It’s just a matter of time, according to Australian Winemaker of the Year 2017 Mike Hayes, before Queensland wines take over the world.

“We are not tied by 200-year-old traditions but willing to learn and experiment. There are over 100 grape varieties planted on the Granite Belt,” says Mike who is the chief winemaker at Symphony Hill Wines at Ballandean in Queensland’s Granite Belt.

“Our youth are saying they don’t want to drink the old-fashioned, big tannic reds. They love luscious fruit-driven wines and are not interested in a cabernet that’s going to be good to drink in 25 years.

“Queensland wines come from the earth, not from the sun.  They are beautiful, delicate, yet powerfully structured wines which are balanced but have longevity from the granite soil.”

Mike upstaged a field of nearly 1000 of Australia’s finest winemakers to win Winemaker of the Year from the Australian Society of Viticulture and Oenology in November 2017. He sees the award as a win for Queensland wine and believes it has changed perceptions and brought Queensland winemaking out of the dark ages.

“This is an award for the whole district,” he says. “There are many people on the Granite Belt making outstanding wines.

“We know we are leaders now. The next challenge for Queensland wines is world domination.  Let’s take our Nebbiolo back to Italy and beat the Italians, our Gewurtztraminer back to Germany and beat the Germans. That’s what I want to see.”

“People say dreams don’t come true, but they bloody do! This is way above what I ever dreamed.”


Queensland wine in his blood

A third-generation Ballandean-born viticulturalist and winemaker, Mike has been making wines in Australia and New Zealand for over 30 years.  The youngest of nine kids in an Irish Catholic family, he started his winemaking career the hard way, straight from the schoolyard to chipping weeds from dusk to dawn.

In the past year, his wines made through Symphony Hill’s contract winemaking business have resulted in 15 trophies, 19 gold (over 11 varieties), 27 silver and over 70 bronze medals.

Mike wants to make wines for people, not show judges. He says if they win an award, that’s a bonus.

“If the people in Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast were as passionate about the Queensland wine industry as they are about the State of Origin we could plant the whole of the state and not be able to supply them.  I won’t eat in a restaurant that doesn’t have a Queensland wine on its list.  If they don’t support my industry, I won’t support theirs.”

100-year vineyard for future Queensland wines

With an eye to the future, Mike has been researching Australian vineyards looking at trends in climate change searching for varieties for the future.

The establishment of a 100-year vineyard at Queensland College of Wine is one of the steps taken by the industry to safeguard its future. The vineyard has been planted on its own roots with biosecurity protection.

“We are just having a crack at it, not trying to revolutionise the world,” says Mike.

Alternative Varieties Masterclass an Australian first

As part of the Stanthorpe Apple & Grape Harvest Festival, Mike is holding eight masterclass opportunities from Feb 23 to March 4.

It’s an opportunity for wine lovers to learn about some of the world`s rarest wine grape varieties and be guided through the origins, aromas and flavours of the most exotic wine styles in the world.

“This masterclass on alternative varieties is an Australian first,” says Mike.

“Participants will try ten wines in a structured tasting of reds and whites from the 14 wineries involved in the masterclasses.  They will learn how to evaluate wines like a wine judge and come away with a detailed booklet on the varieties.

“It is over $500 per session in value of wines, says Mike. “This is a rare opportunity to explore the finer points of wine evaluation and not to be missed.”


Get ready for some festival fun!

Head to Stanthorpe for some apple and grape fun! For more than 50 years Stanthorpe has kicked up its heels and come together to celebrate the region’s bounty for the Apple & Grape Harvest Festival.  From February 23 to March 4 the festival vibes fill the streets with bike rides and chalk artists, apple peeling and pie making.

The Carnival and Wine Fiesta on March 3 and 4 is a festival highlight. Head to Stanthorpe for the day on Saturday or Sunday, and you can travel on a puffing billy, learn about wine from Australia’s top winemaker, browse the Market in the Mountains, watch grape crushing the old- fashioned way, check out a rodeo, see the grand parade and visit an open garden.

Check out the full Apple & Grape Harvest Festival program.

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Southern Downs Regional Council. For more ways to explore the region visit Southern Downs and Granite Belt