Queensland Food and Wine Touring Atlas – edited by Natalie Wilson

A guide to tasting the best of Queensland

By Robyn Lewis
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Queensland Food and Wine Touring Atlas

Queensland Food and Wine Touring Atlas

 

Wine and food in Queensland has come a long way since the days of surf, turf and Fourex.

Sure, you can still get prawns pretty much anywhere, but they are more likely to be presented with flair and in the Asian-influenced, ‘modern Australian’ style prevalent today than in a 70’s cocktail, retro or otherwise.

Brisbane is no longer a regional town; it still has shady jacarandas and houses on stilts, but if you haven’t visited for a while, floods or no floods, it’s now the vibrant hub of the fastest growing metropolis in Australia. And with that and a developed tourism industry come increasingly urban and international tastes.

The last ten years have seen Brisbane’s restaurant scene mature amazingly, with plenty of local talent emerging and top Sydney chefs opening ‘BrisVegas’ outposts, something that would have been thought of as faintly ridiculous a decade or so ago. This trend has continued up and down the coast, from Port Douglas north of Cairns, to Coolangatta on the NSW border.

The wine scene too has matured. For years Queenslanders have had access to many of the best Australian drops, and it was a great place for visitors to pick up fabulous bargains from under the locals’ noses, as wine knowledge lagged behind. No more. Now they’re as savvy as the rest of us and are increasingly drinking the best.

However, even now if you mention Queensland to your average wine drinker down south, he or she might laugh and make some disparaging reference to mangoes. It surprises many when they learn that Queensland has as many vineyards and wineries as the cool-climate state of Tasmania, and that the quality of the wines has dramatically increased, especially over the past five years.

Up until now there has been no overall print introduction to the Queensland wine scene. (VisitVineyards.com lists them all here online, of course). However this one comes in the form of a handy spiral-bound atlas, which as its name suggests also has an excellent road map section and index – very useful for road travelling in the Sunshine State, where mobile phone and internet coverage is limited and even GPS is not always accurate within Brisbane itself.

The atlas also delves into the burgeoning food scene. Queensland has been one of the major food-producing states of Australia for decades, but until recently ‘Brand Queensland’ has not been evident, and there has been very little sense of place associated with their fabulous produce.

In line with global trends, that too is changing, as more and more consumers seek out and even demand to know the provenance of their food, and to connect with its producers. So, the Queensland Food and Wine Touring Atlas comes at a good time.

The Atlas divides Queensland into six regions, as well it might, as the state takes up a quarter of Australia and is six times the size of Britain, four times the size of Japan, and yes, twice the size of Texas. These are:

  • Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Hinterland (including the ‘Scenic Rim’, Mt Tamborine etc);
  • Toowoomba, Stanthorpe and surrounds (including the main wine-producing region of the Granite Belt, and much prime agricultural land);
  • Sunshine Coast (Noosa and Hinterlands) and South Burnett, the second main wine growing area and an emerging foodie haven;
  • Fraser Coast (Hervey Bay) and Central Queensland (north as far as Rockhampton);
  • Mackay to Far North Queensland – a vast region covering most of the length of the great Barrier Reef, Cape York and most of the Gulf region;
  • Western Downs and the Outback, which starts west of Toowoomba and stretches to the South Australian and Northern Territory Borders.

What can visitors, new residents or locals exploring the Sunshine State expect? The book’s media release says:

“Each chapter begins with information on that to ‘see and do’ in the area. This is followed by food, wine and beverage experiences featured under ‘local tastes’. You will also find itineraries, major annual events, recipes, farmers’ markets listings and visitor centre details to help you get the most out of your experience.”

Written and compiled in conjunction with the Queensland Government, the Atlas is certainly comprehensive, and many other states would benefit from having one. You’ll take quite some time to enjoy all the food, wine and beverage experiences in the Queensland Food and Wine Touring Atlas, or even in one of its smaller regions.

“The guide also gives detailed information on towns in each region, food and wine-related festivals and activities, and comprehensive business listings. Detailed inset maps and atlas pages show where each region can be found and makes it easy to locate businesses.

There are important contacts, background on wine tasting, and helpful map references within the text. You'll even find recipes for every region so you can enjoy all the locally produced goodies you take home from your adventure.” Fancy some fig, pecan and ginger cake, anyone?

So, let’s take a deeper look.

Many may not be aware that Queensland is blessed with a vast array of produce, wine and beverages, going way beyond bananas, ginger and mangoes. It’s home to artisan cheeses, hand-made ice-creams, gelati and chocolates, olives, oils, flavoured nuts, organic tea and coffee to select a few. It’s Mediterranean meets the tropics.

