Australia’s First Families of Wine

leanne / September 30th, 2010

Have you heard of Australia’s First Families of Wine (AFFW)?

If not, expect to hear more about this exciting initiative, set up to celebrate all that is good about Australian wine.  There are 12 well-known family wineries who are part of this group representing 16 different wine regions and 1200 years of winemaking experience between us. Phew!

The members include:

  • Brown Brothers
  • Campbells
  • D’Arenberg
  • De Bortoli
  • Henschke
  • Howard Park
  • Jim Barry
  • McWilliam’s
  • Tahbilk
  • Taylors
  • Tyrell’s
  • Yalumba

Click here to go to the AFFW website.

We all love a good party!

The launch of AFFW was held in Sydney in 2009 at the iconic Opera House and attended by the elder statesmen (and women) of each family right through to the next generation. This was followed by a very successful week of tastings and dinners held in London just before the London International Wine Trade Fair in May. A chance to show off our best, our most iconic,  our interesting and downright quirky wines.

Pride and Provenance

AFFW is about provenance and people and it is about collectively singing the praises of Australian wine. What I love about this group is that it isn’t elitist but rather each family is humble yet proud of their wines, wines that are representative of their philosophy and their place. Through different events and tastings, it is our aim to share these stories and wines with Australia and the rest of the world.

However for me personally, what excites me most is seeing the enthusiasm of the young next-genners, some of whom are already 5th generation. These may well be the ones to lead Australian wine into its next exciting phase. Just think of the possibilities given the mature and well-tended vineyards they have at their disposal. Within the De Bortoli family, our next-genners are still quite young but the eldest, who is my daughter Kate, has had the opportunity to meet her peers and share stories of what life is like growing up in a family winery.

For more on AFFW, check out the website or join the chitchat on twitter@AFFWine and  facebook Australian first families of wine


Leanne De Bortoli

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Who makes the best Salami?

leanne / September 28th, 2010

From Italy…..

Ask any Italian and they will tell you that their family makes THE BEST salami. Ask any Italian and you will get a different recipe for how they make their salami. If they are from the south, they’ll have a higher meat to fat ratio. If they are from the north they’ll have a higher fat to meat ratio. If they are from Abruzzo, they add fennel to their salami and so on and so on.

…to Australia…..

For me, growing up in an Italian community in Australia meant that we would never go lacking for good, home-made salami. Years pass and some traditions have died but salami making is still as strong as ever. When I moved from Griffith (southern NSW) to the Yarra Valley (Victoria), I would receive my ‘care’ packages from my mother; with her free-range eggs, olives and of course, salami.

…to the Yarra Valley

A few years ago, my husband Stephen and I, decided to ‘grow’ our own pig on our Yarra Valley vineyard to make our own salami. What a hoot we had!  Since that first year we now have six pigs. They may not have a long life on this earth but it is a good life. They have free range on good pasture, supplemented by vegies and grain and towards the end of the season, acorns from our oak trees. What a blessed life they lead.

In celebration of provenance

For the last couple of years we have expanded our salami days to include family, friends and friends of friends. Held in June of each year it has turned into a veritable feast with music, hands-on salami making, wine on tap and a delicious luncheon spread. It is a joyous occasion as it should be, a real sense of community in celebration of the provenance of our food.

To check out the video of our salami-making celebration… on the photo below. (1min 22 sec)

As for who makes the best salami…..we do!!



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Australian Chardonnay – Celebrating wines of interest

leanne / September 24th, 2010

Stephen Webber, De Bortoli Wines winemaker in the Yarra Valley, hosted the Chardonnay masterclass on the final day of the Landmark Australia Tutorial 2010.

From the Landmark website…

“Anyone knowing Steve would expect nothing less than a confronting start: “I want my Chardonnay to taste of the dirt that it has been grown in, not simple varietal character.  I just think that there are more interesting things to reflect in wine: texture, feel, and dare I say it, ‘minerality’…”

Steve, accompanied on the panel by Virginia Willcock of Vasse Felix, presented 14 blind wines that he felt were taking Chardonnay to a new height. “Wines with detail” as Steve likes to call them…

In terms of capturing ‘detail’ and place, Steve highlighted the importance of getting acidity right in the vineyard; moving towards more hand-picking; improved fruit-handling; larger format oak…'”

Click on the photo below for a list of the wines tasted as well as hear Steve’s view on Australian Chardonnay.

