South Burnett in Queensland is teeming with natural wonder, ageless panoramas and considerable altitude, a place where produce and fertile soils meld. But you’d be forgiven for never having heard of this wine region. As Australia’s most northerly GI, it sits 400km outside of the classical growing lines of 30-50 degrees latitude. Quaffable and interesting verdelho, world-class semillons, and elegant yet sumptuous expressions of shiraz are the spoils for those who manage to make it up here.
While the climate is subtropical, the overarching elevation and subtle maritime influences keep the balance in favour of quality growing conditions.
When you think of wine from Australia’s Sunshine State, the Granite Belt will most likely be the flashing neon in your mind’s eye. However, contrary to popular thought, South Burnett is an older growing region — albeit by 15 months. With no designated subregions, it would be wrong to talk of microclimates and nuances between different zones. But it’s worth noting that several wineries source fruit from their southern neighbours.
Don’t be fooled, however. The flavour and texture is cleverly achieved in the bottle, and more often than not displaying a charismatic and distinctive style all in its own right.
Starting any day of wine exploration correctly is an important undertaking. After a leisurely two-hour drive from Brisbane, passing through the Brisbane Valley and its sizeable lakes, quaint towns, and state forests, you find yourself in the agricultural hub of Blackbutt.
To fuel up for a day of sights and savours, make your first port of call the Bunya Nut Café (facebook.com/bunyanutcafe.com.au), where you can gorge yourself on delectable burgers and brownies seated at their local, hand-shaped Silky Oak tables. Across the street, the perpetually busy Blackbutt Bakery regularly has queues out of the door as weekend droves want a share of the award-winning pastries, including the Groggy Steak Pie made with XXXX Gold lager.
One of the defining features of this southern part of the district is the magnificent and eye-catching Bunya Mountains to the south-west. The Indigenous custodians of this area, the Wakka Wakka, and surrounding groups would use this large, raised belt as a meeting place and believed it held great mystical power. Beside the range, small basins and open bushy plains characterise the journey north towards Kingaroy.
My partner and I drop by at Pottique Lavender Farm (lavenderfarm.net.au) for a mid-morning tea with a difference. Lavender-infused scones accompany tea before a semi-sweet lavender wine finds its way to our table. We go on to sample their famed liquor before finishing with a dash of Red Soil Port. With blue-faced honeyeaters flitting around you in this idyllic garden, it’d be far too easy to stay. But before you go, be sure to at least take a look through their antique trove towards the rear of the property.
Twenty minutes north, head over the Booie Range to the oldest winery in the region. Crane Wines (cranewines.com.au) was first opened in 1996 and has been in the meticulous hands of Bernie and Judy Cooper since 2005. Scientists in a previous life, the pair sought a tree change and now keep themselves busy making honest wines, such as their co-fermented shiraz viognier and a dry verdelho. There’s a tasting of rare chambourcin and merlot before ending at their 2016 Reserve Shiraz: a plush, medium-bodied wine with definite hints of the Rhône Valley.
The Coopers also craft a smattering of ports, wine-based liqueurs, homely jams and delicious pickles for you to take away. We couldn’t resist one of their charcuterie platters paired with a glass of the Reserve Shiraz and sweeping vistas across the valley — perfect for an early lunch.
After you pull yourself away from the view, head back towards Kingaroy and past the famous towering peanut silos. A little further on and you come across the manicured entrance to Kingsley Grove Estate (kingsleygrove.com) welcoming you in with a reception of pristine-looking rows of vines dissected by a dusty track.
“I’ve made sangiovese my thing,” says owner and winemaker Simon Berry. “I’ll alternate years with a Chianti or Super Tuscan style. Last year I had a little play with it. Most of my shiraz ended up in port, but I took some skins after they were pressed off and dropped them into the sangiovese ferment. Along with some cabernet sauvignon and regular shiraz — and on new oak — it came out quite well.”
If you ever wanted to know why a wayward variety such as sangiovese works in Queensland, well, this is the opportune occasion to find out. When you’re peckish and on the prowl, and if – like me – the smell of stone-baked pizza has you weak at the knees, the made-to-order delights at Kingsley Grove are impeccable with the estate’s beautifully balanced and gutsy Mediterranean Red.
Finish off the day by dropping in for some time at Bunya Red Caper Farm (bunyaredfarm.com.au). Enthusiastic farmers Allan and Mandy Evans have amassed 400 caper plants in their 11 years of cultivating this sparsely grown crop. The pair have also garnered a serial following for their award-winning produce, extending to chefs from Brisbane and the Northern Rivers always keen to get the mouth-puckering crop on their plates. The farm welcomes all kinds of visitors in the growing season (September-March), providing unmatched tranquility for camping groups with a jovial herd of alpacas to boot.
