Welcome to Queensland.
The playground of Australia, where harsh desert landscapes turn to lush rainforest that run straight down to golden sands, Queensland is the home sun, surf, coral reefs and now even vines.
Australia's sunshine state has had rather little history with the wine industry until recently (besides consumption of course), as the interior of the state is a series of sparsely populated deserts and outback terrain while much of the inhabited coastal region lies within the Tropics (North of the Tropic of Capricorn in this case above 23°26'S) meaning that the weather is often hot and humid, hardly ideal conditions for grapevines.
To get an idea how vast Queensland is, the latitude at the state's Southern coastal border at Coolangatta/Tweed Heads is around 28°South, outside the Tropics, where the Northern end of Queensland is Cape York which is only 10°South of the Equator.
That is a latitudinal distance (North to South) of nearly 2,000km(1240mi)!
To compare against the Northern Hemisphere let's check out where the vineyards we will touch on in Queensland are located. The Northern-most are in South Burnett at 26°South, this parallel in the Northern Hemisphere runs through Naples, Florida, USA / Western Sahara and Algeria in Africa and Bangladesh in Asia.
The Southern-most vineyards are in the border region of the Granite Belt at 28° South, at 28th parallel North incredibly runs right through the Himalayas with Mount Everest and Nepal found here, while San José Island, Texas, USA and the Canary Islands are found at a similar distance from the equator.
Queensland's burgeoning wine industry now has over 1500ha(3700acres) planted is challenging the modern conceptions of what latitudes grapevines can be grown at.
It's worth noting that while we will cover several different wine regions in Queensland, which are all clustered around the South-Eastern corner of the state, only two of them have so far been registered as official regions under Wine Australia's Geographical Indications Act (GIs).
These are the Granite Belt GI and South Burnett GI and have been recognised as quality wine regions with defined geographical features and boundaries.
We will also briefly go over the other un-official regions as listed by the Queensland Wine Industry Association.
The Granite Belt Wine Region centres around the high elevation town of Stanthorpe, located about 220km(135mi) South-West of Queensland's capital city of Brisbane.
Stanthorpe and it's surrounding region, known as the Granite Belt have been successfully growing grapes for winemaking since around 1965 when a single hecatare (2.47acres) of Shiraz was planted, with more vines soon following throughout the late '60s and early 70s.
The region is a massive granite intrusion, dating back approx. 200 million years. It is an extension of the vast New England Tableland, a stepped plateau of plains and hills that originates in Northern New South Wales (and is now home to it's own small wine region).
Elevations here vary from 600m-1500m(1,970f-4,920) though Stanthorpe is located at just over 800m(2,600ft) above sea level.
The soils and temperatures will vary from site to site, but the importance of this elevation is that it affords the region far cooler nights than are found closer to the golden coastline.
Granite Belt vineyards are even cold enough to be effected by sub-zero frosts and even snow! Quite spectacular given the sub-tropical climate of the overall region.
The defining grape varieties here have primarily been Australian staples of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, though plantings of Verdelho and Viognier have increased dramatically in the last few years, the latter especially useful for blending/co-fermenting with Shiraz to create a softer style of wine.
For a bit of fun, the Granite Belt Wine Region created in 2007 an 'Alternative Wine Trail' named as 'Strange Bird', which allows visitors to travel to wineries where wines are produced from grapes uncommon elsewhere in Australia, with currently over half of all Granite Belt wineries producers so-called 'alternative varieties'.
The South Burnett Wine Region is located around 225km(140mi) North-West of Brisbane, and is centred around the town of Kingaroy.
Modern wine industry plantings started in 1993 and have now grown to over 240ha(600acres) with one of the largest wineries in Queensland, Clovely Estate accounting for over half of the planted area.
Vines here are grown in a sub-tropical climate, however, a majority of the plantings are to be found between 300m-600m(985ft-1970ft) where the nights are cooler than the coast and there exists a diverse range of soils.
Nearby South Burnett wine region are the majestic Bunya Mountains, which are the remains of a large shield volcano built by numerous basalt lava flows from approx. 24 million years ago.
A majority of the vineyards here are planted with Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot, for Bordeaux style blends, Chardonnay, Semillon, and the grape Verdelho which copes well with the day time heat of the region.
The next seven regions remain un-official, but are considered geographically separate areas of significance for wine production.
