Wine and long-held traditions in Victoria’s King Valley

Victoria's King Valley wine region has a strong Italian flavour

 

Victoria’s King Valley is a laid back wine region where you’ll not only meet the makers but you might also sit down with them over a few bottles of wine and a hearty family-style meal, much of which comes from their own veggie patches and orchards groaning with oranges, figs and apples.

Family is king in the King Valley whether it is Aussie settlers like fifth generation cattle farmers Anna Marie and Graham Forge or the Italian families, like the Pizzinis, Dal Zottos, and Politinis, who settled here after World War II. The Italians first grew tobacco but, at the encouragement of one of Australia’s oldest wine-growing families, the Brown Brothers in nearby Milawa, they became contract grape growers. In the last couple of decades, the grape growers became winemakers and today they are passionate about Italian varietals… Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Arneis, Barbera and, of course, Prosecco.

Packing Prosecco

The Forge family is the last remaining settler family on the King River

Anne Marie and Graham Forge are the last original settler family on the King River. Today our adventure is called Packing Prosecco, courtesy of Dal Zotto Wines, the Prosecco-making pioneer of the King Valley’s vibrant Italian wine-growing community. Before we set out for an easy going amble on horseback to our picnic site, they’d demonstrated the fine art of packing horses, once used to take supplies into the high country. Now we sitting on hessian covered hay bales under ancient river red gums alongside the King River and feasting on platters of Milawa cheeses and crusty bread washed down with chilled Prosecco.

From Forges Farm at Oxley in the north, we drive south through prime cattle country along the pretty King River. Along the way, the tiny townships of Moyhu, Whitfield, and Cheshunt still evoke the best of country Australia, not gussied up for hipster urbanites. As the valley narrows, patchworks of vines dotted with old tobacco kilns carpet the undulating landscape while gum-tree covered mountains frame either side, offering spectacular waterfalls and great bushwalking.

The views aren’t too shabby either. At least that’s what local bushranger and Ned Kelly mentor Harry Powers thought and it’s well worth taking the 40-minute drive up to Powers Lookout to see the panoramas for yourself.

Pizzini Wines

Pizzini Wines make many Italian wines“We really appreciate that people will drive off the highway to come and see us, so we like to spend time with them,” says Katrina Pizzini, wife of CEO Fred, mother of winemaker Joel, and chief of her own wildly popular E Tavola cooking school at Pizzini Wines’ atmospheric winery, located in a row of converted tobacco sheds.

“All the winemaking families here are still very much hands on. There is nothing fake or commercial about visiting cellar doors here,” adds this local policeman’s daughter, who married at 17 and learned a lot about cooking from her mother-in law Rosetta Pizzini, who is still going strong at 90. “You don’t just marry an Italian, you marry the family!” she quips.

Kids are always welcome, too. Pizzini has a huge box of toys at the cellar door and a gigantic sandpit outside. They’re not just for the visitors, either. The Pizzini grandchildren are often hanging out at the winery because their parents are always there.

Hedonistic Hiking

“The King Valley not only has terrific hikes but it also brings all that we love about Italy right to our doorstep in Australia,” says Jackie Parsons, who with her husband Mick runs Hedonistic Hiking, a gourmet walking company offering tours throughout Italy as well as in the Victorian High Country. “Above all it is the people. When we work alongside the Dal Zottos it’s like having fun with family and friends.”

Hedonistic Hiking offers gourmet walking tours in the King ValleyThat is what it feels like when we arrive for lunch at Dal Zotto’s La Frasca trattoria. The doors of the airy restaurant are thrown wide open onto the terrace with people sitting at tables under market umbrellas or relaxing on bean bags under the river red gums. Cows graze amongst the vines, Dorper sheep are in the nearby paddocks and kids play on the bocce pitch.

We enjoy their extra dry L’Immigrante Prosecco as we feast on platters of homemade salumi, ricotta tarts, garlicky white bean dip, eggplant, and radicchio salad from CEO Nonna Elena’s garden. “I’m the chief emotional officer,” she jokes, “as I have four sons and husband Otto to look after.”

Dal Zotto Wines

“Prosecco has an extra special place in our hearts,” says son Christian, “especially for my father Otto who was born and raised in Valdobbiadene in the Veneto region, which is the home of Italy’s favorite sparkling wine.”

Outdoor seating at Dal Zotto Wines in the King ValleyWhen Otto found out that an Italian in Adelaide had imported some Prosecco vines he got some cuttings and in 2004, Dal Zotto Wines released the first Australian-made Prosecco. It is fast becoming one of Australia’s favourite sparkling wines.

The Dal Zottos work with one overarching philosophy, says Christian, and that is your origins are just as important as your future.

Politini Wines

That philosophy could also apply to Politini Wines further up the valley. Sicilian-born Sam and Josie Politini converted their tobacco farm to vineyards in the 1990s and their wine label logo features Sicily’s ancient heraldic emblem with the blazing Australian sun at its centre. Their Chilean-born son-in-law and winemaker Luis Simian tells us that, while their Cabernet Sauvignon is a key ingredient in Brown Brothers’ renowned Patricia wine, they are also passionate about the Sicilian varieties Nero d’Avola and Grecanico.

And we salivate when we hear about Nonna Josie’s popular cannoli and salami making classes. In fact, a friendly salami smack down event is planned for the King Valley’s La Dolce Vita festival this November. It will be the Dal Zotto’s Northern Italian salami against the Politini’s Sicilian salami.

From the cooking lessons to the pack-horse picnics, from the easy drinking wines to the warm embrace of strong family traditions, the King Valley actually does a fine year-round job of celebrating the Good Life.

Lots of great Italian varieties on offer at Politini Wines

 

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Sue Gough Henly

Sue Gough Henly is award-winning travel writer and photographer whose bi-line has appeared in The New York Times, Travel & Leisure, The Guardian, The Toronto Star and all the major Australian publications. Her travel blog, Genuine Journeys, is full of insider tips on the best places for authentic experiences and luxury splurges. She is also the author of Australia’s Best Places travel app. When she doesn’t have sand between her toes or a pack on her back, she writes about food, wine and culture.

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