Popping the cork with winemakers in the King Valley.


La Dolce Vita Prosecco Festival was a hit. It was a buzz of enthusiasts with a quest to learn more about wines and quite a few that simply wanted to sample them and enjoy the laid back atmosphere at all the wineries, or sway to bands that pumped out fun  tunes. A line up of my favourite Prosecco’s & ‘Sticky’s’ from the festival are pictured below:

My husband accompanied me for a few days in this spectacular valley fit for kings. Our four day adventure took us to Beechworth where we stayed at a high-end French Provincial styled boutique hotel called Albertines where we were treated to superb hospitality by the owners Guz & his Polish wife Orgie. We luxuriated in our spa room and loved the diverse menu with the infusion of Polish delights such as Perogies. Their rose gardens were spectacular and the giant artichokes in the herb garden a must see; nothing was too much trouble for this dynamic duo.

The Festival offered a transport service from the town you are staying in to Moyhu where you select to board A, B or C bus which will take you around your selected winery route for the day. You can jump on and jump on — day 1 the buses didn’t keep strictly to the timetable but day 2 ran a little more smoothly.

Day 1 – Friday first stop Brown Brothers where we did a tasting course and we were shown around their premises by a retired winemaker who took us behind the scenes on a tasting tour visiting the huge vats where we learnt all the processes that they use to create some very drinkable wines for local consumption and export. It was interesting learning that the markers is caused from the skins and pips leftovers which were originally gifted back to the farmers for feeding their cattle, then they were used out in the vineyard as a mulch and later used to get the last drops of alcohol out of them they were reconstituted and they would buy back the alcohol and put into hay bales for cattle fodder again (a mixture of hay and mark). Currently the process sees this goes back into the vineyard as a mulch, so there has been a very varied process over the years. My tasting picks were the: Prosecco, Cabenet Sauvignon and their Orange Muscat.

We rolled up our sleeves for a course in wine blending at Brown Brothers on the Friday it was amazing to learn that my husband and I have a similar ‘joie de vivre’ for big reds and we blended and bottled exactly the same 10% Merlot (necessary to soften the tannins out and any richness you don’t want), 30% and Cabernet Sauvignon 60%. We had personalised labels produced for our bottles and they were professionally sealed with nitrogen. — I highly recommend this experience which was a fabulous insight into how the winemakers blend.

In the evening back in Beechworth we visited a very buzzy wine/tapas bar aptly called The Press Room. They really know their stuff and recommended one of the most surprising finds a wonderful Pinot Noir from Pennyweight – not a cheap Pinot but a wonderful investment to your well-being!

Day 2 – Saturday at 9am we boarded our transport and set-off for Moyhu where we checked in and obtained our entry wrist bands for the two days and boarded shuttle B where we visited Dal Zotto – I initially met with Otto Dal Zotto a gracious man who not only loves his wines he is passionate about his pork roasting on a spit – sadly his famous pork rolls were to be ready only at 5:30pm — perhaps another year. I met with several generations of his family who were doing everything from looking after the Prosecco, and other wine tastings to all aspects of the winery. David the Marketing Manager and Michael the Manager. Their Rose Prosecco was superb and the Barbera outstanding.

Our lunch stop was at Pizzini wines — they have a barn set-up and we did feel a little like cattle being herded to obtain our pasta and salad purchases but the corale worked and the food was superb. They had a few options for music through the course of the day which was enjoyed by many even though the heavens kept trying to pour.  Thankfully I had a picnic blanket as all the chairs were in use — the wall made a great picnic site with the picnic rug laid which was a great option for eating our lunch. I managed to interview Joel Pizzini who was an extremely humble and knowledgeable winemaker. I had already tasted Pizzini’s Pinot Griggio but Joel introduced me to a few more of his wines and shared his vision and insight into the challenges of winemaking and how to overcome them.

