Mary Puglisi (back) receives a hug of support.
Mary Puglisi (back) receives a hug of support.

Winemakers vow to bounce back

STANDING outside the fire-ravaged wine shed at Ballandean Estate, with smoke billowing out, two men embrace in a heartfelt hug.

Owner Angelo Puglisi fought back tears as he told his employee Illie Chifiruic, the man who raised the alarm about the winery fire, he was the "best worker" he'd ever had.

Fire swept through the wine storage shed of the Granite Belt's most established winery about 3am this morning, causing what is thought to be $2 million worth of stock damage.

Early investigations indicate the fire started from a tractor, which was parked alongside the temperature-controlled shed under a carport.

It is believed once the machine caught fire, it rolled into the shed after the brakes let go, spreading the fire into the timber bins storing the wine bottles.

Mr Chifiruic, who is a neighbour to the Puglisis and has trouble sleeping past 3am, was the first to call for help after he heard the sound of wine bottles exploding.

It is believed he ran to the shed in his pyjamas after he saw it alight, but found he didn't have any mobile phone service to call 000 services to the scene. Instead, he woke up Angelo's son-in-law to raise the alarm.

A Queensland Fire and Rescue spokesperson said the fire was brought under control about 5.15am after five crews arrived at the scene about 3.40am.

Angelo and his wife Mary had to dash back to their winery from the coast early this morning, after learning of the awful news.

They arrived at the scene about 7am yesterday to discover 70% of their stock had been destroyed in the fire.

Angelo struggled to hold back tears when he was taken to the place where the fire was believed to have started.

Random bottles of wine could be heard exploding inside the shed while a QFRS member asked details about what was kept inside.

Chef Matt Wells, who leases out the winery's restaurant to run The Barrel Room Cafe, served up tea and coffee for the scores of police officers and fire crew on the scene, trying to piece together exactly what led to the blaze.

While the family struggled to come to terms with their loss, they remained remarkably brave, telling people all that mattered was that "no-one was hurt".

"We can start again," Mary was reported to have said yesterday.

Mary's daughter Leeanne Puglisi-Gangemi said today was a "difficult day".

"We had so many of our special vintage and iconic wines in the cellar and we won't get them back, but our family is very resilient and we have experienced losses before and we will be fine," she said.

Mrs Puglisi-Gangemi said Ballandean Estate would soon be in full production.


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