A Young Man With A Dream

A Young Man with a Dream.

John Robinson 

February 23rd 1939-May 8th 2018


Between 1963 and 1966 a young man already well travelled began teaching in Lyon and Stuttgart.

This was a unique time in Europe when the regions had their own personality and there was a freedom and openess to western Europe.

While teaching in Lyon he would venture north to Burgundy and Beaujolais and south to the Rhone valley. These adventures would lead to a fascination with the vineyards and wines of France. So to in Stuttgart he would visit the vineyards and wineries of Baden-Wurttenberg and from then on he was hooked.

What fed this obsession with the grape was fourfold. The beauty of the regions he visited the fascinating people he would meet like Louis Garoux in Burgundy , the wonderful wine and food he would be introduced to and the fun of making the wine itself.

In 1966 he returned to Australia and met Heather his soon to be wife.

By 1968 they began looking for a suitable place to grow grapes and make wine around Toowoomba where he was raised and set up his law practice. That same year they came down to Stanthorpe and were introduced to Dick De Luca a gentle giant of a man of Italian heritage that poured for them a muscat wine made from his vineyard.

John and Heather shared the passion for wine and during this time John read extensively about wine and winemaking. From Max Lakes "The Flavour of Wine" from 1969, "Progressive Winemaking" by Peter Duncan and Bryan Acton from 1967, "Scientific Winemaking" by J.R.Mitchell from 1969 and "The Wines of Bordeaux " by E.Penning-Rowsell from 1969 .

One of the books "Australian Wine The complete Guide" by Dan Murphy (the man not the supermarket chain with his name) published in 1966 may well have sparked the interest with particular passages underlined.


One poinigant passage is that wine " promoted peace and relaxation and stimulated conversation and prompted ideas that produced paintings and sculptures and theatre and literature". John being an avid painter himself and gaining an appreciation of the arts having returned from Europe.

From his tasting and research and with Heather they decided to buy a property in 1968 and planted vines in 1969.The first vines planted were Shiraz after the fashion of what he had seen in the Rhone valley where the grapevines were also planted on granite soils.

Having met Max Lake on a few ocassions he ventured to Lakes Folly to do a vintage in 1971. Here they would bunk down in a loft above the winery before helping with the vintage.

From the exposure at Lakes Folly, although 1971 was a very wet vintage, John saw the potential of Chardonnay first planted at Lakes Folly in 1969.

Coming back to Stanthorpe he brought with him cuttings of the Mudgee clone of Chardonnay (the original source of Chardonnay in Australia) from Pieter Van Gent now known as the Penfolds 58 clone. Planting Chardonnay along with Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir to compliment the Shiraz plantings. He made his first wine in 1974 called "The Family".

By 1975 his first commercial wine a red blend of Cabernet Shiraz and Pinot Noir won a Gold in the Brisbane Royal National Agricultural Show. In 1976 he made his first Chardonnay at that time amongst only a handful of wineries making Chardonnay in Australia it too winning a Gold Medal and White Wine of the Show at the local Stanthorpe show and a Silver in the 1978 Brisbane National Agricultural Show . The 1976 Pinot Noir also receiving a Silver in the Brisbane Royal National Agricultural Show. He also spent some time studying under Brian Croser and Tony Jordan at what has now become Charles Sturt University at Wagga Wagga.

From the early seventies to 1986 John was to bring his flair of winemaking to bear on successive vintages. The vintages of 1974,1979,1980,1981,1982 and 1986 all being standouts in terms of quality and staying power. I have tasted many of these wines some thirty years after they were made and can attest to the elegance, complexity and length. Some truly remarkable wines like the 1979 Cabernet Sauvignon (one of the greatest red wines I have tasted) and the 1981 Shiraz Cabernet that was voted amongst the to ten top wines of the country at the time by a particular wine writer.

John bought a quiet confidence and his talents to share with all around him. A gentle man in the best sense. With many great ideas from the introduction of the first appellation system in Australia "Ballandean Nouveau", to the Sanctuary Cove "Wine Race" , Bay Cooler , the first 'methode champenoise' Sparkling wine in Queensland and the first satellite cellar door. He was a true innovator and pioneer. He will be missed and cherished by all who knew him.

Granite Belt Wines


Following On from the previous Article in Part one of the Granite Belt. Here is my take on some great examples of wines in the Granite Belt.

Not Gospel there are many other tasty titbits on offer. Make your own mind up

GRANITE BELT WINES

( I have to declare that I have a long association with the region at Robinson's which will not be included in the discussion other than the 1979 Cabernet below)

What they do well.

