It seems that Deen De Bortoli was born into exactly the right family. Almost from the day of his birth at the family house in Bilbul, Deen had been fascinated with the machinery and the day-to-day workings of the winery. As soon as he could walk, the little boy in the baggy shorts was a common sight around the farm.
This passion for machinery didn’t limit itself to the farm and the winery. He had a fascination for model aeroplanes, go-karts and particularly the motorbikes that he tore about the property on. He was obsessed with technology and, increasingly, how it could help De Bortoli Wines to expand and grow.
Deen decided, against his parent’s wishes, to leave school at 15 and begin working at the winery. It started many years of inter-generational tug-of-war between Deen, with his ideas of expansion and modernity, and his dad Vittorio, more comfortable with tradition and low cost. As Deen’s wife Emeri tells it, the arguments between Deen and Vittorio about expanding the winery were so common that they became background noise.
In the end Deen, forward thinking, energetic and strategic (he would wait until his father left the farm to tend the wine distribution business in Sydney before bringing in builders to install more tanks or expand the bottling line), triumphed. The capacity of the winery expanded immensely as did the array of grape varieties De Bortoli Wines made. But perhaps he and Emeri’s greatest achievement in ensuring the future of the business was raising four children – Darren, Leanne, Kevin and Victor – who grew to be as fascinated with the business as their parents.
Deen was willing to make decisions outside of his comfort zone. In 1982 Darren, with Deen’s guidance created the iconic dessert wine Noble One and then came the success of the cool climate wines produced at the family’s Yarra Valley Estate in Victoria, followed that with the purchase of properties in both the King Valley in Victoria and the Hunter Valley in New South Wales.
Deen died suddenly in 2003, just after the the 75th birthday celebrations for De Bortoli Wines. He died at the family farm in Bilbul, where he had been born and which remains the centre of the family and the business today.
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