One of Steve’s comments to Paul Henry from Wine Australia was there are wines that I enjoy that are slightly imperfect because they have got this character about them that isn’t airbrushed, that isn’t perfect“. And Paul’s final comment..So there you are, changing the orthodoxy – celebrating interest rather than perfection in wine’ . I couldn’t agree more!

Join in the conversation. If you have any comments on Australian Chardonnay, whether you like them or not, or what styles you like, I would love to hear from you. You can write your  comments on our De Bortoli wines facebook page, my twitter page Twitter@DeBortoliWines , or email me at

I look forward to hearing your comments.


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From Wine Australia and Malaysia, all for the love of good wine

leanne / September 23rd, 2010

A visit from Wine Australia…

This week has been a busy week for Wine Australia, hosting the 2010 Landmark Australia Tutorial, right here in the Yarra Valley.  It is a great opportunity for Australia to showcase its diversity and strengths in winemaking to some well noted wine writers and wine afficionados from Australia and overseas. We are pleased to be able to host them here at our winery for this afternoon’s tasting on ‘Single Vineyards, Sacred Sites and Regional Blends’.

I won’t go into it much here. You can follow the general chatter on twitter (just remember to type in #lat10) to be involved in the general conversation. Otherwise there is much being written on blogs and Facebook about the event. As for me, I am just a little envious of some of the wines being tasted; truly a mix between traditional, iconic, new, interesting and downright funky.

…and Malaysia.

Today, we also played host to Francis Chan from our Malaysian Agents, Albert Wines, who is visiting us along with some of his staff and customers. They hail from Kuala Lumpur and for many of them it is their first visit to Australia and to the Yarra Valley.  It is a great time to visit the Yarra, which is looking particularly green and vibrant, with budburst adding to the excitement of Spring. Of course the biggest highlight is the wine!!

Our Malaysian visitors enjoying some  hospitality in our restaurant. Nikki Palun, De Bortoli Asia Export Manager  is on the far right. Photo taken September 23.



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What’s bugging us….

leanne / September 19th, 2010

In our genuine attempts to move towards a more biological/symbiotic form of farming we are continually trialing different methods in our vineyard.

Spring is underway and we are about to sow a variety of undervine plants in our vineyard.  By doing this we provide a healthy ground cover to out-compete the weeds and also move away from a monoculture (just vines). The more diversity of plants, helpful insects, fungi and bacteria that we have within our soils, means an overall healthier system.

Trialing undervine plants

We are trialing 5 plant species this year, one native and 4 exotics; native Dichondra (or kidney weed as it is known), Alpine Strawberry, Allysum, Creeping Thyme and Roman Chamomile.

Each ground cover will be planted separately in this trial but we may want to mix them in the future. Our criteria for choosing undervine plants is based on essentially matching the right plant to be of benefit to the grapevines – low growing and similar to the vines own biology.

Photo taken Sept 15th. Andrew Clarke cultivating the vineyard in preparation for the trial

The Good…

We are also currently tracking down plants that come from the areas in North America where phylloxera resistant rootstock parent vines grow naturally. We can assume that these plants like to grow in the same soils and have the same soil biology as rootstock vines.

Other important criteria:

  • It must not become a noxious weed that we cannot control in the future
  • It is beneficial and has the same mycorrhizal group as vines
  • It attracts beneficial insects
  • It does not impart unwanted ‘fragrances’ to the wine.
  • It does not compete for moisture and nutrients against the vines

…The Bad….

If we get it right, we negate the need for herbicides (evil!), or use of steam/flame throwers (expensive and short-term) or cultivation (destroys the exact soil biology and structure we are trying to enhance). Mulching is perhaps one of the better alternatives but we feel that the right undervine plants are the best option.

…and the Bugs

Although we are direct seeding under the vines, we are also growing many of these plants in our own hot house, effectively to be used in our insect plantations (bug banks) in long strips strategically placed around the vineyard.

Photo of herbs and flowers to be planted into our ‘bugbanks’. This includes rosemary, parsley, thyme, hollyhock, snapdragons etc.

Let’s see what happens!



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Has the drought finally broken?

leanne / September 15th, 2010

In the last two months we have welcomed rain, lots of it,  to the Yarra Valley. Such a relief after the drought conditions that have affected us for the last few years.

When we first moved to the Yarra Valley over 20 years ago, you could always guarantee that our dams would fill to brimming for the start of  the growing season. Not any more. Therefore to start our growing season this year with saturated soil and full dams is a very pleasing feeling indeed.

These two photos illustrate just how dry it has been. This particular dam has not been full for about 10 years. So much so, that a tree started growing on the side of the dam some years ago and was able to grow with confidence, being near a good water supply.

