Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Brass Monkeys and Strange Birds; a weekend in the Granite Belt

When most Brisbanites dream of a weekend away, the Gold and Sunshine Coasts immediately come to mind. For others, it might be a trip down to Byron Bay. For me, there’s something so liberating about getting in the car and heading over the gap of the Great Dividing Range. Shooting down the Cunningham Highway last weekend, I decided to make a winter road trip to the Granite Belt, where vineyards dissect hillsides and groups of boulders clump together.

I spent the weekend in Stanthorpe, home of the legendary Apple and Grape Festival as well as some fantastic boutique wineries. So, what is there to do here? Take a guess; they don’t call it the wine region for nothing!

The Granite Belt has all the epicurean elements to make it a premium food and wine destination. With a cool climate, fertile soil and decent annual rainfall, you can expect to spend most of your time here with a glass of delicious wine. Established by Italians, the region’s original vines were planted to make sweet wines like Muscat and Sylvaner, a variety which only exists at selected wineries today. Now, the predominant grape selection includes Shiraz, Cabernet, Verdelho and Chardonnay. In an effort to reinvent its image for producing premium wines, the Granite Belt is moving away from these standard varieties and is focussing more on its alternative types. The Strange Bird Wine Trail allows you to discover over 15 of these alternative wines from Wallangarra on the New South Wales border, all the way to Mt Cotton in Queensland. And trust me; the taste of these alternative wines will remain long after the glasses are cleared.

After three hours in the car, I arrived to a sunny, yet cold day in Stanthorpe. As I shivered, cheeky kangaroos raised their heads from the depths of long grass and bursts of wattle bloomed next to bare Liquid Ambers. Winter in the Granite Belt is known as the Brass Monkey Season and although it’s freezing cold at night, the scenery is good enough to make you swear you’ll be back next weekend!

Here are four things to do in Stanthorpe during Brass Monkey Season:

Have Dinner at Shiraz Restaurant:

20 minutes from Stanthorpe, Shiraz Restaurant sits opposite Ballandean’s ‘Fruitosaurus’ on the New England Highway. Dinner is served inside a rustic tin roof house and the heating is nice and toasty. The food is well presented and delicious, especially the Queensland Scallops with white truffle oil potato, coriander pesto, leek and caviar. Yum! Shiraz is open Wednesday to Friday, for dinner and light lunches.

Morning tea at the Bramble Patch:

At the Bramble Patch, you’ll find berries by the bucket load! It’s one of those places where you can buy perfect gifts for those who love to cook. Find raspberries, strawberries, boysenberries and more in all sorts of yummy concoctions. While you’re here, try their Ice Burger, a plump layering of mixed berry sorbet, vanilla ice cream and chocolate sponge. This tastes fabulous with a hot coffee, of course! Bramble Patch is open every day, from 10am-4pm.

Markets in the Mountains:

Held every second Sunday of the month, these markets are held inside Stanthorpe’s Civic centre and spill over into the Woolworths car park. Meet locals, play with puppies and sift through mountains of second hand clothing. Try and stop yourself from buying lemon butter, jams, soaps, silk scarves and leather bags, belts and wallets.

Find your favourite Winter Wine:

There is an absolute treasure trove of wineries surrounding Stanthorpe and you could spend days exploring them all. The view from the top of Felsberg Winery is almost worth the three hour drive from Brisbane itself. Like a medieval style castle, Felsberg sits at the top of a hill that looks over Ballandean and into Stanthorpe. After a few sneaky tastings, I soaked up the sun from the top and looked down over the vines. Beautiful.

My next stop was Bungawarra winery, whose Strange Bird variety is the Gewurztraminer. Although it was delicious, I took away a bottle of Paragon- a spicy blend of Malbec, Shiraz and Cabernet. Yum! My last stop was Hidden Creek Winery, whose vines sit alongside a peaceful lake. I love a full bodied red wine, so I took away a bottle of Petit Verdot as my Strange Bird souvenir. There is nothing Petit about the flavour of this red, it’s delicious!

Other Brass Monkey activities include:
  • Biting into a steaming Apple Pie at Sutton’s Farm
  • Taking the steam train on the Warwick to the Stanthorpe Wineries Mystery Tour.
Escape to the Granite Belt while the Brass Monkey is still in season. Find your Stanthorpe Accommodation here.

writes for Wotif.com, a website inspiring people to book accommodation all over the world. When she’s not on the hunt for great food and wine, she’s people watching, shopping and dreaming of her next trip.