Chardonnay, Semillion, Cabernet Sauvignon , Merlot , Shiraz , Petit Verdot , Red Blends from these

I have tried many great wines over the years from the exceptional vintages of the early 80's through to the modern day. What has proven to excel are the reds. From blends like the traditional shiraz cabernet through to 100% petit verdot. But if you were ever lucky enough to try the old semillion of Rumbalara back before it became unfashionable to drink semillion it was a grape to admire. Chardonnay receives a mention simply because so many have done so well over the years from national wine of the year in Winestate magazine (Heritage) to trophy for best white wine at a National show (Robert Channon) along with the numerous gold medals around Australia. With the milder days and nights during ripening many wineries under appreciate just what can be done with Chardonnay on the Granite Belt.

I know the list above isn't exciting and new and fashionable but when you try a 1979 Cabernet Sauvignon that your father made forty plus years after he made it and it blows you away it's hard to go past these proven performers. Merlot , in the right hands, can be better than anywhere.

What they claim to do well.

Verdelho

Don't like the variety , never have. This is probably more a reflection of my taste than anything. It just fails to excite me with a mid-palate awkwardness that I don't admire. Friends will bring along a bottle of verdelho for me at wine options just to stir me up.  It's a popular drink for many others. And many wineries have a fresh example. Enough said.

What Shows promise

Tannat , Mourvedre/Mataro/Monastrell, Fiano,Vermentino,Durif

Some producers are making some really exciting wines out of these varieties. Where interesting aromas,flavour and texture really come to the fore.

Surprises

Chenin Blanc

One producer makes Chenin.When you see some of them with a bit of age around 7-10 years they really come into their own. Reminiscent of some of the old Houghton's White Burgundy where Chenin was a major player, it ages so well. That said, it is probably challenging to forge the best out of it every year.

Sangiovese : 

After doing a vintage in Tuscany I know how fickle this variety is to different soils and aspects even within the same vineyard. With so many clones and the vineyard variability it is hard to know where to start when introducing a new variety like this. But I have tried a few fine examples of this variety in the Granite Belt, which came as a surprise to me. The makers must have worked hard to bring out its best.

Riesling: 

One producer has made some fresh citrus and floral rieslings that are of a very high quality. The variety should do well in the region in regards to temperature and granite soils but rainfall during ripening is the major challenge. With a variety that has sensitive skin.

Strange Birds:

The region has many different grape varieties planted and if it's in Australia chances are its in the Granite Belt. The strange bird symbol on the regional map highlights the wineries that have something different. Look out for Graciano and Albarino as something on the horizon.

For My Taste:

Semillion :

Tobin Isabella

Sauvignon Blanc :

Masons wines Cellar Collection, Girraween Estate

Herbaceous Tropical fresh lifted

Chardonnay

Elegant modern Style: Ridgemill Estate

Old School : Ballandean Estate

Unwooded: Girraween Estate

The Estates have it.

There are many other great examples.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Top three for me

Pyramids Road

Harrington Glen (in a good year)

Mason Wines Cellar collection

The wines need cellaring to truly appreciate the length and elegance like a good Bordeaux but if you have them young just match it with a lamb roast or barbecued rib eye fillet.

Tannin Ripeness and ripe fruit is key. Some higher elevations in the region can sometimes struggle to ripen Cabernet fully. Can't over crop if you want quality.

Merlot: Ridgemill Estate

I have had some great merlot from right bank Bordeaux, Eden Valley, Coonawarra and even the Yarra. But the ripe fleshy character and black fruits possible in a ripe example in the Granite Belt can rival anywhere.

Shiraz: Too many great examples

Bigger Style: Golden Grove, Bungawarra

Medium Bodied : Pyramids Road,Whisky Gully

Elegant spicy: many producers do an elegant style with a black pepper spice and black fruits , in a cool year like 2008 or 2009 this can sometimes even be more white pepper.

Others are introducing some whole bunch/berry elements to create a lighter fresher ester lifted easy drinking style.

Mataro: Pyramids Road

Has that rustic tannin firmness and big fruit that ages particularly well.

Red blend: Ravenscroft Waagee or Bungawarra's Paragon

Ask him at the Cellar door about the name. He tells it so well.

Pinotage: Ravenscroft wines

Fortified: Ballandean Estate Muscat

Verdelho: I am not qualified to comment.

But just about everyone makes one. Freshness is key.

Petit Verdot: Mason wines Cellar Collection

Dense good length firm tannins inky has that typical (what I call orange rind) spice on the nose, this variety generally needs time for the tannins and acidity to soften but has all the building blocks of a great wine. It's cabernet sauvignon on steroids.

