“Other than my family, my every waking moment is spent thinking about my garden...I love spending time in the garden, dreaming about how it will look, the suitability of certain plants and planting something that will provide pleasure and sustenance.”
Emeri Cunial grew up in Griffith, the daughter of migrants from the same region in Italy as Vittorio and Giuseppina De Bortoli. She met Deen through his cousin Pierina, who lived next door to Emeri’s family and they married in 1958. After the wedding, a party spanning two days and involving more than 130 guests, a wedding feast cooked by friends and family and truckloads of De Bortoli wine, Emeri and Deen moved to his family home at Bilbul.
Emeri’s determined temperament and love of cooking and gardening were a good match with a family that sat down to talk through (and sometimes argue about) business over lunch every day, eating dishes made with produce pulled from the garden. She was never in any doubt how central the family business would be to her life.
“Deen lived and breathed the winery,” she says. “We started our married life by visiting machinery shops in South Australia, on our honeymoon. That was when I knew how important the business was to him.”
Over the decades, Emeri acted as a crucial sounding board for Deen while he was alive and now continues to do so with her children as Company Chairperson. She was integral to the creation of Locale, the acclaimed North Italian-inspired restaurant at the Yarra Valley Estate. Emeri’s vision for Locale – skillfully cooked, authentic Italian food cooked with fresh local produce – is still very much in place at the restaurant today.
Emeri’s personal legacy becomes clearer every year, via the gardens she’s created and helped plant (usually accompanied by her beloved dogs) at Bilbul, the Yarra Valley and the Hunter Valley, gardens that are both beautiful and edible.
"I love to use Chardonnay when I’m cooking as it adds flavour and body to many dishes."
Emeri is currently planting a 15-acre memorial garden at Bilbul, dedicated to her late husband Deen.