The De Bortoli Wines story starts with Vittorio, but it was never his plan to make his money from selling wine. He was, however, a man with a sharp sense for a good opportunity.
Vittorio had learned basic winemaking skills while growing up on a farm in Castelcucco in the alpine foothills of Italy’s north. Growing vegetables and fixing farm machinery were also in his repertoire and he brought all those skills with him when he immigrated to Australia in 1924. He came looking for a better life than the one facing him in war-ravaged Europe and even though he had to leave his fiancée Giuseppina behind, they planned for her to join him once he had found a place to settle.
Vittorio landed in Melbourne but decided he was better suited to the country and chose the newly irrigated Riverina area, near the town of Griffith in NSW. He initially lived beneath a water tank, working at other farms and, to save money, fed himself from the veggie patch he planted with seeds he’d brought from Italy. Luckily he was a good and enthusiastic cook.
By 1928 he’d saved enough to buy a “fruit salad farm” – a farm planted with a variety of fruit trees and grapes. Finally, after four years, Giuseppina was able to buy passage and sail to Australia where they could start their new life together.
Vittorio’s love of cooking and his self sufficiency (in addition to his thriving veggie patch and the farm’s fruit and olive trees he also kept chicken and pigeon coops) was the catalyst behind a long-standing De Bortoli family tradition - La Tavola Lunga, a tradition which still stands today. Vittorio would oversee the menu each day and then family and farm workers would all sit down to lunch together. These lunches helped turn Vittorio and Giuseppina’s home into something of a beacon for the newly arrived Italian workers. Fresh off the train in this new and strange part of the world, they would be taken out to the farm at Bilbul, to be greeted by the comforting sound of Italian voices and the familiar smells of Italian home cooking.
The first year on the farm, a glut of Shiraz grapes meant that not only could Vittorio not sell his grapes but many farmers in the region decided it was cheaper to let them rot than harvest. Vittorio didn’t like waste and went around offering to take the grapes. Many agreed. Vittorio constructed a couple of 900 gallon concrete tanks and crushed 15 tons of (free) shiraz grapes. Italians living around Griffith and the itinerant European fruit pickers who moved through the area began buying the wine from him and word – and demand – began to spread into Sydney and up to Queensland. Vittorio was now a winemaker. De Bortoli Wines was born.