Fiano: Ballandean estate or Heritage

Saparavi:Ballandean Estate

Super concentrated jubey juicy

Marsanne: Marsanne/Rousanne at Bents Road

Tannat: Just Red Wines or Boreiann

Big tannin dense fruit

Sangiovese: Boreiann

Savoury and round

Nebbiolo: Ballandean Estate

This variety is typically tannin city without the dense fruit of Tannat needs time.

Vermentino:Golden Grove

Fresh and punchy fruit

Riesling : Ridgemill estate

citrus ginger

Durif : Golden Grove

best in a dry year

Malbec : Golden Grove

Big and brooding

Chenin Blanc: Casley Mount Hutton

With age gets an attractive honey toast with tree fruits

Best Older Vintages on Tasting: Casley Mt Hutton

2008 Shiraz probably the pick of them

Barbera

Golden Grove or Boreiann both good examples depending upon oak level preference

Most Underrated Winery:

 Pyramids Road

Readily Available outside region :

Sirromet, Witches Falls, Symphony Hill


Hipster/Modern/Funky: Bents Road (La Petit Mort Range)

Wine styles and Story targeting the younger drinker

Wow Factor Cellar Door: Savina Lane

Napa Valley comes to the Granite Belt great views over the vineyard

Hidden Gem: Bungawarra

Small cosy with good quality reds

Head in the Clouds

Head in the clouds.


Climbing above the misty morning fog heading west towards the sun. Rising up, constantly ascending ,you come to a elevated garden where the food table is diverse, and the air is thin above the clouds.

Obtrusive rocks are spread through the landscape like a giant toddler has forgotten to put away his marbles. A place unlike any other where the seasons tussle for domination each bringing there own coloured personality. Summers with green and earthen brown, Autumns rustic reds and oranges ,Winter, a cloak of ice and snow whites and greys, Spring a welcome start of floral bliss a burst of colour.

In winter nights are cool and days are clear,with mountain peaks casting gentle shadows over each other as they bid the day adieu and prepare for the brisk evening. The moon soon emerges from it's hiding place from behind the mountains , reflecting the glory of her big brother while granite monoliths reveal themselves in the fractured light.

As the moon descends the true glory of this region is revealed, a stellar cast of glittering white, a vision into the past of a distant galaxy that may no longer exist.

This is the land of Kambuwal , Thunderbolt and Geronimo , of Mackenzie and Fletcher. A land of tin miners,graziers,farmers and forgotten soldiers. A land of Granite.

My father first came to the region in the late 1960's after spending sometime teaching English in Europe. He was searching for land that was familiar to him that spoke of a sense of place. Like the vineyards he had visited in the Northern Rhone and Burgundy while teaching in Lyon, here in the highlands he had found what he was looking for.

From the days of Fletcher and Father Geronimo the vineyards were worked to supply eating grapes to masses. With muscat too ripe for market finding it's way to the Italian communities of the north as vino de tableau to refresh/numb the Ingham cane cutters.

By the late1970's the wine bug had become contagious and all manner of tribes were setting up shop to toil in the soil for their golden elixir.

And as we reach over fifty years since the first wine grapes were planted ,the Granite Belt region has more diversity on offer and sheer quality than ever before.

GRANITE BELT REGION

Climate

When you travel from Brisbane or the coast it can be deceiving just how high you climb. The gradual rise in elevation culminates at the summit (928m) and Eukey (1000m). For every one hundred metres you rise the temperature drops over half of a degree. So the region can historically be between five to ten degrees cooler than the coast and with a relative humidity around 50-60%.

Comparing the region to other wine regions around the world and Australia the Granite Belt has most similarities in temperature to Margaret River and Bordeaux particularly during ripening (both in average and maximum and minimum temperature). Rainfall is more evenly spread over the year than the southern Australian regions, comparing well with quality European wine regions like Bordeaux , The Northern Rhone and Burgundy during the growing season. Average mid summer temperatures are around 21 degrees with the maximum temperatures being particularly mild when the south easterly weather arrives typically in February. The region normally has ripening temperatures from late February to mid April in the range of 17-20 degrees and maximum temperatures between 22-25 degrees.