The photo was taken in August of this year as the dam started to fill again.  The poor tree is suffering from wet feet but at least the ducks are happy.

This photo wastaken today and shows the same tree, two-thirds under water……

We are keeping our fingers crossed that perhaps….just perhaps….the drought has finally broken.

Until next time,


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Wine with Imagination

leanne / September 13th, 2010

Nasa and the APOLLO 1 Space Program

A few years ago, my husband Steve (winemaker at our Yarra Valley Estate) returned from an overseas trip very much inspired by a conversation he had on a flight. He was speaking to a young business guru with an engineering background who said that not only was he looking for mining engineers with terrific skills in maths and physics, but the people that he needed to employ also had imagination

He went on to talk to Steve about the NASA space program and how it really changed the scientific world, resulting in benefits for the community beyond the space program. Benefits included huge advances in computing, engine efficiencies, light-weight alloys, new materials etc, all made possible because of the belief in reaching for the stars!

Failure of Imagination

However it nearly did not happen because Apollo 1 (the first manned flight in 1967) caught fire before taking off due to a fairly simple error. There were calls to shut the program down and massive accountability accusations until a pilot simply said during the enquiry “it was a failure of imagination”. Such a simple phrase and yet it turned the enquiry around and put the space program back on track.

Falling Star

Now, how does this relate to wine?

The greatest advances in the wine world will come from imagination, not science.  Character and personality in wine comes from nature and imagination.  In the past the new world has been obsessed with emphasising varietal character and trying to make perfect wines.  This has worked well and actually assisted Australia’s ‘star’ to shine on the World wine stage. However, after that meteoric rise, suddenly the wine world looked at its darling and decided she was perhaps somewhat ‘bland and boring’.

Rising Star

In recent years there has been a huge shift amongst many to turn the tide on this perception of our wines.  Many winemakers now realise that whilst it is important to have varietal expression, other characters like site, season, texture and minerality are equally important. For this reason, when we lessen the fruit intensity, sometimes we reflect these other qualities. And by seeking for character rather than perfection in wine, we are seeing more and more wines with personality. Sometimes it is the imperfections that make wine compelling.

As for our take on all of this, we have placed enormous faith in our people to make wine that reflects our piece of dirt, to make wine with character and imagination and above all flair. It is one of the joys of being part of a family wine company, to grow and make what you want to drink!

Wine with Flair



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Pinot Noir: One of the great joys in life…

steve / September 9th, 2010

Pinot Noir is one of the great joys of wine. Fine, plump, alluring, detailed, perfume, delicious. Alongside Nebbiolo, it is the noblest of reds.

Grown with great passion and feel, it is nurtured through ferment with minimal but considered winemaking and equally raised with a deft touch through winter and spring, finally to bottle.

It is a wine with great intrigue. A wine that yells of place. It is delicate yet powerful. We love it, breathe it and enjoy drinking buckets of it.

From Stephen Webber, chief winemaker at De Bortoli Yarra Valley Estate……

Single Vineyard beauties

We now make several single site Pinot Noirs that are all quite different. Riorret Single Vineyard, PHI, De Bortoli Reserve and De Bortoli Estate Grown wines. Handling of fruit, oak regimes and philosophy are all the same. The difference – place, soil and micro-climate!

We established the Riorret brand about two years ago to make single vineyard Pinot Noir from the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula. There seemed to be so many beautiful and interesting sites in these two regions that we just couldn’t resist – The Abbey, Viggers, Merricks Grove and Balnarring (by the beach)!

PHI is a joint venture between the De Bortoli and Shelmerdine families – similar philosophy; great site, old Pinot vines, Upper Yarra, deep red basalt soils, lovely people.

The De Bortoli Reserve Pinot is a single 1 Hectare site, planted in 1971 from rare clones (MV4 and MV5). It is paler than all the Pinot Noir we make but oozing with power and charm. The Estate Grown Pinot Noir comes from 4 vineyards on the original winery site – our ‘village’ wine.

We also vinify good commercial detailed Pinot Noir under our Gulf Station and Windy Peak brands. These are very difficult to make in large quantities – hand picking, gentle fruit handling, knowing when to do nothing, minimal oak inputs, just charming Pinot fruit driven wines.

Well, if that doesn’t get you excited…..


Experience a Pinot Noir tasting with Steve – click here to watch video

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Winemaking by numbers…

leanne / September 6th, 2010

Winemaking by Numbers…

We are often asked after vintage to give an overall view of the season. This is obviously compared to other regions, other seasons and then we are categorised with one or two sentences or a numerical standard that generalises the whole region.

