Ask someone to name Queensland's biggest drawcards and it's unlikely they'll mention wine. Yet in the late 1800s, Brisbane had around 140 hectares of vineyards that produced more than 100,000 litres of vino a year. It was an impressive effort given the formidable challenges of growing grapes in a sub-tropical climate. Predictably, the focus of production moved to the cooler southern states but there are still a surprising number of Queensland wineries that are managing to make it work.
In 2020, the state launched the Vine and Shine Trail, a series of self-guided wine journeys that explore Queensland's six main wine regions, from the Granite Belt near the border with NSW to South Burnett inland from Noosa. I decided to follow the Brisbane and Sunshine Coast trail, a 150-kilometre road trip that begins in Brisbane and meanders through the Sunshine Coast hinterland. Having never tried a Queensland wine, I was both intrigued and – if I'm honest – a little sceptical. If they're that good, why have I never seen one in Sydney?
When it opened in 2019, City Winery became Brisbane's first inner-city winery for more than 150 years. Winemaker Dave Cush sources grapes mainly from South Australia, ships the fermented juice to Brisbane and then transforms it into wine in a converted warehouse in Fortitude Valley. Winemaking happens in the morning, after which the space opens as an atmospheric cellar door and restaurant.
Cush produces a wide range of varietals, from a crisp, citrusy fiano to a big, bold blend of montepulciano and mataro. There are experimental drops too, such as a co-ferment of muscat and grenache (some people love it, others – like me – are less enamoured) and a tart, lip-pursing fiano made with skin contact. My favourite is a rich, full-bodied GSM (grenache, shiraz and mataro), which pairs perfectly with a hearty lunch of tender pork belly and a cloud-like ash-baked potato. The inhouse restaurant specialises in sustainably-sourced dry-aged meats, which are slow cooked over a four-metre-long open hearth.
The best news? City Winery has four locations in Brisbane so you no longer need to leave the city to have an authentic cellar door experience.
It's hard to believe that Ocean View Estates made its first wine in 2002. In two decades, it's blossomed from a fledgling family start-up to a polished, multifaceted operator with a cellar door, gift shop, restaurant, function space and accommodation (three stylish self-contained cottages). Located an hour north-west of Brisbane at 450 metres above sea level, the 40-hectare winery is a bucolic montage of gently sloping vineyards and manicured lawns surrounded by verdant rolling countryside.
Visitors can pop in for a tasting, enjoy lunch in the award-winning restaurant or sign up for a guided tour of the winery that includes a delicious platter of local cheeses. For a true rockstar entrance, you can even arrive by helicopter (two land during my visit).
For co-owner and chief winemaker Thomas Honnef, it's all about "accumulating flavours in the vineyard, then preserving those flavours in the winery". Viognier, chardonnay, shiraz and ruby cabernet are all grown onsite, while verdelho and merlot are sourced from vineyards in South Burnett.
The viognier is a crisp, fruity number while the ruby cabernet is plummy and full-bodied. They're premium drops (bottles start at $44) and are only available at the winery and restaurant. It's a common theme, dictated by the relatively small volumes of fruit grown here, which explains why it's so rare to see a Queensland wine interstate.
Honnef is one of the state's only winemakers to produce a sparkling viognier and he's currently experimenting with a rack drying technique he first saw in Italy. Not that he'll bombard you with too many technical details. "I try and keep the wankery out of it," he says with a smile.
From Ocean View, it's a scenic 40-minute drive with spectacular views of the Glass House Mountains to Woongooroo Estate Winery in the Somerset Valley. Owners Phil and Gail Close were teachers and musicians before taking the plunge and planting their first grapes in 1997. They have less than one hectare under vines so also use fruit sourced from the Granite Belt to produce an intriguing variety of wines, from an apple-scented semillon/sav blanc blend and a semi-sweet muscat to a smooth, fruity merlot and an 18-month barrel-aged port.
Expect a warm welcome from Roxie, the winery dog, before being ushered into a homely, wood-panelled tasting room decorated with family photos and sporting memorabilia. The best bit? The wines are a bargain, starting at $12 for a bottle of the eminently quaffable Classic White sauvignon blanc.
Montville is one of the Sunshine Coast hinterland's gems, an attractive village full of boutiques, art galleries and excellent restaurants that enjoys stellar views from its elevated position in the Blackall Range. What most visitors don't realise is that five minutes away is an estate making Mediterranean-style wines that can hold their own against the best of the big-name brands from the southern states.
Flame Hill Vineyard is the brainchild of Tony Thompson, a straight-talking country Queenslander who's passionate about developing a sustainable, regional-focused tourism offering. All Flame Hill's wines are made using hand-harvested fruit from the estate's vineyards in Montville and the Granite Belt. All the beef served in the winery's restaurant comes from Flame Hill's working cattle farm and most of the poultry, herbs and veggies are sourced from an onsite kitchen garden.
It's an admirable approach that's producing impressive results. The wines range from a clean, unoaked chardonnay and a crisp, easy-drinking fiano to an unusual smoke-tinged rose and a soft, warm merlot. Thompson is one of the only winemakers in the region making a barbera and it's a beauty – a deep red drop with a fruity, almost pinot-like finish. He's also planning to produce Queensland's first lagrein and has some "interesting stuff in the tanks", including a marsanne and a roussanne.
The winery's open-sided restaurant offers fabulous local fare with mesmerising vineyard views (I highly recommend the platter of local charcuterie and cheeses) and there's stylish onsite accommodation too: a pair of self-contained timber cottages, both elegantly furnished with full kitchens and a welcome bottle of complimentary port.
It's another feather in the hinterland's already crowded cap. People have long been attracted to the region's quaint villages, excellent restaurants, fantastic bushwalks and views so distractingly scenic it's a miracle they don't cause more accidents. Now there's another compelling reason to visit: Queensland wine.
The Vine and Shine Trail is a range of self-guided road trips through Queensland's six main wine regions. Check each listing is still operating as three on the Sunshine Coast trail have since closed (Nirvana Estate, Winya Wines and Clovely Estate City Cellar). See vineandshinetrail.com.au
Flame Hill Vineyard, 249 Western Avenue, Montville, QLD. The winery has two spacious three-bedroom cottages with full kitchens, fireplaces and large verandahs. It costs from $250 a night with a two-night minimum stay at weekends. See flamehill.com.au
Rob McFarland was a guest of Brisbane Economic Development Agency and Visit Sunshine Coast.