FAM­ILY WINE­MAK­ING THE ITAL­IAN WAY

Hav­ing a vi­sion for the fu­ture and not be­ing afraid of hard work was the for­mula that led the Miche­lini fam­ily to de­velop a thriv­ing wine busi­ness in the heart of Myrtle­ford.

North East Living Magazine - - Contents - words Anita Mcpher­son photos Marc Bongers

Hav­ing a vi­sion for the fu­ture and not be­ing afraid of hard work was the for­mula that led the Miche­lini fam­ily to de­velop a thriv­ing wine busi­ness in the heart of Myrtle­ford.

WHEN Emo Miche­lini left his par­ents in Italy and ar­rived in Aus­tralia with his wife Olga and young son Johnny in 1949, it was a world away from the war torn country he left behind.

He was only 25 years old and went straight to work at a small­go­ods fac­tory in Sydney, while also help­ing his brother Os­car in a fish and chip shop.

Af­ter a cou­ple of years, Emo’s un­cle in­vited him to come to a place called Myrtle­ford in the Alpine Val­ley, where there was money to be made in tobacco if you worked hard enough.

Emo and Olga lived sim­ply in an old tobacco kiln 10 miles out of town while they built a house, and hav­ing no car re­lied on a push­bike to get around.

Emo’s son Ilario said when the cou­ple’s first child be­came ill they re­lied on friends and rel­a­tives to help get them to Mel­bourne for treat­ment, but lit­tle Johnny passed away at the age of five.

“Peo­ple who think times are hard now – well, they’re not,” said Ilario.

“Our par­ents worked hard and they sac­ri­ficed a lot.”

Emo made a bit of money and went into a share farm­ing ven­ture, be­fore leas­ing his own plot and then even­tu­ally buy­ing a prop­erty on the site where Lake Buf­falo now stands.

He was there for eight year be­fore the farms in the area were bought out by govern­ment au­thor­i­ties to make way for the lake, and he suc­cess­fully bat­tled in court to se­cure the fam­ily a bet­ter deal.

That was over 50 years ago, and it was the im­pe­tus for Emo to buy a 40 hectare prop­erty in the Buck­land Val­ley, farm­ing tobacco there while set­tling Olga into a house he built in Myrtle­ford, where their sons Ilario and Dino and daugh­ter Loretta were to grow up.

Emo also turned his skills to part-time butch­ery, de­liv­er­ing meat to other Ital­ian fam­i­lies in the area.

Ilario re­mem­bers that as a child, Myrtle­ford was a thriv­ing and busy town filled with young Euro­pean mi­grants, who were work­ing hard on share farms where as many as 14 peo­ple could make a living.

The tobacco in­dus­try was boom­ing and with the fam­ily now set­tled, Emo’s ini­tial plan to re­turn to Italy was slowly be­ing re­placed by ideas he had for their fu­ture in Aus­tralia.

Hav­ing come from a tra­di­tional farm­ing fam­ily living in a grape grow­ing area in Italy’s north, where his fa­ther worked in the wine busi­ness, it seems Emo had wine mak­ing in his blood.

The fam­ily were mem­bers of a lo­cal com­mu­nity club shar­ing food, wine and mu­sic, Emo’s mother was a great cook, and he had de­vel­oped a pas­sion for good food and wine.

He re­alised that tobacco was not the only crop that would grow well in the Alpine Val­ley, and in the 1950s made the de­ci­sion to plant grapes and make wine for his fam­ily and friends.

Some 30 years later in the early eight­ies, a friend put Emo in touch with a con­tact at Or­lando Wines, who were look­ing for grow­ers in cooler cli­mates to supply fruit for their sparkling va­ri­eties. “Dad al­ways saw the po­ten­tial,” said Ilario. “Or­lando wanted to give us a trial of 10 acres, but dad said no, he wanted to plant the whole 50 acre pad­dock.

“They agreed - so he put in 25 acres of Pinot Noir and 25 acres of Chardon­nay for their new ‘Tril­ogy’ line.”

The re­la­tion­ship with Or­lando Wines, which tran­si­tioned into Or­lando Wyn­d­ham and then into Pernod Ri­card, was to con­tinue for 28 years.

But Ilario said his fa­ther was a vi­sion­ary who un­der­stood the va­garies of the in­dus­try and con­trac­tual risk, and in an ef­fort to “fu­ture-proof” his fam­ily, de­cided they should build their own win­ery.

They built the win­ery com­plex and a cel­lar door in the main street of Myrtle­ford to cap­i­talise on the high pro­file po­si­tion and grow­ing num­ber of tourists dis­cov­er­ing it was an at­trac­tive desti­na­tion.

