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Pick of the season: Granite Belt wine makers raise a glass to 2021

The past 18 months has produced a blend like no other for winemakers on the Granite Belt who battled drought, bushfires and a pandemic to achieve this year’s c(t)ellar vintage.

At the University of Southern Queensland’s Wine College in Stanthorpe, winemaker Arantza Milicua-Celador said the 2021’s crop was the best of the bunch.

“I’m really happy with it,” Ms Milicua-Celador said.

“The fruit quality has been fantastic with complex flavours and aromas.”

Despite the black frost that hit the region in September, yields have been good, allowing the College to produce a range of varietals.

“This year we have Verdelho, Albarino and Marsanne in whites, as well as Tinta Cao, Petit Verdot and Tempranillo in reds,” Ms Milicua-Celador said.

This colourful array is a far cry from the bleak outlook that was facing the College in September 2019 when bushfires threatened to engulf the vineyard.

Queensland College of Wine Tourism CEO Peter O’Reilly recalls an “ember shower” that ignited spot fires inside the courtyard.

“We’re surrounded by buildings on all sides, but the fire managed to make its way over the buildings and ignite the gardens within the walls,” Mr O’Reilly said.

The bushfires passed quickly but the drought that has gripped the region since early 2018 continued on the Granite Belt.

“Every single day for the last 14 months, 42 semi-trailer loads of town water have been trucked in for Stanthorpe’s residents,” Mr O’Reilly said.

When the pandemic hit, shutting borders and businesses, and ordering visitors to stay home, many thought it was the final straw for the local economy. 

How wrong they were.

As soon as the lockdown lifted, visitors returned in greater numbers than ever before.

“Initially, they talked about escaping lockdown, but it soon became obvious that the city and coastal folk knew of the hard times west of the range and they just wanted to help,” Mr O’Reilly said.

Visitors flocked to the Granite Belt, ate, drank, and spent money.

Then they went home and told their friends who did the same.

Their impact was so great that the region almost ran out of wine.

Winemaker Arantza Milicua-Celador said there was enormous relief that this year’s vintage was proving to be such a success.

“The flavours are great, the sugar levels are great – the 2021 vintage is one that will be talked about for years to come,” Ms Milicua-Celador said.

“There’s enough for everyone, with the harvest still going, I think we’ll manage to crush more than 25 tonnes this year.”

For anyone who is counting, that is around 20,000 bottles of wine (which should keep the visitors happy in 2021).

Cheers to that!

woman standing in field
The University of Southern Queensland’s Wine College in Stanthorpe is harvesting its 2021 vintage.