initial promise with nebbiolo by Hidden Creek five years ago, the variety has been too difficult and winemaker Jim Barnes rates it “too hard” – he thinks the young vines did produce a fruity reasonable crop but as the vines established they wouldn’t ripen a crop properly – probably because the climate is all wrong and the vines just want to grow leaves rather than grapes! The conclusion seems to be that the easier ripening barbera has a future whilst the difficult nebbiolo may be unsuitable.
The debate continues about the role of verdelho in Queensland. Plantings in the state have increased hugely. Winestate senior judge Stephen John was in Brisbane in November and warned that in terms of Queensland producing nationally recognised great wine, that it would probably be a red style and not a white – and not to pin hopes on Verdelho. “Whilst it is a good variety and the standard of wines is excellent, it is simply a variety that will not be accepted with enthusiasm by most Australians”. Whilst verdelho produces a refreshing simple style the emergence of more complex palate textured verdelhos is a significant trend – a good example is Ravenscroft 2007 and Hidden Creek 2006. The largest planting of Verdelho is at Jimbour where there are 50 acres. Peter Scudamore-Smith is consulting winemaker and has plans for a range of Verdelho styles to be released in future years.
Pinot Gris is a significant performer for Sirromet – their table wine version is exported in significant quantities; Sirromet has produced a late harvest half bottle version as an excellent dessert wine.
2007 saw a significant investment at Mason Wines in the Granite Belt where a 500 tonne capacity state of the art winery is nearing completion and will be ready for the 2008 vintage. Mason has access to more than 200 acres of vines and will be a significant new producer.
Water shortage remains a problem everywhere but especially in the South Burnett region.
The frost that occurred in late 2006 that wiped out or reduced much of the 2007 crop has given way to a generally rebound – and producers such as Boireann that hardly saw a crop in 2007 have seen an excellent developing crop for the 2008 vintage. So far for this vintage, conditions have been cool and growth has been steady with great promise despite the drought.
Andrew Corrigan is part of a consortium of Brisbane investors who purchased the long established Hidden Creek winery property in mid 2007. The existing winemaker and manager there, Jim Barnes, stayed on as part of the new consortium.