With an eye for clean de­sign, func­tion­al­ity and at­ten­tion to ev­ery de­tail, Jo and Arnie Pizzini have turned their long-held vi­sion for a cel­lar door cap­tur­ing views of the up­per King Val­ley, into a re­al­ity.

North East Living Magazine - - Contents - words Anita Mcpher­son pho­tos Luke Plum­mer

Jo and Arnie Pizzini have turned their longheld vi­sion for a cel­lar door cap­tur­ing views of the up­per King Val­ley, into a re­al­ity.

CLOUDS are rolling in over the hills into the Up­per King Val­ley and from the bal­cony at the cel­lar door of Chris­mont, it feels like you could just about reach out and touch them.

The strik­ing hor­i­zon­tal struc­ture with its ex­panse of win­dows can be seen clearly as you wind your way up the drive­way past the patch­work rows of vines where grape va­ri­eties in­clud­ing prosecco, arneis and san­giovese grow.

It’s an al­most mon­u­men­tal state­ment in this rel­a­tively ru­ral wine re­gion, which un­til re­cently had been home to more hum­ble cel­lar doors; of­ten sim­ply ex­ten­sions of the fam­ily home.

And that’s ex­actly how it be­gan when Arnie Pizzini bought the Cheshunt cat­tle farm around 25 years ago where he es­tab­lished a new vine­yard.

He didn’t start mak­ing wine un­til 1996 and the first cel­lar door opened for Easter in 2000 in an old garage be­low the house he still shares with wife Jo and their nine-year-old daugh­ter, Sofia.

Jo said the cou­ple al­ways con­sid­ered the garage cel­lar door a tem­po­rary ar­range­ment – a way to get started – un­til the time was right to ex­pand their op­er­a­tion.

They be­gan by test­ing the wa­ters and open­ing a cel­lar door in nearby Mi­lawa, con­sid­er­ing how they might in­clude a restau­rant space there, but Jo said there was no site that of­fered the spec­tac­u­lar views of their own prop­erty.

“It got to the stage where you are ei­ther con­tent with where you are, put the whole place on the mar­ket and go and do some­thing else, or in­vest to add on ex­pe­ri­ences to your core brand and get more peo­ple on site,” she said.

“After do­ing the ex­er­cise and weigh­ing ev­ery­thing up, it made sense to do it here.”

The vi­sion for the new cel­lar door had been brew­ing for some time in the imag­i­na­tion of both Jo and Arnie, who were on the same page right from the start.

The el­e­vated site cho­sen could have been the lo­ca­tion of a new home, but the cou­ple de­cided they would rather be able to en­joy the spec­tac­u­lar views with their guests dur­ing their work­ing day than re­tire to it in the dark of night.

The vi­sion came to fruition after a chance meet­ing with a cou­ple from Torquay stay­ing in their on-site guest house ac­com­mo­da­tion five years ago, who turned out to be de­sign­ers and builders of homes in the style they en­vis­aged.

The ma­te­ri­als would in­clude pol­ished con­crete, tim­ber, lo­cally sourced stone and most im­por­tantly, lots of glass.

Jo said as some­one who grew up on a to­bacco farm sur­rounded by kilns and cor­ru­gated iron, she was ready to leave the past be­hind and take a bold new di­rec­tion.

“We are all about the view up here, so it needed to be min­i­mal and have clean lines,” she said.

“We didn’t want to in­ter­fere with what the view had to of­fer.”

Be­fore the cou­ple left, she asked them for a busi­ness card, and after a few weeks’ con­sid­er­a­tion ap­proached Mark Glee­son of MG De­sign and Build­ing about whether he was in­ter­ested in de­sign­ing their dream com­mer­cial premises.

A painstak­ingly thor­ough process fol­lowed over the next 12 months, in­volv­ing tour­ing a num­ber of com­pleted prop­er­ties, meet­ing the own­ers and dis­cussing their spe­cific re­quire­ments.

The struc­ture of close to 1000 square me­tres with a 40 me­tre long bal­cony needed to in­cor­po­rate a cel­lar door and restau­rant with guest ameni­ties, of­fice space, ware­hous­ing and a com­mer­cial kitchen.

“It also needed spa­ces that re­ally worked well for us – and they do – al­low­ing us to seat 150 peo­ple at full ca­pac­ity, in­clud­ing wed­ding cel­e­bra­tions, but to also host smaller, more in­ti­mate af­fairs,” Jo said.

“It was ‘a given’ that it needed a bal­cony, and the out­door din­ing has been re­ally pop­u­lar in the warmer months.

“We love peo­ple, and we love food and wine, and we’re mak­ing so many wine va­ri­eties that are food friendly - so it’s great that we can now show­case them with a se­lec­tion of fresh, sim­ple, sea­sonal dishes.”

Jo said de­spite be­ing warned by many that build­ing can be a night­mare, she found the en­tire process a plea­sure, and is pleased to have been able to in­volve many lo­cal trades­peo­ple and busi­nesses. >>

"It was 'a given' that it needed a bal­cony, and the out­door din­ing has been re­ally pop­u­lar in the warmer months." - Jopizzini

>> The qual­ity and ob­vi­ous at­ten­tion to de­tail has not gone un­no­ticed by vis­i­tors and it’s some­thing Jo at­tributes to their care­ful and con­sid­ered choice of part­ners, from the builder Steve Graves of Bright Alpine Builders, to the cabi­net mak­ers, painters, tilers and ar­ti­san stone ma­son. “We re­ally had the dream team,” she said. “Ev­ery­thing you see and even the things you can’t see are the work of the tal­ented lo­cal peo­ple in­volved in the build, who we man­aged to keep busy for 12 months.”

