I would bet big bucks that a winery tour is on everyone’s bucket list. It is easily pushed aside as an impossible feat when working out the logistics of alcohol consumption and transportation across beautiful South East Queensland. So, as I looked into organising a vino tour to celebrate my 23rd birthday, I was pleasantly surprised to find Brisbane businesses having filled this hole in the market. With a range of tours to choose from that would transport us from a Brisbane location to our selected wineries and back home, I happily settled on Granite Highlands Maxi-Tours.
What could be more appropriate than celebrating my 23rd birthday with 23 of my nearest and dearest vino-lovers? All 23 of us boarded the bus with high expectations and a thirst for local, Australian-grown wine. Stanthorpe’s location in the Granite Belt was a scenic two-hour road trip from Brisbane City. Our boisterous bus driver and owner of the company, Allan, laughed when he saw us, saying he usually took 30-year-old party groups, not twenty-somethings! But we were determined to explore the Stanthorpe vineyards and disrupt a few cellar doors. Besides, we would like to think that our tastebuds were mature beyond our years. The Spotify playlist was chosen, and we began the two-and-a-bit hour journey South. The Queensland countryside was picturesque as we drove past rolling hills covered in a striking thick carpet of grass from recent rainfall. What a welcome to the stunning Granite Belt region.
Spirits were high and we were on our way to our first stop. Ridgemill Estate was a large open vineyard boasting cabin accommodation and curious pet goats. This award-winning boutique winery was the first tasting experience for many of us. Sniffing and swirling, we were taught the art of tasting, unaware that there was so much more to wine than we thought. As we sipped on around ten different wines, free of charge, it was a chance to test our tastebuds, pushing our comfort zones with different combinations and bold flavours. Knowing full well it was the first of five wineries, I cut down my purchase list from four bottles to one and we headed on our way with a delightful peach and ginger flavoured white Sav in the bottom of the bus.
The next stop was the rustic Ballandean Estate. Open and operating since 1932, this family-owned cellar door delighted us with rare alternative wines. Our group was hung-up over their adventurous fortified Rumball liquor, bursting with the delicious taste of chocolate and rum. With the $5 tasting reimbursed with any purchase, we were busy sampling whatever wine we chose off the menu, as well as purchasing glass fineries and mouth-watering dried meats. It was our first encounter with wine barrels, and we were shocked at the sheer volume they held.
A tipple here and a tipple there, the samplers quickly added up. It was time for lunch, so we made our way over to Masons Winery for a scenic, wine-filled meal. After delighting in gorgeous stuffed mushrooms and a hearty lasagne – washed down with a bottle of wine, of-course – we ventured outside to explore the impressive vineyard. Rows upon rows of grape vines were the perfect spot for photos. Our Instagram’s were all filled with blue skies and green vines as we documented our day so far on the ride to Bent Road Winery.
As we reached Bent Road, our karaoke had gained significant volume. We were an orchestra travelling down the wide streets of Stanthorpe, eager as ever for another tasting. This bubbly team of four fellas were so passionate about their wine. We got to follow the production process in detail, learning the techniques and seeing the equipment used in modern winemaking. After nibbling on cheese and devouring more wine, we were in the highest of spirits. Skipping down the rows of vines we were basking in the sunshine and each other’s company.
Somehow, we were still kicking after ticking off four wineries. Balancing Rock Wines was our final destination as the bus rolled up the dusty driveway. We quickly saw the inspiration behind the name, with two balancing rocks featured on the property alongside a lake and yet-another charming vineyard. The final drops of wine from the Granite Region did not disappoint, quenching the last of our thirst and preparing us for the long journey home. As the organiser for such a jam-packed day, I was surprised to leave so incredibly relaxed. Alan took the reins and made our vino journey seamless. From Merlot’s to Muscat’s, the bus cabin was filled with everyone’s purchases, proud to be supporting our local cellar doors. We soon bid Adieu to Stanthorpe with an unforgettable pink sunset, testing the limits of our voices with yet more karaoke as we ventured back to beautiful Brisbane with our new wines and developed palates.
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