Some producers here may buy grapes from other areas of Queensland, but many produce wines from their own unique landscape.
Gold Coast Hinterland:
One of the up and coming boutique wine regions of Queensland is the beautiful Gold Coast Hinterland, located within easy half-hour driving distance of Surfer's Paradise.
Vines are planted upon the cooler Mount Tamborine, with majestic views out to the sea, and upon the drier, warmer Western side of the mountain along the Albert River and the Canungra Valley with Shiraz, Chardonnay and the hybrid grape Chambourcin being produced most commonly.
Brisbane and the Scenic Rim:
Situated around the state capital of Brisbane, this up and coming wine region has had a rocky history. During the 1880's Brisbane had around 140ha(350acres) of grapevines for wine production, while today there is only a handful of commercial vineyards within the Brisbane city region, and most of the production has moved to the Scenic Rim, a wine region within the eroded remains of an ancient shield volcano, found just South-West of Ipswich, not far from Brisbane.
Plantings from 1984 onwards started with Ironbark Ridge, which encouraged at least a dozen other vineyards to join in, with an interesting assortment of primarily Italian varieties being grown with Dolcetto, Montepulciano, Vermentino and Fiano, joining the ranks of the more familiar Shiraz, Chardonnay and the heat-resistant Verdelho.
The Darling Downs is a vast region of farmland, situated on the Western slopes of the Great Dividing Range and includes the major regional city of Toowoomba. Darling Downs found regional viticultural success in the late 1800's, but interest died off during the early 1900's. Vines are now returning to the region, with many micro-producers scattered across the landscape, though few are open to the public at this stage.
As with neighbouring regions, Shiraz and Chardonnay seem to be the firm favourites here, though we found some producers based in Darling Downs do prefer to grow their grapes further South in the Granite Belt.
Located just above it's high achieving neighbour South Burnett, the North Burnett wine region is currently seeing significant interest for vineyard plantings. Interesting climatic conditions along the coastal belt here leads to less rainfall along this section of coastline than to the North or South of the region.
The nearby Bundaberg area is already famous for it's rum and ginger beer production, and with several established wineries already, many palates are looking towards wine as the next drop of choice.
Humidity and heat-resistant grapes tend to do well here, with French hybrid variety Chambourcin, being commonly planted, along with Shiraz, Grenache, Semillon, Verdelho and Chardonnay.
The small collection of vineyards in the valleys known as the Somerset Region are primarily found around the country town of Kilcoy about 100km(62mi) from Brisbane city centre.
While only a handful of cellar doors are in operation in the region, the few producers here are passionate and prideful with Ocean View Estates at Mount Mee, half way between Kilcoy and Brisbane going so far as to build up a successful winery restaurant and offer cottage accommodation too.
Varieties in this region include Shiraz, Chardonnay, and Merlot, but the standout seems to be Viognier, which has done well elsewhere in Queensland as the grapes produce loose bunches here, which minimises the risk and effects of mildew.
Sunshine Coast Wine Region is located just inland from the urban area of the same name, found around 100km(62mi) North of Brisbane.
Several small producers have started growing grapes along the range of mountains that lie just inland, often at elevations of over 400m (1300ft) above sea level.
Producers here do still source from other regions, particularly the Granite Belt, but Shiraz, Verdelho and Viognier grown here do resist the heat and produce hearty, early-drinking styles that are within easy reach of the large tourism market of Sunshine Coast and Brisbane.
The Western Downs wine region is a warm , sprawling inland area of farmlands about 200km(125mi) West of Brisbane, famous for their regional cuisine. If we included the greater Western Downs Regional government area, the total region is about the same size as Switzerland! Though with a population of only 33,000 it is considerably less populated.
There are only a few vineyards spread across the Western Downs, most of which have been out there for quite some time but there has been renewed interest in recent years for new vineyards.
It is highly notable however for hosting Queensland's oldest winery, Romavilla, which was established in 1863, and since their first vintage was sold in 1866 they claim to have not missed a vintage since.
The current winery building at Romavilla was constructed in 1878 from timber and corrugated iron, as was the style of the time.
Vineyards in this area do not need to resist fungus and mildew as those near the coast do, but lack of water can be a concern, unless planted near a flood plain (in which case seasonal flooding needs to be taken into consideration).
The major grapes planted here are Muscats (used in making fortified wines), Shiraz, Viognier, and Merlot.