A ‘little Italy’ in Victoria’s King Valley produces bespoke wines and food from strong family and cultural traditions.

Story By John Dunn

The King River flows down from the Victorian Alps into Lake William Hovell and then out again, meandering along a narrow valley until it reaches the flatland plains of the north-east, where it merges with the Ovens River just by Wangaratta. The valley begins in the High Country and ends on the plains where cattle and sheep graze and crops grow.
But, in between, small vineyards patchwork the slim slopes of the valley’s gentle hills and they’re separated by the humble homes and vegetable gardens of the people who tend them. This could be Tuscany or Veneto or Calabria or Sicily and, in part, it is – a fascinating piece of old Italy transplanted into the Australian bush.
The King Valley isn’t long – maybe 50 kilometres – but it is thickly populated by a group of Italian families who came to Australia mid last century when things were tough in their homeland. They began to grow tobacco, which needed only small blocks of land and seemed to have potential then. However, when that industry declined they were forced to look again for a livelihood.
Some tried dairying but eventually most fell back on their traditions and what they do best – making wine. So began the conversion of their distinctive corrugated iron tobacco kilns into a range of housing for this new industry: a bottle storage here, a trattoria there.
These people are not big operators by any means. Brown Brothers is the only large wine operation here. Mostly the valley comprises small, family, hands-on folk with names like Dal Zotto, Corsini, Ciccone, Politini, Primerano and Pizzini.

This Story is from Issue #98

Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2015