There is so much more to a wines’ pedigree than just a number. Wine is always full of ‘mystery and surprise’ and is reflective of site, soil, season and the sweat of those who’ve made it. The vintage conditions are only one of the many influences on a wine’s outcome.

In a region like the Yarra Valley, which is, by its geographical definition, a very large wine region, there is no homogeneity. There are different soil types, weather conditions, micro-climates within micro-climates from one end of the valley to the other. The rainfall alone varies from 700mm to 2000mm per annum.

Within De Bortoli’s own vineyards, there are significant and important differences and rather than blend these differences away, it is our intention to highlight and celebrate them.

Searching for A+…

A few years ago we started to look for the variances in different sections of our vineyards. Some produced astonishing wines, others just okay. We took into account the aspect, soil and suitability of the variety planted. We changed the way we cultivate many of the plots, modifying trellising and pruning techniques adopting biological farming practices but overall spending more time among the vines – shoot thinning, canopy shaping, hand picking and hand sorting.

We have pulled out the under-performing vineyards, replanted some of them to new varieties and clones that are more suitable for the changing climate or just fixing some of our earlier mistakes – yes we’ve made plenty of them. All this has been done in the quest for our vineyards to start expressing more of their own character in the final wines.

2010 will certainly go down as a milder, cooler and longer growing season than what we have experienced over the last few years. We are not going to box up the vintage or give it a number out of 10, but we are quietly excited…..

Accept that seasons must have their influence on wine and cherish the nuances of those seasons.

There are some stunning wines being made by exciting winemakers that do show wonderful seasonal differences. Look for the winemakers that you trust and enjoy from year to year. It is a little like going on the journey with them.

For ourselves, we enjoy the wines not only from the De Bortoli vineyards, but from other producers like Gembrook Hill, Hoddles Creek and Jamsheed – just to name a few.

Cheers, Leanne

Follow Leanne on Twitter@DeBortoliWines and visit us at

More about our quest for A+ wines that express the vineyards they are from  – watch video

#Cabernet tweets the world

leanne / September 2nd, 2010

Why is Cabernet so special on September 2?

This is the day that the world is ‘tweeting’ about this rather noble variety. No matter where you are, as long as you have a glass of Cabernet in hand and a Twitter account (don’t forget the hashtag #cabernet), you can join thousands of like-minded people to taste and tweet on all things Cabernet!

But if you are not into Twitter, why not still open a bottle and enjoy what makes Cabernet an intriguing and well-loved wine.

When Steve and I first moved to the Yarra Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon was the most planted variety here and with good reason. It made beautiful wine. Wines from some of the more established wineries like Mount Mary, Yarra Yering and Yeringberg told a very compelling story about why Cabernet was the backbone of the region for a very long time. For De Bortoli, Cabernet was king at one stage but we gradually became seduced by Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and more recently, cool-climate Shiraz. For a while, Cabernet was cast into the bottom of the broom cupboard but we’re happy to announce that Cabernet is back, albeit in slightly different clothing…

Dame Nellie Melba, Opera Diva extraordinaire

Our range of Cabernet comes under the successful Melba label, named after Australian opera diva Dame Nellie Melba, who for many years resided in the Yarra Valley. Her incredible talent was world renowned and we’d also like to think she enjoyed the occasional glass of ‘claret’. These wines are our interpretation of Cabernet blends made in the Claret style: medium bodied and eminently drinkable.

Wine that sings in the glass

  • Melba ‘Reserve is a traditional Yarra Valley Cabernet blend from our oldest vineyards dating back to 1971… “and has the silken polish that winemaker Steve Webber prizes so highly…” (James Halliday, Australian Wine Companion 2011)

  • Melba ‘Lucia’ is named for the opera Lucia Di Lammermoor performed by Dame Nellie Melba. A blend of Cabernet with a splash of Sangiovese, this wine is savoury with a lick of rusticity.

  • Melba ‘Mimi’ is named after one of Melba’s performances from the opera La Boheme and made from Cabernet, Shiraz and Nebbiolo. As James Halliday writes in his 2011 Australian Wine Companion, Melba Mimi “hits all the right notes, with an understated elegance to the ensemble of black fruits, with bass notes of cedar, and fine tannins as the finale”.

Find out what makes a great Cabernet – click here to watch a video

So whether you are into singing or tweeting or just enjoying good wine, open up a bottle of Cabernet today.

Cheers, Leanne

Follow Leanne on Twitter@DeBortoliWines and visit us at

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