Angelo Puglisi: Granite Belt pioneer

Angelo Puglisi with Leeanne Puglisi-Gangemi (left) and Robyn Puglisi (right). Ballandean Estate

Granite Belt Feature Week

Angelo Puglisi of Ballandean Estate turned 80 earlier this year, but when the word retirement is uttered his daughter Robyn laughs heartily.

“He spends 90% of his day on the tractor,” she says.

“He’s just been in for morning tea. He’s out spraying this morning.”

Angelo and Mary Puglisi planted their first vines in 1968, on what is now called the Opera Block. This is also the brand name of several of their top wines.

Under Angelo Puglisi, Ballandean Estate has been a leader in establishing and promoting the Queensland wine industry.

Angelo Puglisi can look back on a successful career. Ballandean Estate is the biggest winery in the Granite Belt, and is a great success, with a 140-tonne annual crush from its 85 acres of vines (and some bought-in fruit from Sirromet), and the third generation of Puglisis now running the place in the form of Angelo’s two daughters Robyn and Leeanne and their respective spouses. According to Robyn , who is business services manager, Ballandean Estate sells 7-8,000 cases of wine a year direct—from cellar door or online. Another 2,000 cases go through the wholesale chain.

It’s a great business model. During COVID restrictions, when Queenslanders were banned from going interstate, the Granite Belt experienced a surge of tourist traffic that has not slowed since.

“We get 60-70,000 people a year through our cellar door. We had a restaurant here for about 30 years but now we have our Barrelroom experience—grazing platters, cheese boards and wine tasting. It’s more informal and like everything we do, it’s seven days a week.”

Robyn’s sister Leeanne Puglisi-Gangemi is customer services manager, and her husband Mario Gangemi is production manager, their son Steve also involved. The family counts four generations in the Granite Belt since 1932, and five generations of Puglisi winemakers in Queensland.

The Opera Block takes its name from the series of operas the Puglisis hosted in the vineyard for 27 consecutive years. The one-day event attracted 2,000 people a year at its peak, for lunch followed by a concert in the vineyard. In co-operation with the Rotary Club of Stanthorpe, these events raised AUD $1.4 million for medical causes.

“We were second in Australia to start a concert series,” says Angelo.

“I saw what Leeuwin Estate was doing, and I could see the potential in it. So we started a couple of years after them.”

All things have a time, though, and in 2019 the concerts ended. Ballandean Estate also hosted Grazing the Granite Belt, Stanthorpe Rocks, Jazz in the Vineyard, weddings, festivals and race days, says Robyn.

Under Angelo Puglisi, Ballandean Estate has been a leader in establishing and promoting the Queensland wine industry. A measure of the respect and regard in which the industry holds the man is the Angelo Puglisi Grand Champion Wine of Show trophy, which is awarded each year at the Royal Queensland Wine Awards for the best wine in the show.

Angelo has always been a proudly regional Granite Belt winemaker. During the drought years of 2016-22 he bought some grapes from down south, but:

“We only buy grapes when we have to. We didn’t buy in any grapes (from outside the Granite Belt) till the drought. But when you get smashed by drought or hail you have to do something. We lost 12,000 vines, mostly shiraz and cabernet, during the drought, despite carting water—75,000 litres a day from 70km away.”

Angelo is still working at 80 years.

“I’ve been trying to sack myself for years but it’s not working!”

So you’re not retiring?

“How do you slow down when you’ve been active all your life? I’m not interested in bowls, or fishing, or golf, or tennis. How do you slow yourself down? I love my vines, I talk to them every day. My back is ruined, I walk with a stick and I’m in pain when I stand but I can sit all day, so I sit on the tractor. This morning I’ve been spraying weedicide. You can’t just curl up and die.”

Talking about the beginning of his wine career:

“People laughed at me in the early days, they said ‘We only drink beer and only wogs drink wine’. But both of those people have sold their properties to people that make wine now, and now both of them drink wine!”

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