Ready to rest up, we settle in for the night at the neighbouring property of Mulanah Gardens (mulanahgardens.com), where snug cottages provide front-row seats to a mesmerising sunset over the ever-present Bunya Mountains.
Start the day with a home-cooked breakfast before heading off to see what the northern end of the locality has to offer. After 50 minutes of winding past Lake Barambah and the verdant Cherbourg National Forest, you will come across Moffatdale, home to some of South Burnett’s most extensive vineyards.
We pull in for our first stop and meet up with young and energetic winemakers Sarah Boyce and Stefano Radici at Barambah Cellars (facebook.com/barambahcellars). Under the moniker and wine label Nuova Scuola (nuovascuola.com.au), the husband-and-wife duo are exploring the terrain and terroir, and have no qualms about thinking outside the box.
“We’ve taken viognier and tried to make it in leaner and fresher rather than the traditional fuller styles,” says Boyce. “Our brand is about finding new varieties that work here as opposed to the traditional varieties you see a lot of. If they end up making better wine and therefore a better name for the area, we’re all about it”.
Beyond making straight viognier and tempranillo, by blending rare parcels of fernão pires with verdelho, they have created a wine that is an all-Portuguese affair – La Maria. With intriguing texture, driven aromatics, and prominent acidity, this is perfect with seafood when the mercury is on the rise.
Speaking of food, at this point hunger begins to get the better of us, and a trip to Moffatdale Ridge (moffatdaleridge.com.au) to sample their revered lunch menu alongside some signature verdelho is in order. The 145ha property is owned and operated by the Kinsella family, who acquired the land almost a century ago. A passionate and self-taught winemaker, Jason Kinsella believes strongly in the appeal of making wines that suit the food here in Australia. And if you’re lucky to catch him for a tasting, he’ll walk you through the merits of aged semillon and young verdelho, and why they are on a solid course to put his region on the map.
The neighbouring Clovely Estate (clovely.com.au) is the perfect spot to wind up your day with a boutique cellar door experience. Located beside vast rows of merlot, the winery’s farm-style tasting shed is an authentic and hard-to-leave spot for sampling some of Queensland’s most awarded wines.
While away the afternoon with diverse examples of winemaking: an aged semillon juxtaposing an earthy saperavi before a dry-racked shiraz that fills your palate with glee. And it isn’t just superb wines here; there are groves of Italian and Greek olives, so take advantage of the opportunity to purchase homemade cold-pressed olive oils.
We learn the sloping blocks of vines do well with the little breeze Moffatdale offers, and just like that, an impromptu squall spreads out across the nearby escarpment causing the large Chinese Elm tree we’re sitting under to creak and groan. This appears to be the hallmark of the South Burnett: expect the unexpected.
2016 Crane Wines Reserve Shiraz, A$40
This vintage was one of two halves: a mild and favourable spring preceded by a blazing El Niño summer. The result for shiraz was incredible. Stunningly balanced, medium-bodied, and displaying hints of blackberry and tobacco on the nose, this will only improve over the next five years.
2021 Kingsley Grove Estate Tingle Sparkling Brut, A$25
Uber-crisp and backed by desirable green apple and citrus notes, this is bottle-fermented sparkling semillon with intense appeal and drinkability. Certainly not a one-hit-wonder: there’s just the right amount of complexity and a flick of elegance to make this a drop you won’t forget.
2021 Kingsley Grove Estate Mediterranean Red, A$22
A Super Tuscan from south-east Queensland? It makes more sense in the glass. Expansive, plush, and a finish that keeps on giving, the poise between sangiovese and cabernet sauvignon creates a bold expression of dark and red fruit character underlined by a subtle trace of liquorice.
2021 Moffatdale Ridge Verdelho, A$18
This made me look at verdelho in a completely new light. Fresh, smooth with lime and grapefruit on the front palate, you’re treated to very shrewd tropical fruit notes everywhere else. With just an iota of noticeable minerality, this is faultless for seafood and balmy afternoons.
2017 Clovely Estate Semillon, A$25
Sprightly lemongrass on the nose gives way to a gorgeous mid-palate of understated citrus and a carefully extracted nuttiness. Meticulous winemaking and ageing have created an affable partner to food — or any occasion. And not forgetting this is one of the South Burnett’s most awarded bottles.
2021 Nuova Scuola Field Blend Series Novello, A$25
This quirky field blend quaffer emphasises new school approach and, by doing so, manages to deliver a bountiful mouth feel and stunning tannin structure. Partly whole bunch fermented sangiovese and tempranillo ensure a vibrant, textural drinking experience with evident aromas of dried fig — yet you’ll come across more red fruit, like strawberry, on the palate.