Article by: Hari Yellina
The Stanthorpe Apple and Grape Harvest Festival in Queensland has once again demonstrated the importance of the town’s fruit-growing tradition. From February 25 to March 6, large crowds flocked to the town for a ‘grape time,’ participating in events such as the grape crushing championships, the longest apple peeling championships, the food and wine fiesta, and the apple and grape gala ball. A street parade, open gardens, marketplaces, street carnivals, apple orchard open days, busking competitions, paddock to piazza chef demos, and an Italian long lunch were also part of the festivities. The festival, which has been “crushing it” since 1966, has previously overcome challenges such as drought, bushfires, and COVID-19, and organisers were overjoyed to see the crowds turn out despite the tumultuous week leading up to the event.
The Grape Crushing Championships were the culmination of Stanthorpe’s 10-day harvest festival, which saw enormous crowds come on the town, putting to rest fears that flooding in other parts of South East Queensland might put the event on hold. “We couldn’t be more pleased with the turnout, and it’s been an incredible event,” said festival president Russell Wantling. “It looked like it was going to rain on our parade a few days ago, but it’s been clear skies, sunshine, and joyous festival times for everyone.” The festival, which has been “busting it” since 1966, has already demonstrated its crowd-pulling prowess over drought, bushfires, and Covid-19, and organisers were overjoyed that guests ‘flooded in’ to the town despite the turbulent week leading up to it.
Greg Ritchie, or “Fat Cat,” the newly anointed 2022 Grape Crushing Champion, joined the pilgrims to Stanthorpe on a pilgrimage back to his hometown. Greg returned to winning form, beating his other grape stomping competitors Kim McCosker of 4 Ingredients Australia, Aaron Winter of House Rules 2017 and festival president Russell Wantling to make grape juice in record time. Despite having 43 years of experience in the wine industry, famous winemaker Mike Hayes of Balancing Heart Vineyard was unable to defeat Ritchie. As is customary, the Celebrity Grape Crushing Championships finished in a riot of grape tossing antics, and the assembled crowds took a few steps back in anticipation.
Federal agriculture minister David Littleproud, who won the Politicians and Media Grape Crushing Championships against local Southern Downs Regional Council mayor Victor Pennesi, was also a winner in the race for the fastest grape stomping foot. Longest Apple Peeling Champion, Kerrie Stratford’s victory made festival history, extending her winning record to an astonishing 20 years as reigning Apple Peeling Champion. All of Queensland’s apple harvest is grown at Stanthorpe, which festival goers sampled at the event’s Apple Day before heading out to see local orchards. The Festival Young Ambassadors broke yet another record by raising more than $101,000 for the festival, demonstrating how seriously the Stanthorpe community takes the event.
Jordan Cassidy was named Festival Ambassador, along with Fundraising Ambassador Rachelle Todd and Ben Green, who received the Ambassador’s Choice Award from his fellow Ambassadors. Tourists at the Queensland Country Bank Food and Wine Fiesta raised their glasses to the sunshine and good times, with wines flowing freely from 14 Granite Belt vineyards, joined by local breweries and apple cider makers, offering visitors a flavour of the region. The Channel 7 Street Parade, Open Gardens, Markets, Street Carnivals, Apple Orchard Open Days, Busking Championships, Paddock to Piazza Chef Demonstrations, and an Italian Long Lunch were among the highlights of the festival, which lasted ten days and included the Channel 7 Street Parade, Open Gardens, Markets, Street Carnivals, Apple Orchard Open Days, Busking Championships, Paddock to Piazza Chef Demonstrations, and an Italian Long Lunch.