In a region you wouldn’t expect to be appropriate for anything but pawpaw and mango orchards, Marianne Lethbridge and her husband Edward Murray are growing grapes. In the sub-tropical area of Australia in a place called Vintner’s Secret Vineyard in central Queensland next to a town called Childers, they have even won gold medals for their Verdelho. Marianne explains: “I acknowledge that it is unusual. People are surprised. However, it is a perfect place to have some wines. Our land is higher up, 250 m above sea level. The vineyard is planted on a stony granite soil, on a slope. Some grapes are just meant for this landscape and these weather conditions, like Verdelho”.
This specific variety is grown in the quite hot landscape of Spain and Portugal. The typically warmth-loving Shiraz, Cabernet and Marsanne also thrive in this specific area of Queensland. There are actually four vineyards in this green pocket. The region was known for its sugar cane fields. But now it has become a place to grow all kinds of fruits. This is the biggest region in Australia where avocados and macadamia nuts are produced. Thus, the nickname of the place is “the fruit bowl”.
It is as much about wine on this property as about art and outdoor entertainment. At Vintners’ Secret Vineyard, visitors find a coffee shop, cheese plates, cakes and art to enjoy. Marianne is very involved in the local art festival named “Crush”, to pay tribute to the time when sugar cane was actually crushed there. An outdoor sculpture collection planted amidst flowers testifies to this interest. The festival is held in October, the busiest time of the year in the nearby picturesque town of Childers. At that time, Marianne and Edward contribute to the event with “artist in residence”, a popular activity. An artist is invited to their place to give public workshops. “Next October we will host Henry Col, he is quite famous and his wife is an artist. We also have musical concerts once a month. This is the life I love. It is interesting, challenging.”
Marianne speaks with this caring and enthusiastic voice that makes one feel comfortable and at ease. Half retired, she still works as a teacher in a high school. Edward used to teach auto electronics and engineering.
Both longed for a retreat haven in the country. “But I didn’t want to sit and wait. We wanted to do organic farming.” During one of their journeys between Brisbane and Cairns, they found the place, by accident, she says. The green valley, the charming surroundings caught their eye and they bought the property in 2008. Not so long ago, but the vineyard had been planted by the former owner. “And people knocked at our door to buy wine. So that is how the whole story started.” Then of course, they got involved in more projects than what they first expected.