In the last few weeks there has been some debate on Twitter about ‘natural’ wine. What makes a natural wine ‘natural’ but more importantly, is it any good?
Some years ago if you ventured into a bottle shop, all organic and biodynamic wines were lumped together in one small section. Some of those wines were okay but unfortunately many were undrinkable – good intentions hiding behind some serious wine faults.
Jump forward 20 years and the attitudes and quality of these wines have largely changed. Many vignerons are venturing back to the traditions of old, but not for any other reason than it is their belief that healthy and naturally disease resistant vineyards and minimal handling does make better wine.
When my husband, Stephen Webber and I first moved to the Yarra Valley, we thought we were quite innovative, but as we look back we were really ‘babes in the woods’. Our recent move towards biological farming has opened our eyes to the potential increases in character and quality. Our soils are alive with biological activity and they actually store water; our vines are much more disease resistant, their health visually obvious and the detail in the resultant wines profound. They have a ‘naturalness’.
Some suggestions for the wine lover :
- Appreciate subtlety and finesse in wine. Not wine dominated by fruit or oak or alcohol.
- Place your trust in the good vignerons and winemakers. They seldom let you down.
- Look for and treasure the seasonal differences in wine. Appreciate the changes from year to year.
- Place your trust in good wine merchants and sommeliers. Many of these people can suggest wines that are interesting, expressive of place and delicious.
- And for some light bedtime reading – Kermit Lynch’s wonderful book ‘Adventures of the Wine Route’.
Hand-in-hand with nature…
The Yarra Valley was Victoria’s first wine growing district and has a rich history of premium wine production dating back more than 150 years. However, what excites us more today is the energy of a lot of young (and not-so-young) winemakers in the region who are really pushing the boundaries. To be part of and surrounded by this enthusiasm can only augur well for the Yarra Valley in future years.
Our own “Eureka” moment began eight years ago when we changed our winemaking philosophy and this has been reflected in the wines we make today. De Bortoli have made a complete turnaround in viticultural and winemaking practices stemming from our desire to make wines that reflect a sense of place.
This fundamental philosophical change begins first and foremost in the vineyard with a move toward a more symbiotic form of farming our land. Hand-in-hand with nature. We are working at increasing a healthy biology in our soils, with the belief that better soil and vine health will produce higher fruit quality. And do you know what, it does!
Hands-off until its hands-on…
This is followed by a ‘hands-off’ approach in the winery (as much as possible) to let the wine make itself. The common phrase around here is that ‘it is harder to do nothing’. No winemaking wizardry, or techno gizmos, just gentle handling of what nature has provided us.
Since we bought the Yarra Valley vineyard in 1987, the vineyard has been expanded to over 200 hectares of which more than half is made into completely hand crafted wine. By this we mean hand-picking, hand-sorting, hand-plunging and hard work.
The vineyard has a good mix of varieties including; Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz as well as lesser known varieties such as Viognier, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese. The Yarra Valley is well-known for its beautiful Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and of course historically, Cabernet Sauvignon, but it is some of the more esoteric styles of wine and different varieties that are also capturing people’s imagination.
It is early morning here in the Yarra Valley. It is cold outside (about five degrees!) and there is a slight mist in the air giving the landscape a picture perfect, fairytale beauty. This is now my home where I have lived for the last 20 years and where my husband Steve Webber and I look after the Yarra Valley winery for our family.
The Yarra Valley is located about 40 km north east of Melbourne, which is Australia’s most Southern mainland city. It is Victoria’s oldest wine region, with over 4000 hectares under vine and one of the most visited wine regions in Australia. There aren’t many vineyard regions where just one hour from the middle of a city you find yourself in a stunningly beautiful landscape.
There were just 16 wineries in the Yarra Valley when my family purchased this vineyard in 1987. Steve and I were living in Coonawarra when my brother Darren asked us if we would like to manage the Yarra Valley project with the goal to establish a premium wine brand for the company in a prestigious cool-climate region.
By 1990, our Winery & restaurant/cellar door complex had been built to launch the new De Bortoli Yarra Valley label. Today the De Bortoli Winery & Locale Restaurant is one of the premier wine and food attractions in the Yarra Valley with recent accolades including the 2008 and 2009 Best Tourism Winery in the Qantas Australian tourism Awards. More importantly to us though, it is a place that people can come to discover the joy of wine in a very convivial environment. Good food, good company and great wines. Isn’t that what life is about?
If you have been to the Yarra Valley I would be happy to hear of some of your experiences. If not, some of my recommendations are:
- Healesville Hotel: a great place for a quick bar meal or for finer dining in the restaurant.
- Giant Steps Innocent Bystander: big bustling place to enjoy pizza with a glass of wine but my highlight would have to be their very tasty sourdough bread. In the days our restaurant is closed, I’ll often zip over to Healesville to buy a loaf or two of their bread. Yum yum.
- De Bortoli Cheese Shop: Yeah, I know it’s ours but this collaboration with Richard Thomas has resulted in beautifully matured cheese which we can offer to visitors. Also Richard and our staff can advise on some pretty interesting cheese and wine matchings too.
- TarraWarra Museum of Art: The TWMA was built by the Bensen Family some years ago and is a showcase of the Bensen’s contemporary Australian art collection as well as visiting art exhibitions. The architecture of this wonderful building is worth the visit on its own.
- Natskin Dayspa: Well, a girl has to pamper herself every now and again. Situated at Balgownie, Mecure Hotel is the place to go for a manicure or massage or both.
- Healesville Sanctuary: Got kids? Well look no further than this place to while away a few hours. All manner of Australia flora and fauna can be found here and is well worth the visit, even without kids.
- Balloon Flight: Want to do something a little different? Take a float over the valley and vineyards with Global Ballooning. Memorable.
So why not come and see us sometime, and look at the world through a Rosé-coloured glass!
Hello to you all. I am Leanne De Bortoli and De Bortoli Wines was established by my grandfather in 1928 in Bilbul, Australia. I am thrilled to be invited as a guest blogger for Asian Correspondent and to share the stories about my family, our company, our philosophy and perhaps some other juicy stories.
Our family story is not unlike that of many other migrant stories in Australia. In the early part of the 20th century, many new Australians arrived from Europe looking for a better life, including my grandfather Vittorio De Bortoli. Vittorio emigrated from Castelcucco in Northern Italy, a little village near the historic town of Asolo. On arrival in 1924, news of work, land and food in the newly irrigated Riverina area of New South Wales caught his attention and he made his way to Bilbul (named after William T Bull), my hometown.
To cut a long family tale short, in 1928 Vittorio bought his first farm and married his childhood sweetheart Giuseppina. They had three children; Flo, Deen (my father) and Eola. Seventy five years later my three brothers and I are now running the family business. My eldest brother Darren is Managing Director, Kevin is Company Viticulturist and Victor is Export Director. And then there is my mother Emeri, the real ‘Boss’.
I look after the Yarra Valley arm of our business, along with my husband Stephen Webber. Between the two of us we look after the daily winery/vineyard operations as well as the tourism/restaurant/cellar door activities. On top of that, we have raised two daughters, Kate and Sally.
Although I was born in Australia, Italian family values are still core to our business philosophy at De Bortoli Wines. I am sure my grandfather would be quietly proud at the thought of so many people drinking wine as it should be enjoyed, with good food, with family and with friends.
L-R: Darren, Kevin, Emeri, Leanne and Victor De Bortoli