Joel’s vision “To continue to make high quality wines” and his mission is to ” develop and use biodynamic and organics to improve the fruit quality” — Pizzini produces 1,000 tonnes per year. I highly recommend La Volpe Nebbiolo (the wolf) which has been made since 1989 and Per Gil Angel (Angel) both were stunning. Joel is inspired by the different seasons and how you need to be aware of the climate and challenges and implications. He enjoys strategising and working with the climate to create awesome wine styles which is what he relishes. Joel embraces the the seasons and said “You always learn something from the good as well as the bad seasons, you learn more about yourself and learn how to make good wine in those tougher years. In 2010, 11 and 12 were challenging years but we made some amazing Pinot Griggio and the whites were fantastic and keeping on the ball and living in your vineyards you are making decisions almost on an hourly basis. Alright we are picking now and we are right to go, it has the right flavours and looks great, let’s do it.”

At Pizzini’s the gnocchi is handmade and the calamari with the chilli and saltiness were good too. His father Fred planted the varieties and Joel is very grateful for his passion, energy and foresight for planting the Italian varieties. The adventure started with him and his good friend Mark Walpole who used to be the viticulturist for Brown Brothers and their love for Italian varieties and Italian food there was a natural progression for us to start planting Italian varieties as it went so well with the food that we ate on a daily basis.

Joel went on to say “We started working with an Italian winemaking consultant back in 1999 and his mentoring role. We have continued our work together and it has been a fantastic relationship, extremely important with his mentoring role for me as a winemaker and just learning and developing my palate. I have traveled extensively through Italy through the harvest times. My last trip was two years ago. I was looking at vineyards that were biodynamic and organic to gain an understanding of how they transition from spraying the traditional chemicals. There is only so many ways to improve your quality, you have the best winemaking and the best of what you can afford and what you can do. It really comes down to the best ingredients and if you have those you can have a pretty good crack at making world class styles of wine. Which drives me to make these wines for a world stage. We might not be exporting a lot at present but we are exporting a little to Japan and to the UK. We work with the Vagabond Group in the UK which have awesome cafe/restaurant/bars where all their wines are available by the glass using a Vintec machine whereby you can taste wines from around the globe. They are in about half a dozen stores so there is no pressure on us to supply as we don’t have enough wine yet to sell to the whole world yet, we are trying to build it up but it won’t be at the expense of quality. They crush about 1,000 tonnes not all of it goes under the Pizzini brand but a good portion of it does. Our vision is to still make high quality wines and be competitive and rival the great wines around the globe. The mission is to develop the biodynamics and organics over the years which will provide different challenges and nuances and that will improve our fruit quality and it will be better for our staff working amongst the vines. Our biggest competitor are the Adelaide Hills as they are doing something similar and they have a similar climate.” I asked Joel what his favourite wine was – ” My favourite wine is Reisling and I love Sanjovese, Nebbiolo but it depends what day of the week it is. Pizzini’s is a true family affair with mum and dad, younger brother, cousins, uncles, father-in-law and in terms of management it is himself his younger brother and older sister.

Our last stop of the day was Chrismont with its rolling winery views from on the hill. Thankfully we arrived just in time before the storm blew through we enjoyed our brief tasting — my pick was the Rose and their coffee and yummy Italian pastries we enjoyed on their terrace.

Day 3 – Found us back at Brown Brothers for a masterclass with Adam Liaw (Masterchef winner, host of SBS TV series ‘Destination flavour’ and food writer) as we have a couple of his books it was a must do. Catherine Brown introduced him and fielded questions. He stripped back to the basics reminding us of why we like what we like and what makes food tastes good. Adam went on to say what “Taste, flavour and texture.” are what makes us enjoy our food. Adam explained how less is more – less ingredients can create a heightened taste. He also explained the importance of incorporating the following: Salt, Sour, Sweet, Bitterness and Savoury in each dish.

