Talk to any wine enthusiast about Australian Prosecco and immediately the conversation turns to Victoria’s King Valley wine region. Nestled in Victoria’s High Country it is now our most prominent region for Italian varietals. Prosecco, Arneis, Pinot Grigio, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo & many others have a home here and produce stunning wines.
The region’s wine industry marketing tagline is ‘the Italian Spirit’. So how did the region get it’s Italian flavour?
Brown Brothers pioneered grape growing in the King Valley region as early as 1860, but it wasn’t until much later that the first Italian varietals arrived.
Despair becomes hope and a new life in Australia for Italian migrants
Following World War Two, unrest and political instability in Europe caused people to flee their home countries looking for safety and better economies. Many of the Italian immigrants arriving in Melbourne were looking to work in the Snowy Mountains Scheme, the largest hydroelectricity engineering project at the time. Some of the early immigrants also found work growing tobacco in the fertile soils of the King Valley. Life was good for a while. Safety, freedom and a steady income from tobacco sales were celebrated alongside the local Brown Brothers wines. A decline in tobacco demand, thanks to government quotas introduced in the 1970s, forced the local farmers to diversify.
Encouraged by Brown Brothers’ success at making delicious wines in King Valley, branching out into growing grapes was an easy fit for the local farmers. Early vine plantings – outside of Brown Brothers’s vineyards – include Riesling, Chardonnay, Merlot, Malbec & Shiraz. Successful vintages and the high quality of the fruit made the growers courageous enough to try making and bottling their own wines. In the 1980s and 90s, new wine labels such as Pizzini, Dal Zotto and Sam Miranda amongst others added to the diversity of the King Valley.
Joel Pizzini, winemaker at Pizzini Wines, talks about his family heritage and the strong Italian influence in the King Valley.
The old country inspires a new generation of Australian wine innovation
The varied terrain, altitudes and soil types gave courage to these vignerons to experiment with alternative varietals. The King Valley countryside reminded many of the regions in Italy they had come from. Plus they had a sentimental longing for the Italian wine varieties from these regions. This caused the focus to shift away from commonly grown varietals to the ones known from home. The late 1980s and early 1990s saw the arrival of Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Pinot Grigio, Prosecco, Verduzzo and many more.
By 1998 Brown Brothers launched the first Moscato in the Australian market; it firmly enforced Brown Brothers & the King Valley region as a leader in Italian varietal development.
Christian Dal Zotto, Branding and Marketing Manager at Dal Zotto Wines, talks about the evolution to Italian wine varieties in their family vineyards.
The future's bright for King Valley and Italian varieties in Australia
Moscato was followed by other first releases, Nero d’Avola in 2006 for example, and Prosecco in 2009. Today Prosecco is the plough-horse for marketing of the wine region. A bespoke King Valley Prosecco bottle and the ‘King Valley Prosecco Road’ tourism program, are all helping to firmly cement the King Valley’s place on the wine map of Australia.
Looking ahead, varietals like Barbera or Nebbiolo, which benefit from patience, older vines and a little more skill in handling, are starting to come into their own. There are exciting times on the horizon for the King Valley.
Author: Tanja Malone - General Manager, Bucci Restaurant
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