Last year the winemakers of the Granite Belt clubbed together to do something miraculous – turn wine into water.
In 2018 the area covered by the Southern Downs Regional Council, including the Granite Belt, was suffering a prolonged dry spell. It was a mark of the desperation of its rural and pastoral producers that Mayor Tracy Dobie welcomed a drought declaration in May 2018, saying it “will bring much needed relief to local producers suffering from dry conditions”.
In the year after the declaration, the rains didn’t come like they used to. In Stanthorpe, the town water supply, coming from the Storm King Dam, drew ever closer to running dry or ‘Day Zero’. The Government made plans to truck in water at public expense from Connolly Dam near Warwick.
In September 2019, the tinder-dry Granite Belt was hit by savage bushfires north of the town around the hamlet of Applethorpe. One resident described them as “like an atomic bomb going off”. While few vineyards were affected, it was yet another blow to the tight-knit community.
In October 2019, Golden Grove founder Sam Costanzo spoke to ABC Landline after the vineyard ran dry for the first time ever. “We’ve never run out of water here on Golden Grove,” he said “But you can never say never, can you?” The Costanzos took to buying water to keep their vines alive, rather than to produce a crop. At $20,000 a megalitre, trucked water
was a costly way to run a business, but the Costanzos felt they needed to protect their investment in the vineyard.
By 13 January 2020 Stanthorpe reached its Day Zero. The town stopped using the Storm King Dam and became completely reliant on the megalitre of water trucked in from Warwick each day.
Into this bleak setting, Golden Grove winemaker Ray Costanzo and 15 other
Granite Belt wineries stepped in with a project called Wine4Water. The initiative was “a not-for-profit alliance to raise muchneeded funds for another non-for-profit organisation, Granite Belt Drought Assist”.
The idea was simple; each winery would contribute bottles in stock for mixed sixpacks of wine to be sold at $150 each, with the profit of $45 per box going to drought assistance. Each winery sold the packs through their online shops and cellar doors. Delivery was provided for free by a local courier company. The alliance formed a Facebook page and went to work packing boxes, selling and sending wines all over Queensland. Ray Costanzo told the Stanthorpe Border Post: “The support, from not only our community, but out to Brisbane and all over the country has been fantastic.”
The Wine4Water project came to an end only five days before Day Zero for Stanthorpe, when Ray Costanzo handed over the final cheque, making a grand sum of $21,726, or nearly 500 mixed wine packs sold for drought relief. Granite Belt wineries had done their bit to ease the burden on their local communities and turn their wine into water.
But, the story does not end there. Rain started falling on 6 February 2020 in Stanthorpe and while locals were cautious, it was welcome relief. In fact so much rain started to fall that Accommodation Creek (where Golden Grove sources water for its vineyards) started to flow again and the Costanzos could post videos of their irrigation equipment being turned on for the first time in months. At the time of writing, Storm King Dam sat at 19.3% full with 398 megalitres – from empty to one-fifth full in a little over a month. The Granite Belt is not out of the woods yet, but just perhaps, wine did help to turn on the water.
Matt Dunn is Queensland Law Society General Manager, Policy, Public Affairs, and Governance.
This story was originally published in Proctor April 2020.