MELLOW HIGH -COUNTRY WINE REGIONVictoria’s King Valley, which produces some of Australia’s highest altitude wines, offers many similarities with Italy’s northern Trentino-Alto Adige wine region, reflecting its immigrant past, writes Joy Dodds.
A sojourn to Victoria’s King Valley, between Wangaratta and the Alpine High Country, is like stepping into a distant enclave of Italy, reflecting the post-WW2 migration of workers from northern Italy and surrounds to work in the [then] hops and tobacco mills in the area.
Tobacco was then grown along the banks of the picturesque King River, named after NSW Governor, Phillip Gidley King, and a tributary of the Ovens River which flows in to the mighty Murray. This stunningly picturesque area has a history which includes bushrangers and Chinese immigration. The Chinese came from the goldfields in the mid-19th century, bringing with them a rich heritage as market gardeners, tobacco growers and merchants. The narrow-gauge railway built between Wangaratta and Whitfield in 1889 opened up the King Valley, enabling the produce of this fertile region to be transported to market. A government tobacco research farm was established in Edi and later moved to Whitfield in 1902. Post-WW2, many immigrant Italian, Spanish and Yugoslav workers moved into the area, working on tobacco farms, but the decline of the tobacco industry in the late 70s saw them diversify, especially into grape growing, The King Valley landscape proved eminently suited to the producing of cool, crisp white wines and savoury, spicy reds.
Nowadays it is a prosperous agricultural and wine-growing region with a healthy chunk of Italo-Australians and other European descendents, pursuing the national past-time - growing grapes to produce quality varietal wines. The Italian immigrants realised the region’s potential to produce European wine varietals and today the area the valley has gained a reputation as a unique wine region for sangiovese, nebbiolo, barbera, pinot grigio, dolcetto, arneis and other varietals. Some of the highest altitude vineyards in Australia tare produced in this area.
Family-run wineries such as Pizzini, Dal Zotto Estate, Corsini, Sartori, Ciccone, Sam Miranda, Chrismont, and Politini, offer wine tastings at cellar doors, with exquisite prosecco and other varietals. Another star is Boynton’s Vineyard, renowned for its Feathertop label, and long-estab;ished Brown Brothers.
The vineyards around such towns as Whitfield, Moyhu and others offer more than cellar door services, many estates providing enchanting overnight accommodation in the shadow of the Alps, their hospitality including fine cuisine to complement the local wines.
Whitfield and Moyhu are the major townships in the King Valley, close to Wangaratta and Mansfield. These two towns offer accommodation, a local pub with dining room, restaurants such as Dal Zotto and general stores. Nearby is the popular Milawa wine and cheese region, one of Australia's oldest and most authentic gourmet regions. The region also produces honey, nuts, trout and olives. Milawa Cheese Factory Café offers home-made cheeses, local mustards, herb vinegars and preserve, or enjoy a spot of olive tasting,at the Epicurean Centre Restaurant at Brown Brothers.
A visit to this region of stunning alpine vista backdrops, acres of vineyards, wildflowers and historic locations is sheer delight - and the local drop adds even more to the enjoyment. Close by is the Alpine national park with its spectacular mountain landscapes, wild rivers, impressive escarpments, snow gum forests and wide open grasslands known as high plains.
Victoria’s King Valley brings you the character of the Italian Alps with loads of Australian friendliness. It’s certainly a great alternative to taking the freeway to Melbourne, and allows a detour via the Yarra Valley.
Little wonder the road sign into King Valley eads: “Benvenuti alla Valle dei Ré” – Welcome to the King Valley! Certainly a right-royal welcome!
The King Valley pulsates with life and colour, much from the personalities of the region, second- and third-generation Italian immigrant families with a great sense of clanship.
Enjoy Fred and Katrina Pizzini’s cellar door and A Tavola cookbook chats, or hearing Fred’s uncle, Otto Dal Zotto, discuss his family's wines over bocce at Dal Zotto Estate. Since 2000, when Dal Zotto planted the first prosecco vines in the King Valley, other local winemakers have begun producing the sparkling celebratory Italian white. Together they have created “Prosecco Road”, a food and wine trail celebrating the best of the rustic Italian dining experience.
Pizzini have been producing wine under their own label since 1994. Alfredo (Fred) and his wife Katrina, along with their four children, and other members of the extended family believe strongly in their Italian heritage and ensure that all aspects of their business focus on their three loves or Tre Armore; wine, food, family and friends. Pizzini specialises in the production of Italian varietal wines including Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Verduzzo and Arneis, Prosecco and Brachetto, and also produce a selection of traditional French styles including, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Merlot and Shiraz.
Pizzini's cellar door is open seven days offering a warm family atmosphere in which to enjoy wine tasting. Katrina Pizzini runs a cooking school at the winery where novices can learn age-old techniques of making gnocchi and pasta. Pizzini Vineyard guesthouse is perfect for a relaxing stay.
WHERE TO STAY:
Family-run vineyard, cellar door and accommodation cottage near Whitfield.
Feathertop Wines cellar door, boutique dining and accommodation.
Politini Wines & Casolare B&B:
Overlooking the upper reaches of the King Valley. Elegant, fruit-driven cool climate wines. Bed and breakfast accommodation
King River Estate:
Biodynamic viticulture and cellar door with self-contained cottage.
Ciavarella Oxley Estate Winery:
Intimate winery experience, with hand-made wines from the Ciavarella family.
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Holidays Away is published by Fairfax Media
Telephone: 02 9478 1200
Holidays Away is published by Fairfax Media