The Australian - Wish Magazine


De Bortoli just keeps getting better


Great wines do not come around in a day. Sometimes when everything is already in place – the vineyard, vintage and vine age – a single year will be enough, but for most vignerons it can take decades of effort and luck to finally reach their peak. And that is the story of the De Bortoli family.

In 1928, the De Bortolis purchased their first Australian vineyards. While World War II brought many new Australian­s who went on to plant vineyards, the De Bortolis are one of the few leading winemaking families of Italian heritage with almost 100 years of winemaking under their belt.

It started with Vittorio De Bortoli, who left his fiancée Giuseppina behind in Italy while he forged a career in the Riverina after his arrival in 1924. He worked hard to save for his own place, making the most of the agricultur­al skills he had developed in northern Italy. He worked on local farms, scrimping and saving, and living under a water tank. He even brought seeds from Italy to plant a vegetable patch that he fed himself from before buying a mixed fruit farm.

As luck would have it, at the same time there was a glut of shiraz fruit in the Riverina. Vittorio picked up 15 tonnes of it for free and crushed it to make his first wine. The De Bortoli family had their start in the wine trade.

There was very little demand for wine in Australia at the time – beer was the only choice for many, with wine regarded as nothing more than a foreign drink, enjoyed by these strange new immigrants. Luckily, in the Riverina there were plenty of thirsty new Australian­s keen to enjoy a taste of the old country, even if it was shiraz rather than sangiovese or montepulci­ano. And that immigrant thirst was a vital piece of the nation’s future embrace of wine as the national drink.

De Bortoli began supplying wine locally, but soon had eyes on the flood of new migrants in Sydney and Melbourne with tastes more sophistica­ted than for the local draught beer. Shipments started with train carriages full of wine heading to Sydney and Queensland.

The expansion of De Bortoli wines accelerate­d after World War II. Vittorio’s son Deen left school early to work in the winery and De Bortoli was well placed to take advantage of Australia’s growing love affair with wine in the seventies. At the time the company was focused on everyday wines but it began to turn its attention to the premium market. The first major step came with the creation of the 1982 De Bortoli Noble One Botrytis Semillon. This was a groundbrea­king dessert wine, showcasing a wine style that wowed critics internatio­nally and was another example of an Australian wine that could be a world beater.

Another big step for the family occurred with the 1987 purchase of a property in the Yarra Valley by Vittorio’s granddaugh­ter, Leanne, and winemaker Steve Webber. It was a visionary choice, making the move toward coolclimat­e winemaking long before many had even considered the local opportunit­y for elegant Australian wines. In 2016 they added to that with the purchase of the Lusatia Park vineyard in the Yarra, with its unique mix of basalt and ironlaced soils. De Bortoli had already been crafting wines from the property, with some stunning results, and many of its best to date were released under the Phi and Riorret labels.

But De Bortoli have really reached for the stars with the release of their new ultrapremi­um chardonnay and pinot noir, both simply named Lusatia, made from only the best blocks on the Lusatia Park vineyard.

These wines are the culminatio­n of all that De Bortoli and Steve Webber have learned over years working in the Yarra and mark a new high point. Crafted 90 years after the first De Bortoli wines, and far away from their family home in the Riverina, the wines are a fitting tribute to the hard graft that started with Vittorio and Giuseppina.

The Lusatia Chardonnay is a wine that will be hard to top in Australia this year, with its combinatio­n of complexity, purity and focus. The Lusatia Pinot Noir is not far behind, with its delicious savoury, multilayer­ed personalit­y and potential.

 ?? Photo: Nick Cubbin ??
Photo: Nick Cubbin

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