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Adam mentioned that ” A cookbook is a great way to paint a picture of how people can cook and they can show you a particular philosophy or culture on food.” He thinks that online recipes are not permanent recipes they are disposable. When he writes for online media he pushes the content out and shows something new. If he is writing for a weekly column he writes them differently to a cookbook as they are simplified. He is inspired by his family especially his children as they let him know what they like and what they are interested in so he creates dishes in the last 5 years that are more practical to cook. He has written five books and has a sixth book in the making. At home he eats mainly chicken and seafood, however pork is his main meat. In the new year on SBS he starts filming a new series of ‘Destination China.’ His favourite Brown Brothers wine is the dry Rose which compliments his food and compliments the warmer weather.

Sadly we were to have done a Flavour Association Experience  with Brown Brothers wine ambassador Andrew Harris but Adam’s masterclass run over and we were prevented from joining Andrew’s class once it had started.

We took shuttle B to Symphonia winery which was a quick stop but so pleased we did as we loved their 3 Temperanilio reds (Quintus 2015, Tanat 2013 and Seperavi 2008).

Next stop Politini winery where we met Lydia Politini a gracious lady who took me through her wines with her brother.

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At a few of the wineries there were some wonderful epicurean delights from local producers. I purchased a superb 2017 Silver Medal winner — 44.Corregiola Extra Virgin Olive Oil produced by Baroona Park. If you see it I highly recommend trying.

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Thereafter we stopped off at Franceso Winery. It is at the end of the winery route but certainly worth the drive. I talked to Megan Riley one of the families cousins from the Primarano family who talked of how this winery is very family driven. She was joined by  Jacob Collier the vineyard manager of 20 years they mentioned that once the tobacco farming was abolished by the government winemaking took over in the valley.  Frank Junior the General Manager and Owner of the winery shared his passion for winemaking with me having taken over from Frank Snr who is now 81yrs and retired.  He said his vision is ” There is a lot of potential we are a little further away from Dal Zotto, Pizzini and Chrismont who have done wonderful things in the region and turned this into a wine region and bought many people to the region. It has allowed us to showcase our wine and the sky is the limit for all of the wineries here — not just for not just domestic but international as well. ” The Merlot has gone from strength to strength the 2002 and 2003 are excellent. Francesco Jnr went on to say ” We have had 2005 Cab/Merlot, 2009 Cab/Shiraz /Merlot. We have been a smaller winery selling only 1-2,000 cases per year to make bigger batches in older vintages and as we have become popular the older vintages have sold out. We are making more though Cab/Merlot and Cab/Shiraz/Merot, Merlot and Cabernet. This year we have made the most wine than we have ever made before.”

The green tomatoes are grown locally his mother cuts them up and fry them they also prepare calamari and the most yummy tomato pastata which is made by his mother. — if only they could retail it. I was fortunate Francesco Jnr and his mother gifted a couple of bottles of the pastata to me — wow! Everyone that eats at their winery eats the families food served by the family.

Francesco Juniors passion for family highlighted a theme throughout this wonderful wine region the passion for the family and the passion for winemaking. We hope to return next year and see how the production has progressed at not only this winery but throughout.

Apologies to the wineries that we missed we were time poor but will try and include them next year. Until then!

Tips

Festival location is 3 hours from Melbourne – best route along the Hume Highway

2 day Festival pass $25 pp (18-19 November, 2017 Wangaratta, King Valley, Victoria 3678)

2 day Winery shuttle $50pp (If you want to switch between A, B or C routes you can do this at Whitfield which will maximise your time in the wineries).

3 night stay at Albertines, Beechworth (Deluxe King Suite (B) with Spa $648.75 (inc tax)) booked through http://www.booking.com

Brown Brothers – If you do a ‘Tasting tour’ you MUST have closed footwear. $20 pp. If you join their free loyalty programme called Epicurean it allows you a discount on your purchases. Masterclass with Adam Liaw $30 (Epicurean member) $40 non-member. Festival Opening Dinner $135pp Hosted by the Brown Family and the winemakers. The shuttle bus will only get you to Wangaratta so if staying farther afield you may have difficulties.

For other options to stay http://www.visitkingvalley.com.au

Bottle of Peenyweight Pinot Noir $75

Please note all prices may vary as were current in November 2017.

 

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