Then there are exotic fruits, reef fish and many other products that can’t easily be found in southern states. I can feel a food-inspired holiday coming on already. Cooking schools are also listed, for those with the time to relax and learn some tropical-inspired techniques, after the veg-out on the beach.

One thing I particularly like is that the Atlas introduces you to many of the people behind the produce. When on holidays, you may be more in the mood to connect, smell the roses (yes, they grow them too) and get to know the makers.

No more so than over a wine tasting. So, what are some of Queensland’s vinous gems?

Many will have heard of Sirromet, the largest producer in the Sunshine State with vineyards on the Granite Belt and a mega cellar door, restaurant and festivals/events complex at Mt Cotton on Brisbane’s south east. Forget the mango jokes, some of their wines – especially their reds – are good quality and give many southern producers a run in the value-for-money stakes.

Up on the Granite Belt itself, one of a visitor’s first stops should be the Queensland College of Wine Tourism at Stanthorpe. Why? Not to pick yourself up a quick diploma in winemaking (although if you stayed a while you could) but because it is home to – and financially supported by – its own active vineyard, winery and restaurant, Banca Ridge. A great place to sit and study your Atlas over a glass of local wine if ever there was one, while enjoying an excellent lunch.

More Granite Belt finds in the Atlas doing good things with wine are Boireann, Robert Channon Wines, Kominos, Ballandean Estate, Bungawarra, Golden Grove and Hidden Creek, although you need a few days on the Granite Belt to really enjoy the gems, the scenery and the food – it’s a big fruit producing region too.

Heading to Noosa for a bit of sun? If you tire of Hastings Street and the beach, venture into the Hinterland for a day or two’s food and wine exploring. Many of the producers are members of the Slow Food movement, and you can find plenty of organic and biodynamic producers amongst the Maleny locals.

The Hinterland is home to perhaps Australia’s most curiously named winery, The Little Morgue, named from the building’s past life and a great place for any Halloween tragic to visit. The nearby Maleny Mountain Wines boasts a cellar door in the form of an eight-metre tall wine barrel.

And so on, up and down the coast: travel out of the towns or up the Dividing Range, such as to Kuranda or the Atherton Tablelands behind Cairns, and there are treasures everywhere: cheeses, coffee, dragon fruit, liqueurs, microbreweries….

Even Queensland’s vast interior, which despite its distances and generally flat terrain, has many discoveries of its own. Dining there is more pub food, but you can still come across gems like the Australian Wild Lime Plantation near Roma, whose produce finds its way to Michelin chefs in Europe, who prize it as a garnish.

Toowoomba and surrounds did it very tough in the 2011 floods, and what better way to support those affected than to hop in the car, pay them a visit and check out some of their local produce in situ? The Atlas will show you where and how.

In fact, the same can be said of virtually all of Queensland’s wine and food regions – most suffered from either flood or cyclone, and are now getting back on their feet, with doors wide open to welcome a flood of a different kind: you and I and others who have decided to vote with our wallets and holiday there instead of taking an overseas option, tempting as it is with our high Australian dollar.

When you do, make sure you get hold of the Queensland Food and Wine Touring Atlas. Many of Queensland’s producers are underrepresented on the internet, and apart from here on VisitVineyards.com, this book is one of the few places you will find them, certainly together, and with such a logical and easy-to-use format. The excellent maps are an added bonus.

There are no ads, and whilst the format follows a style, it doesn’t dominate the content. Also unlike some other state directories, the producers haven’t paid to be in it, providing richer, deeper content and a more personal touch.

It’s an atlas you can read, rather than just refer to, and would be good whether planning a wine and food adventure, a romantic day trip, weekend away or even a family holiday. Kids will love these foods, too.

Although not 100% comprehensive – the Atlas would need to be at least twice the thickness to go near it, given the number of small producers popping up seemingly everwhere – it's a great general introduction to each region, and probably contains as much as most visitors could fit into a brief visit to each region. Resident food lovers may want to seek out more over time, starting at one of the fantastic local markets.

Overall, the Queensland Food and Wine Touring Atlas is easy to use, informative and fun, and my copy will be the first thing going into my suitcase when I pack for that Queensland holiday!

 

The Queensland Food and Wine Touring Atlas is published by Hema Maps (Brisbane, 2010; sc, spiral bound, 160 pp) RRP A$29.95. Available from select bookstores in Queensland or online at various stores or via the RACQ >>

 

RACQ Members can purchase the Queensland Food and Wine Touring Atlas at a special price of A$24.95 here >>

 

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May 26th, 2011
 
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