“We wanted the cel­lar door to be two-storey in an Ital­ian style,” said Ilario.

“It’s part of our cul­ture and maybe in 100 years it will be iconic.”

Main­tain­ing a strong con­nec­tion with their her­itage is the rea­son why for the last five years the fam­ily have been the ma­jor spon­sor of the an­nual La Fiera fes­ti­val, cel­e­brat­ing the art and cul­ture of Italy.

The fes­ti­val held in May con­tin­ues to grow and now at­tracts around 2000 peo­ple each year who en­joy a week long pro­gram of ac­tiv­i­ties and events based around feast­ing and fam­ily fun.

The break away from Or­lando in­spired the fam­ily to re­struc­ture their busi­ness and take it in new di­rec­tions, find­ing a new place for the 600 tonnes of grapes they pro­duce each year from the Buck­land Val­ley vine­yard.

They be­gan by sell­ing fruit to other com­pa­nies, and still to­day pro­vide grapes to Do­maine Chan­don in the Yarra Val­ley for their sparkling, but they also started mak­ing their own wines in­clud­ing their pop­u­lar Devil’s Creek Mer­lot.

They also made the de­ci­sion to be­come self­suf­fi­cient by grow­ing small parcels of qual­ity Ital­ian va­ri­etals, like San­giovese, Bar­bera, Ver­mentino, Terold­ego and Marzemino, while also plan­ning to add Prosecco to the mix.

Mov­ing with the mar­ket and ex­tend­ing on their Ital­ian va­ri­etal col­lec­tion is all part of the plan, the fam­ily hav­ing en­gaged new wine­maker, Fed­erico Zagami, who hails from Italy’s Pied­mont re­gion.

Fed­erico’s first wines are ex­pected to be bot­tled and re­leased later this year and it’s some­thing Ilario’s par­tic­u­larly look­ing for­ward to, find­ing the va­ri­eties es­pe­cially en­joy­able to drink.

“That area of Italy is renowned for the San­giovese and Bar­bera – they’re iconic,” said Ilario.

“Fed­erico is very pas­sion­ate about Ital­ian va­ri­eties and he’s made them in the true Ital­ian style, so we’re very ex­cited about them.

“There’s just some­thing a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent about these wines - they’re so smooth to drink, and you can re­ally taste Italy in them.”

Ilario said he and his brother Dino make a great team, Ilario nat­u­rally drawn to­wards the man­age­ment and main­te­nance of plant and equip­ment, while Dino com­bines his busi­ness mind with a pas­sion for the vine­yard.

Their sis­ter Loretta is based in Mel­bourne but con­tin­ues to be in­volved in sales and mar­ket­ing of the wine range, which in­cludes the Miche­lini Wines pre­mium la­bel, along with Devil’s Creek and Demon Ridge se­lec­tions.

Hav­ing quite dis­tinct ar­eas of ex­per­tise and re­spon­si­bil­ity has helped make the fam­ily busi­ness suc­cess­ful, al­though they are not afraid to chal­lenge each other, just as they did when Emo, who passed away in 2006, was around.

“Dad may not have worked phys­i­cally in his last years, but he was al­ways here and re­mained a part of it right up un­til the end,” said Ilario.

“If there was a de­ci­sion to be made, you’d go to Dad and ask what he thought and he’d ei­ther say it was a good idea or ex­plain why he didn’t agree.

“One thing I’ve learnt in this life is to lis­ten to what peo­ple who are experienced in busi­ness have to say, and also that you can’t wait for the world to come to you - you’ve got to go out and get it.”

Next year the Miche­lini fam­ily will cel­e­brate the 20th an­niver­sary of the build­ing of its land­mark cel­lar door, with plans to com­mem­o­rate the mile­stone while spread­ing the word about their new prod­uct range to a wider au­di­ence.

Ilario said the fact they are con­tin­u­ing to ex­pand and de­velop the busi­ness and di­rect­ing their fo­cus on dis­tinc­tive Ital­ian va­ri­eties, is some­thing his fa­ther would have ap­proved of.

“Dad had a vi­sion, but he never ex­pected us to do what we did,” he said.

“I think he would have been pretty happy about it when he left this earth.

“Peo­ple in the wine busi­ness are proud of what they do and their achieve­ments, and when a cus­tomer is sat­is­fied with your prod­uct, it makes you happy.”

The La Fiera Ital­ian Fes­ti­val in Myrtle­ford will be held from May 16 to May 21 with a full pro­gram of events avail­able at www.lafiera.com.au.

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ITAL­IAN SPIRIT / Ilario and Dino Miche­lini ( left) are con­tin­u­ing to de­velop the fam­ily busi­ness started by their fa­ther, Emo Miche­lini ( pic­tured above).

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