April 4, 2022
One of the South Burnett’s oldest wineries will be closing in two weeks, putting an end to a business that has operated successfully for more than 25 years.
On Friday, Crane Wines owners Bernie and Judy Cooper announced they have sold their Booie Range property after a five-year search to find a new winemaker proved fruitless.
The new owners will use the property’s historic homestead as a family residence, and the winery’s cellar door and covered dining area will be converted into a home entertainment deck.
Bernie and Judy will be retiring to Toowoomba and plan to move there later this month.
Bernie told southburnett.com.au he was sad to leave the region and disappointed the couple had been unable to find a new winemaker to take over the business.
But after 16 years operating the winery the duo – both in their 70s – feel their retirement was well-earned.
During their time in the South Burnett the pair have been heavily involved in local community groups.
Bernie served as president of the South Burnett Tourism Association for several years in the mid-2010s, and also as president of the Wine & Food In The Park Festival committee.
The couple were both long-standing members of the old South Burnett Wine Industry Association and regular participants in SBWIA events.
They were also keen to promote regional cuisine and were one of the foundation suppliers for Taste South Burnett.
Bernie and Judy are now clearing out their remaining stock of red and white wines, ports and Booie Range Liqueurs to make their shift to the Garden City a bit less arduous.
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How The Wine Industry Went From Boom To Bust
by Dafyd Martindale
Crane Wines was established by South Burnett entrepreneur John Crane in 1996 and was one of the first wine-making businesses in the region.
Its establishment helped fuel a boom in wineries and cellar doors which exploded across the South Burnett in the late 1990s.
By 2001 there were about 10 wineries, cellar doors and wine grape vineyards in Kingaroy; five in Nanango; a further six in Moffatdale; and one in Wondai.
This rush to invest in the industry saw the South Burnett quickly assume the mantle of being the second-largest wine producing region in Queensland, next to the Granite Belt.
And as local winemakers came to grips with the region’s soils, weather and modern winemaking practices, the quality of local wines rapidly rose from “regrettable” to the point where they routinely won prestigious national and State awards year after year.
However, over the next two decades that peak of 22 wineries has since been steadily eroded down to just seven, and this will shrink to barely six when Crane Wines shuts its doors.
The spectacular decline of the region’s wine industry has been caused by a range of factors, most notably the “great Australian wine lake” of the late-2000s.
This was caused by over-production fuelled by unwise government subsidies for wine grape growers.
Their excess production flooded the market for more than a decade and significantly lowered wine prices and the profitability of winery operations.
The grape glut also made financial institutions reluctant to lend for winery-related developments, which in turn halted the flow of new entrants into the market.
In the South Burnett, this negative national environment was made worse by repeated droughts and floods over the past two decades.
It was also fuelled by a poorly planned State Government buyout of land in the Kunioon area for a coal mine in about 2007 which proved unnecessary but killed off several wineries and vineyards before the idea was abandoned.
A catastrophic two-year decline in the local tourism market in the early 2010s when the Blackbutt Range crossing was rebuilt spelled the end of another winery as well.
Ironically, the South Burnett is a very good grape-growing area with a particular strength in hot climate Mediterranean varieties such as Verdelho, Tempranillo and Barbera that grow poorly in cooler climes.
[UPDATED with correction]