Leanne hosts the wine tasting for patrons Mary and Zelda

Leanne hosts the wine tasting for patrons Mary and Zelda

by Victoria McGuin

A definite destination when visiting the Sunshine Coast Hinterland must be Flame Hill Vineyard. Driving in to the property, you are treated to an expansive view across undulating hills and a distant stretch of vivid blue ocean on the horizon. Victoria McGuin recently went to find out the secret behind the success of this stunning venue.

This is a place created for sensory pleasure – in particular your tastebuds! Flame Hill boasts award-winning wines, which are estate-grown, and fine food, which is uniquely paddock-to-plate, or locally sourced. (It smells mouth-wateringly good when I arrive and takes all my self- control not to suggest I sample a few dishes for review!)

I met Tony Thompson, who owns Flame Hill, a few years ago in this very spot, and it is good to catch up and hear how things are continually improving for this magical spot.

“We are more expansive with our grape varieties now,” Tony tells me. “We won a Gold in a national show with our Fiano (a white grape), and this year our Barbera won Gold at the Queensland Wine Awards.”

The awards side of the business has certainly kicked in, with more results due in a few weeks for other national shows. “We participate in the Australian Small Winemakers Show annually,” Tony continues.

“It’s a very competitive event with almost all Australian and New Zealand wineries eligible to participate.”

Tony’s enthusiasm for the humble grape is obvious. “We have a good selection of alternative varieties now, like Tempranillo, Montville Verdelho, Muscat and Pinot Gris. And we’re turning out 20,000 bottles a year from the Cellar Door, with an increase of 20% every year. People are really embracing our wines.”

Flame Hill’s main clients tend to be from Brisbane and the Gold Coast. “You see all different levels of sophistication and culture, which is great. I’ve noticed though that we generally attract couples, groups of couples and girl groups – it’s rarely groups of guys.”

Tony believes Flame Hill has business maturity now and the brand is well known. “People know what we are and what we do. And it’s good to go out there and always hear positives.”

The team work hard for their success, with a market garden, vineyard and cattle station all on site. There is even a staff member solely dedicated to growing produce for the kitchen. “We’re planting more orchards,” Tony says.

“On our other property on the Granite Belt, we are planting heirloom stone fruit… all the varieties that commercially and logistically the major supermarkets don’t want for various reasons. We know their value and flavour, so we will grow them.”

As we talk, I see some substantially-sized chickens roaming between the vineyards. “We use their eggs for our kitchen, grow our own herbs and vegetables, and our own grass-fed Angus beef.”

Tony feels that there is a great deal of false marketing these days impacting negatively on the wine and food industry.

“Virtual Wineries – no vineyard, no winery, only a sales point cellar door or restaurant purchasing product, in some cases interstate product, and sticking their label on the bottle.

“And too many businesses use ‘handmade’, ‘organic’, ‘local’, ‘grass-fed’’ – but is it? The community is often being conned and it’s not good enough. Not enough local businesses support local producers.

“The Edge in Montville has started stocking our wine, which is smart. Most choose to buy from outside the region based solely on price, rather than quality. Patrons visit our region to experience what is local and regional – not to have cheese from Victoria and wine from South Australia.”

The apparent false advertising that Tony sees on his travels is clearly a bone of contention, but he concludes with the belief, “You can be unique these days just by being authentic.”

Indeed, Flame Hill is something original on the Range. Where else can you experience a wine tasting, with locally-produced cheeses, have a picnic on the bluff, or savour handmade food perched on the terrace of a 300-acre cattle farm and vineyard?

However, Tony is not one to rest on his laurels. “I love this business! Hospitality is a hard gig, and the people are nomadic, so sometimes it is a challenge, but it is varied and interesting. We now have on site accommodation, so patrons can ‘wine, dine, play and stay’.

“Our core business is wine and the main vineyard at the Granite Belt takes up a lot of my attention, but we are creating something special here at Flame Hill Montville.

The next venture– a national quality art award, perhaps every second year – and of course Grape Stomp is powering ahead.”

For those who haven’t heard of Grape Stomp, this annual event is a combination of food, wine and live music, where everyone lets their hair down, and guests clamber in barrels to stomp the grapes with their bare feet!

“It’s happening on February 24. We can accommodate 500 people and we’ve already sold over 200 tickets. We’ve built a stage out front and that’s where Swing Central will play. I like the jazz and cabaret for this festival, it suits the atmosphere.”

As I leave, two groups are enjoying wine tasting at the bar, and people are arriving for lunch. I chat with some of them, a few are from New South Wales, one is from Tasmania, but the rest are Queenslanders.

A wine writer, Mike Benny, who was incredibly impressed with Flame Hill’s wines, once said to Tony, “Your problem is not getting people to drink your wine, it’s getting Queenslanders to drink your wine!”

I’m not sure if that is a problem any more.

For more information on Flame Hill and Grape Stomp, visit: www.flamehill.com.au