Days of wine and roses amid the hills

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - Escape - - CHRISTMAS DIRECTORY -

THE Gran­ite Belt, I am­in­formed, has more B& Bs a hectare than any­where else in Aus­tralia ( al­though I sus­pect Montville runs pretty close). I think I must have stayed in 70 per cent of them over the years, but I’ve never been any­where quite like Twisted Gum, at the south­ern end of this district in Bal­lan­dean.

From the out­side there’s noth­ing flash about it, al­though the drive from the gate to the cot­tage goes past a huge lake and the roses at the end of each row of vines are go­ing berserk in their sum­mer beauty.

The cot­tage it­self was built in the 1920s as a sim­ple house for the man­ager, and it looks like it, with stucco walls and rooms added hap­haz­ardly as the fam­ily grew.

A big, wide ve­randa at the front,

WIN­NING WINES: A Twisted Gum white. where vines grow over the lin­tel, is a per­fect place to have break­fast or an af­ter­noon drink.

You might won­der what the in­side would be like, but here is the big sur­prise. Michelle and Tim Coelli have re­stored it to a sim­ple el­e­gance – noth­ing fancy, but clean, com­fort­able and roomy, with wa­ter­colours and pen­cil draw­ings by Michelle’s grand­fa­ther and great-grand­fa­ther adorn­ing the walls.

Al­though there were only two of us stay­ing, the house is set up for six, with two dou­ble bed­rooms and one twin, and there’s a big sep­a­rate din­ing room as well as a roomy kitchen. A play­room ex­tends the length of the house, and there’s a very civilised liv­ing room for the grown-ups. Two bath­rooms, in­clud­ing an en­suite for the main bed­room, mean there’s no fight­ing for the shower, and the beds are ex­tremely com­fort­able.

A word of warn­ing, though – it’s not a bed-and-break­fast, but fully self­ca­ter­ing, so al­though there’s plenty of tea, real cof­fee, some cook­ing oil and condi­ments, take all your own tucker be­cause you won’t want to drive the 5km ev­ery night to dine at some of Bal­lan­dean’s fancy restau­rants, such as Shi­raz and Ma­sons.

The kitchen is so well equipped that cook­ing is a plea­sure.

If you don’t want to cook the first night, though, stop at the Big Ap­ple at the north­ern end of the Gran­ite Belt and pick up some of its gen­uine home­made Ital­ian pasta sauce and some good gnoc­chi, and don’t for­get to pick up some of the house-made gelati – the turk­ish de­light flavour is fan­tas­tic and the straw­berry gelati is good enough for a Ro­man em­peror. And re­mem­ber, the Straw­berry Fields are open for DIY or pre-picked berries.

When you reach the cot­tage ( stop at Tim and Michelle’s pole house to be es­corted and shown around), you’re sure to be vis­ited by the mad fam­ily pooch Cass, but don’t let him in the house, al­though he’ll love play­ing out­side with the kids, and will ac­com­pany you on a walk in the bush.

Lau­ren, the fam­ily’s charm­ing sixyear-old, is happy to be your guide, and now that she’s learnt the trick of hold­ing a but­ter­cup un­der your chin to see if you like but­ter, she’ll prob­a­bly try it out, be­cause the Gran­ite Belt is cov­ered in them at the moment, be­side the lake, be­neath the trees, flut­ter­ing and danc­ing in the breeze, as DRIVE RIGHT IN: The Twisted Gum vine­yard at Bal­lan­dean. Wordsworth might have said. The ever-chang­ing colours of the sea­sons are what makes the Gran­ite Belt so at­trac­tive, and now that the pop­pies of Red Novem­ber are al­most over, as well as the but­ter­cups you’ll find ri­ots of pur­ple wild­flow­ers, and the red tips of new growth on the gums, all set against the fa­mil­iar brood­ing grey of the great gran­ite rocks and the dull olive of the bush.

If play­ing bushrangers among the gran­ite boul­ders on the prop­erty doesn’t sat­isfy the kids, it’s only a short drive to Gir­raween Na­tional Park, and if you want to make this an ed­u­ca­tional trip for you as well as the kids, drive the few kilo­me­tres south of the border and visit Ten­ter­field, the home of Fed­er­a­tion, where Henry Parkes made the fa­mous Ten­ter­field Ora­tion that be­gan the move­ment that united the states, so that you no longer have to pay taxes when cross­ing state bor­ders. There’s a won­der­ful mu­seum dis­play with a full­sized pho­to­graphic reproduction of this oc­ca­sion, the bushy whiskers and leo­nine beards of our Found­ing Fa­thers show­ing just how im­por­tant they were and why their de­ci­sions should never be ques­tioned.

Eas­ier on the brain, and less eth­i­cally tax­ing, is a visit to a vine­yard or two in the area – Bal­lan­dean has thou­sands of them, but you may pre­fer to stay in the cot­tage and sam­ple the Coel­lis’ own la­bel, Twisted Gum, which isn’t at all bad. Their 2009 caber­net sauvi­gnon was awarded a sil­ver medal at the Aus­tralian Small Wine­mak­ers Show.

There’s a free bot­tle for guests, and if you buy three bot­tles, you get them for half price. I asked for the dri­est white they had, and af­ter a few sips pro­nounced it de­li­cious, with a hint of fresh-mown grass, and then they told me it was a chardon­nay, a grape that has never passed my lips in 20 years. They don’t have a cel­lar door – their sales are to restau­rants or on­line.

Talk­ing of food and drink, we stopped on the way home as usual at Sut­tons Juice Fac­tory and Cidery, where Dave has re­cently added to his range a de­li­cious ap­ple and straw­berry juice – the per­fect hol­i­day drink for tee­to­tallers, teenagers or even for those who just want a break from beer and wine.

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