The idea was to cre­ate a time­less struc­ture that would hold its own in decades to come, which nes­tled into the landscape and not only framed the spec­tac­u­lar val­ley view but brought it in­side through ex­pan­sive dou­ble-glazed win­dows.

Jo said the build was en­joy­able to be a part of, and the com­pleted build­ing ex­ceeded all their ex­pec­ta­tions.

“The se­cret to suc­cess is to be re­ally on the same page from start to fin­ish, to have clear, con­cise and open com­mu­ni­ca­tions at all times, and to be re­ally con­tent with your plans,” she said.

“The de­ci­sion (to do this) wasn’t made lightly – we put a lot of thought and time into this be­cause we are here for the long term.”

While the build is es­sen­tially com­plete, there are plans for ad­di­tional land­scap­ing works and to freshen up the older build­ings on the prop­erty, even­tu­ally ex­tend­ing the ac­com­mo­da­tion for guests and of­fice space as Chris­mont grows.

The new cel­lar door will soon cel­e­brate its first birth­day and it will give Jo and Arnie an op­por­tu­nity to re­flect on a full 12 months of op­er­a­tion.

They say right from the start they were blown away by the lo­cal sup­port they re­ceived, with many of their vis­i­tors com­ing from Wan­garatta, Be­nalla, Mans­field, Al­bury/wodonga and Shep­par­ton.

A for­mer teacher, Jo is in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked to the food of­fer­ing in the restau­rant – her cousin Gio­vanna Jones is in the kitchen cre­at­ing un­apolo­get­i­cally un­com­pli­cated dishes in­spired by their south­ern Ital­ian her­itage, with the odd nod to Arnie’s north­ern Ital­ian back­ground.

While as a child, Jo may have wished for a veg­emite sand­wich, she said her lunch­box usu­ally con­tained Panini with egg­plant parmi­giana, home­made salami, Ital­ian cheese and in the win­ter­time, pasta or mine­strone.

“We were blessed to grow up in house­holds where Si­cil­ian cui­sine was served ev­ery day and look­ing back now, we were the lucky ones,” she laughs.

“Be­tween us we are ex­tract­ing many fan­tas­tic recipes from our moth­ers – they don’t have any­thing writ­ten down – so we are try­ing to be a lit­tle more pre­cise, col­lat­ing dishes and de­vel­op­ing the menu from sea­son to sea­son.”

There is also a “work in progress” larder stock­ing the fam­ily’s pre­served and pick­led pro­duce like egg­plant and zuc­chini, marmel­lata and olives, which have proved to be a pop­u­lar menu item.

“We’re try­ing to ex­tend the larder where we can, so peo­ple can take them home and en­joy with fam­ily and friends,” said Jo.

“The feed­back we’re get­ting is that peo­ple like the fresh­ness and sim­plic­ity – which isn’t over­worked and which fol­lows the sea­sons – and we’re bring­ing a lot of the won­der­ful recipes we en­joyed grow­ing up.”

The menu is likely to in­clude Si­cil­ian chicken with golden raisins and pinenuts, which might be en­joyed with Arnie’s La Zona Pinot Gri­gio or Pinot Gris, or slow cooked beef cheeks with smoked herb mashed potato matched with a savoury, medium bod­ied red from their La Zona range like Tem­pranillo, Bar­bera or San­giovese.

Wine matches are sug­ges­tions only; the cou­ple be­liev­ing guests should feel free to be led by their own palates and choose what­ever they like, while the free flow­ing space be­tween din­ing ar­eas and the cel­lar door mean din­ers can taste be­fore, after or be­tween cour­ses.

Guests are also mak­ing the most of the on­site ac­com­mo­da­tion, shar­ing lunch in the restau­rant be­fore ex­plor­ing the many other at­trac­tions the re­gion has to of­fer.

Jo said it was im­por­tant for the cou­ple to be hands on and work­ing side by side with their staff, and she said over the months a “beau­ti­ful team” has emerged be­hind the scenes and at the front of house.

She said it has also been great to hear that other busi­nesses in the val­ley have been get­ting busier since they opened – some­thing that they sus­pected would hap­pen – as new at­trac­tions com­ple­ment each other and draw more vis­i­tors in.

“We’re en­joy­ing the jour­ney and it gives us con­fi­dence mov­ing for­ward as a busi­ness and as a re­gion, that the next five to ten years up this way are go­ing to be ex­cit­ing times,” Jo said.

It seems the stars have truly aligned for the cou­ple who, along with wine­maker War­ren Proft, have cel­e­brated two of their best vin­tages in suc­ces­sion in 2015 and 2016.

The pop­u­lar­ity of the re­gion’s Ital­ian va­ri­etals also con­tin­ues to gain mo­men­tum, and Chris­mont will re­lease a Fiano to their La Zona range in spring.

Like its Sa­grantino, Arnie said it will be a limited edi­tion and only avail­able from the cel­lar door, which will give vis­i­tors another rea­son to visit, to taste and to stay and watch the clouds roll in.

“Some­times we take it for granted, but then you come up here on a day like to­day and watch as the sun comes out from be­hind the clouds,” he said.

“The view is al­ways chang­ing – and I tell you what, at any time of year it can be pretty spe­cial.”

"We love peo­ple, and we love food and wine, and we're mak­ing so many wine va­ri­eties that are food friendly - so it's great that we can now show­case them with a se­lec­tion of fresh, sim­ple, sea­sonal dishes." - Jopizzini

OUT­LOOK / The new cel­lar door floats above the landscape with win­dows that cap­ture the chang­ing sea­sons.

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