Peter explores real belter of a spot in Stanthorpe region
SOME years ago, as a fresh-faced young reporter, I was assigned to go to the Hunter Valley to speak with the winemakers about their latest vintages.
I can now be honest and say I knew nothing about wines other than one was white, one was red and there was one with bubbles.
The best piece of journalistic advice I ever received was to never be afraid to own up and admit that I knew nothing about the subject.
The reasoning behind that was if I didn't understand the subject, how could I explain it to readers.
So I started asking the winemakers the most basic of questions and instead of meeting ridicule, I was handed patient understanding.
Murray Tyrrell and Reg Drayton gave me hours of their time and those early visits to the Hunter ignited a passion for enjoying great wines.
That passion took me 20 years ago to the fledgling Granite Belt wine district.
It was a fun bus tour with friends and we enjoyed visiting the small wineries and the few cafes that existed back then.
I can't recall the quality of the wines, but I know they weren't to die for.
When I was invited back by Granite Belt Tourism this month, I really didn't know what to expect.
I had noted that some of the wineries were making their mark at national shows, but if you asked me to name three Granite Belt wineries, I would have struggled.
Not so any more. The wines being produced in this region stand up among the best in the land.
But it was not just the quality of the wine that won my family's heart.
The rugged beauty of the Stanthorpe region with granite boulders dotting the panorama as if they had cascaded out of a giant's bag of marbles gives the district a special appeal.
The air is clear and clean, and it's a great experience to roll leisurely along the well-maintained back dirt roads that take you from one vineyard to the next.
We visited 12 wineries during our three-day stay.
If we had the staying power, we could have called in to 40.
What was great about the Hunter district decades ago was that when you pulled in to taste a wine, seven out of 10 times the winemaker would be there in the tasting room. And this is how it is in the Granite Belt.
The passion of the winemakers is on show and it gives an extra element to your trip.
You hear stories of why they mixed this grape with that, how they gave a wine a particular name and then you get to share their pride and joy.
From former school teachers to talented business leaders, they all turned their life upside down because they wanted to grow grapes. They talk about the hard work, but few lament it.
Accommodation of all shapes and sizes is offered there.
Harrington Glen Winery has even converted a railway carriage into a luxury unit for six, but modern comfortable cabins such as those at Ridgemill Estate are more the norm.
If you are looking to spoil yourself at a great restaurant, then you'll find one that fits the bill at Ballandean's Barrel Room which recently took out top gong at the 2012 Queensland Restaurant and Caterers award for best in a winery.
I came away making three promises. One, I would return to Stanthorpe soon with some friends.
Two, I would look to start enjoying the great drops I discovered there, and three, I would write a positive story so others may be inspired to visit.