TEMPERATURE COMPARISON (Degrees Celcius)

REGION

Recorded Years

Mean Temperature of the warmest Month

Average Maximum Temperature of the warmest month

Early Autumn (March/September) Mean Temperature

Early Autumn (March/September) average maximum temperature

Bordeaux/Merignac , Bordeaux France *

  1981-2010

      21.4

         27.1

           18.5    

             24

Cape Naturaliste , Margaret River WA *

1981-2010

     21.3

          26.7

            20.5

              25.5

Applethorpe , Granite Belt Qld *

1981-2010

      21

           26.8

             18.6

               24

Bergerac France*

1981-2010

      21

            27.5

              17.6

              24.2

Witchcliffe Margaret River WA*

1999-2017

      20.8

             27.2

               19.4

               25.7

RAINFALL COMPARISON

REGION

7 month Growing Season Rainfall Mean (mm)

Applethorpe , Granite Belt Qld *

                                           541

Bordeaux/Merignac , Bordeaux France *

                                          504

Bergerac France*

                                           470

Witchcliffe Margaret River WA*

                                            225

Cape Naturaliste , Margaret River WA *

                                             160

*Information from www.bom.gov.au for Margaret River and Granite Belt .

* Information from www.meteofrance.com for Bordeaux and Bergerac

Landscape

The landscape is rugged with boulders of granite spread throughout the district. Some farmers have resorted to dynamite to blast the surface rocks to increase the soil depth (with the odd farm shed coming off second best). On the extreme south east rainforest pockets hide in shaded areas of Girraween National Park while on the western edge the region has a much dryer climate where Ironbark trees become more numerous. Most of the hills remain as native bushland due to the many steep rock slopes making them unsuitable to all but a mountain goat or some adventurous cattle. The rolling farmland below these slopes is covered with apples,stone fruit, salad greens, tomatoes , capsicum, strawberries, grapes,sheep, cattle and the odd lama. The soils for the vineyards are derived from the granite parent rock with sand, sandy-loam and clayey-loam bleached soils similar to some soils in both Alsace France and the Beaujolais cru villages just north of Lyon in France.

National Parks

On the southern end and more picturesque part of the region lie two National Parks the more rugged Sundown National Park on the western edge and Girraween National park on the south eastern section where dominant granite domes give a picture of the parent rocks underneath the whole region.

Food Bowl

The elevation makes the temperate climate more suitable to berries,vegetables and fruits more typical to Tasmania than the pineapple,bananas and mangoes associated with tropical queensland. Here olive groves , cheesemakers ,wineries and vineyards vie for sites amidst the usual suspects (tomatoes,capsicums, salads, apples, stone fruits,strawberries and the grazier crew).

Eating Out

Modern: Try Varias at the QCWT

French style Rural: Food Project on Mcgregor a MUST DO

Winery: Ballandean Cafe

Italian: Annas

Pizza: L'Aquila

Coffe Jam Doughnuts: JAMWORKS

Art Scene

Art in the Mill on the May Day long weekend provides eclectic pieces of pottery,sculpture and paintings to enjoy in the old Ballandean Timber Mill.

The Regional Gallery has some diverse exhibitions throughout the year and is a vibrant regional art space.

Festivals

Apple and Grape Harvest Festival

A bi-annual festival that triples the population. Originally a celebration of the apple orchards and table grape vineyards (2000 acres in 1950) that has given way to the wine grapes. A unique celebration of the fruit and vegetables that grow in the region along with the wine.

Taste

Brass monkey Blue cheese at the Granite Belt Dairy or cocktails at Viscosity

Touch

smoothed granite stones washed and eroded over millions of years

Smell

Eucalypts or acacias in flower or the fresh clean minerally forest floor lifted scents after a rain storm.

Sounds

The many bird calls as you trek throughout the National Parks in the early morning keep an ear out for the black cockatoo screech. If your lucky the lyrebirds, here at their northern limit, might disturb you with their mimicry.

See

#Night Sky (where did all those stars come from) ,check out the globular clusters from a local telescope.

#Wedgetail eagles circling above the valleys, on those clear calm sunny April days.

#Get a selfie with the Fruitasaurus at Ballandean

Activity

Climb up Slip Rock with views to the Pyramids below. Or hike through the many great walks in Girraween National park.

Nearby

Check out the eclectic old school cafes in the historic town of Tenterfield just across the border.

Wineries

There are over sixty wineries now apparently. With many different styles on offer. When one considers they have less than 1% of the industry, the regions wines do incredibly well in awards and wine reviews. With many high accolades and medals being continually won from as far back as 1975 through to today. When the wines are tasted on their merits they perform. Try it yourself, grab a known southern producer that is well regarded and try one of the wines listed in the next article against them in the same style and price category. Here's the trick though, get a friend to show you the wines blind without knowing which is which then pick your preference. My money is on the Granite Belt producer.