Stanthorpe's wettest year in more than 3 decades eases drought, bushfire pain

Brandon Long
By Brandon Long
February 15 2022 - 9:00pm
Suttons Juice Factory, Cidery and Cafe owners David and Ros Sutton, Thulimbah, are basking in the greenery again after years of drought. Photo: Brandon Long

After dealing with drought, bushfires and a pandemic in the last few years, Stanthorpe's wettest year in more than three decades has helped producers get back on their feet.

Normally averaging 751mm annually, the town recorded 1092mm of rain last year - numbers not seen since 1989.

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The change in weather has revived apple trees and grape vines, as well as spirits in southern Queensland's Granite Belt.

Sutton's Juice Factory, Cidery and Cafe, which has its own orchards and sources apples from a local grower, was one of many businesses affected by the environmental disasters.

"We had the worst drought in history," owner Ros Sutton said.

"As you can imagine, the farmers were much worse off because they had no water to grow crops.

"Some went out of business for 12 months. We also had the impact of the bushfires. There were all these things that were negatively impacting our area and stopping people from coming.

"What's happened is we've got the wettest year in over 30 years, so it's enabled our trees to come back to life, so it's an amazing contrast. It's been nice to have that."

The first of the grape harvest is also underway in vineyards around Stanthorpe, with wineries reporting a bountiful crop.

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Balancing Heart Vineyard winemaker and viticulturist Mike Hayes said the ideal weather helped them produce one of the best vintages in nearly half a century.

"It's undoubtedly the vintage of the millennial and one of the best I've seen in the 43 years I've worked in Granite Belt vineyards," Mr Hayes said.

"We've had very cool weather, where it hasn't got above 33 degrees over summer and what that does is it slows ripeness down.

"The Granite Belt has come through the drought and the rains incredibly well and I think tourists will be in for a treat, not only with the 2021 wines, but in particular 2022 wines will be outstanding."

The better outlook, coupled with the lifting of some COVID restrictions, couldn't have come at a better time, with the region preparing for the Stanthorpe Apple and Grape Harvest Festival later this month.

"It's almost the culmination of this dreadful time we had," Mrs Sutton said.

"We've had some tough times, but we're enjoying this green environment we're in and we can go out and hopefully celebrate because we can manage our COVID situation better than we could have 12 months ago."

One of Queensland's longest running festivals, Stanthorpe Apple and Grape Harvest Festival is set to welcome more than 60,000 attendees from February 25 to March 6.

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Brandon Long

Brandon Long

Queensland Country Life journalist

Brandon Long is a Queensland Country Life journalist based in Toowoomba.

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