EARLY DAYS: Angelo Puglisi circa 1962.
EARLY DAYS: Angelo Puglisi circa 1962.

Family philosophy a technique worth bottling

WHEN you are a 70-year-old wine grower you could be forgiven for taking off your boots and savouring a long swig or two.

Not so for the godfather of the Queensland wine industry, Angelo Puglisi.

The affectionately-labelled patriarch from the Granite Belt jokes about being "semi-retired"

Yet in translation this hard working local means he has cut back to 12 hour days, seven days a week.

What drives him is a passion and belief in an industry he has played a critical part in developing.

The production of small volume, award-winning wines that are estate grown is our family philosophy and, to this end, each member of our family takes responsibility for their own role in the business.

He also has a life-long love affair with the Stanthorpe region his clan have called home since arriving from Italy just after the turn of the century.

GODFATHER OF WINE SECTOR: At 70 Angelo Puglisi has cut back his workload, these days he just does 12 hours a day, seven days.
GODFATHER OF WINE SECTOR: At 70 Angelo Puglisi has cut back his workload, these days he just does 12 hours a day, seven days. Contributed

When asked about what keeps Mr Puglisi motivated and enthusiastic about Granite Belt wine growing, at an age when many would be putting down the secateurs, he laughed.

"Probably the fact the area has grown and continues to surprise, despite the knockers over the years," he said.

"People keep saying the Granite Belt is burgeoning; well we have been burgeoning for a bloody long time."

Considered something of a maverick, Mr Puglisi has long endured the criticism and doubt of those in both horticulture and the wine business.

"I have been told many times, that 'you can't do that' or 'you shouldn't grow this', but we did anyway and the region has continued to be successful."

He jokes that too often his motivation, when told particular things wouldn't grow on the Granite Belt, was to prove his critics wrong.

Framed proof today lines

the walls of the family home and cellar door business: From his first award - a Churchill Fellowship to study wine making in Europe in 1977 - to being named Queensland Wine's most significant contributor and then dining with Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh in Brisbane in 2011.

While the accolades might have arrived hard and fast during the past decade the truth is this iconic vineyard's roots go back to the 1930s.

It all started with the arrival of Salvatore Cardillo, who came from Italy with his family and settled on the Granite Belt.

He planted some table grapes in 1930 and started making red wine, which he sold locally.

In 1941 when his son-in-law Alfio Puglisi took over the farm he continued the practice of wine-making for the Stanthorpe market.

Then when Angelo and Mary Puglisi took over the property from Angelo's parents in 1968 they believed there was potential for a new industry in the area and made the quantum decision to try making wine commercially.

Angelo was 25 and an innovator, who believed in trying different approaches to farming to find something specifically suited to the distinct Stanthorpe climate of low humidity, bracing winters and occasional snow all at some 840m above sea level.

So his bold, maverick decision to venture into wine meant replacing the table grapes in the vineyard with several varieties of wine grapes, which were some of the first to be grown on the Granite Belt.

In 1970 the Puglisis opened the first cellar door in the region.

Their success continued with the operation trading as Sundown Valley Vineyards until 1988 when they renamed their operation Ballandean Estates.

Today they have 44 hectares (110 acres) under grapes and produce 350 tonnes a year of grapes including Viogner, Sylvaner, Durif and Saperavi varieties.

In keeping up with advances in technology, their production facilities have also been upgraded but the state-of-the-art on-farm plant is balanced by the use of the oldest wine barrels in Queensland.

The 140-year-old relics these days hold ageing Liqueur Muscat and port in what was once the family's on-farm cafe, but is now an award winning restaurant called the Barrelroom Cafe, which is leased to outside operators.

Despite Mr Puglisi's dream of producing commercial wine, he has always stayed true to a belief in the value and distinctness of small volumes of quality product.

He believes the success of Ballandean Estates is reflective of the art of wine-making itself: successfully blending four generations of experience with modern wine making methods.

"The production of small volume, award-winning wines that are estate grown is our family philosophy and, to this end, each member of our family takes responsibility for their own role in the business," Mr Puglisi said.

This serious attention to detail is why, at 70, this remarkable farmer is still out in the paddock tending to the vines at the core of the family operation.

His wife ,Mary, too continues to have a hands-on role, while the couple's two daughters Leeanne Gangemi and Robyn Henderson handle cellar door sales, finances and marketing.

"Mario Gangemi is our production manager taking care of the process from grapes to bottle," he said.

"While winemaker Dylan Rhymer has been at the helm since 2001 and has consistently created some of the most popular and recognised wines from the Granite Belt.

"His determination is to get the best wines from the grapes he is presented with and this has seen him win many awards for the estate as well as for his personal efforts."

What started as a little vineyard producing wine for the locals is now a nationally recognised brand - with Ballandean Estates wine on the tables at premier restaurants like the Aria in Sydney and Brisbane and Melbourne's Vue du Monde.

"We are committed to building a successful business, increasing awareness of the industry and promoting the region by organising events that attract large numbers of tourists and encourage them to return again and again," Mr Puglisi said.

FAMILY BUSINESS: Maria with Alfio and Maria’s daughters Nancy and Connie.
FAMILY BUSINESS: Maria with Alfio and Maria’s daughters Nancy and Connie.


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