Third generation and company viticulturist, Bilbul Estate
“We’re not only improving wine quality through our management, by the varieties we plant and the crop levels we expect from them, we’re also handing on healthy and productive land to future generations.”
Kevin De Bortoli has always been an “outdoor person”. Growing up on the family winery at Bilbul, among the chickens, guinea fowl and pigeons that his grandfather kept, he decided he would become a farmer. His plan wasn’t necessarily linked with the family business, given that the work that he and his siblings Darren, Leanne and Victor were expected to do around the winery often had nothing to do with the great outdoors.
His first job, when he was around 10, was working on the winery’s bottling line.
“Everything was pretty well manual back then,” he says. “We had to put the bottles onto the line, knock the corks into the bottles and put all the wires on. We were told we had to do it to earn pocket money but I think they did it to keep us out of trouble.”
After leaving high school, Kevin worked at the winery, learning every aspect of it from the vineyard to the crusher and spending a lot of his time working with the maintenance crew. But it was when he began spending more time in the vineyard and decided to study for a Diploma of Viticulture at Charles Sturt University that he discovered his real passion for grape growing.
Kevin now looks after the 300 hectares of vines and 20-plus varieties of grapes at De Bortoli Wines’ Bilbul Estate. His farming practices continue to evolve as he’s become increasingly interested in improving quality and productivity in the vineyard through environmentally sustainable farming practices.
Kevin’s also been practicing and improving his barbeque skills (his steak with grilled radicchio, olive oil and De Bortoli white wine vinegar gets rave reviews), something that he’s been doing more of since he and his wife Jen and their four kids moved to a the new house they built near Bilbul. A feature of the house is a large dining table that seats 26, enough to house the extended family, which they do on many of occasions.
Working in the vineyard, out in the elements, seems to be “a natural fit”, Kevin says. It also seems to be the fulfilment of his 10-year-old self’s dream of being a farmer.
Viticulturist and vineyard manager, Yarra Valley Estate
“In autumn we get to taste the wine from the most recent vintage and then tell the stories from the vineyard about what went into the growing of the grapes that made the wine. There are 18 months of those vineyard stories, from first signs of bud development to harvest, and just three weeks for the yeast to turn juice into wine.”
Rob Sutherland was like a lucky inheritance. When De Bortoli Wines purchased a Yarra Valley vineyard in 2005, Rob had been managing the property for a year and he agreed when the family asked him to stay on as Manager. It proved to be a good relationship from the start and in 2007, just a year after after completing his Viticulture degree from Charles Sturt University, Rob became Viticulturist and Vineyard Manager for the entire 240 hectare estate.
Rob has been integral to the implantation of biological farming at De Bortoli’s Yarra Valley Estate, a system focussed on nurturing living organisms in the soil that minimises the need for chemical or physical intervention in the vineyard. He says that biological farming methods represent “a long term view for the soil, the vines and the land”.
If there’s a downside for Rob about his job, it’s that the timing of vintage each year prevents him from getting to Augusta, Georgia, to watch the Masters Golf Major in the first week of April. He’s something of a golf fanatic, playing a couple of times a week and naming a hole-in-one at the famed Escena Golf Club in Palm Springs as one of his life’s great achievements.
But his career is an equal passion, especially when he sees his work in the vineyard pay off. He loves the moments when he’s behind someone at the checkout in the bottleshop and “they’re buying a bottle of wine made from the grapes that I grew”.
Viticulturist and vineyard manager, Lusatia Park Vineyard
“The Lusatia Park vineyard is located in a lovely spot, elevated with an amazing north facing sloping site that overlooks the Yarra Valley. It has a view that you never get tired of and, even better, it makes very delicious wine.”
Andrew Ray first started working for De Bortoli in 2006 when he took a job in the King Valley vineyard, working on the winemaking side while the fruit was being processed at a local King Valley winery. After four years in the High Country he was offered work in the Yarra Valley, both in the winery during vintage and in the vineyard during the growing season.
It was the vineyard work that really got under his skin because “every day is different and there are always so many different jobs to be done when looking after a vineyard and growing grapes.”
“Picking grapes early in the morning when the sun is just rising over the vineyard and the fruit has a very special glisten from the coolness and sunrise is one of my favourite parts of vintage,” says Andrew. “And I love when spring comes around, the days get longer and the vines become alive and you start to see what the vintage and its wines are going to be like for that year.”
Andrew’s career highlight so far came in 2016 when the De Bortoli family bought the Lusatia Park vineyard, considered one of the best sites for growing grapes in the Yarra Valley, and offered him the job of managing it. Managing Lusatia Park and watching the change in the appearance of the property has been his proudest achievement in his 11 years with De Bortoli Wines.
Besides Lusatia Park, Andrew’s also a huge fan of Pinot Blanc, dirt bikes, end-of-vintage parties, things being neat and clean, camping trips with his mates, hats and his dog Ted. He’s not, however, a fan of wombats.
Viticulturist and vineyard manager, Heathcote Vineyard
“Heathcote has this amazing 500 million year old Cambrian greenstone soil which is a deep red colour and extends across the entire region. When you add a Mediterranean climate that’s perfect for viticulture it’s an amazing combination that produces incredible Shiraz – big dark fruit, earthy, spicy bottles of rich red gold.”
When the De Bortoli family recently purchased an 80-hectare property in northern Heathcote they were fortunate to inherit Vineyard Manager Brian Dwyer who had already been working on the property for several years. Or, as Brian likes to tell it, “the vineyard was inherited with the purchase of me”.
Brian has been farming for about 20 years, starting with an apprenticeship in horticultural vegetable growing. He went on to complete a Certificate 3 in viticulture and has been working in the agricultural and viticultural industries ever since.
A laid back person who describes his current working conditions – outdoors, with the opportunity to constantly learn in a changing environment – as his ideal, Brian says that his favourite part of vintage is watching the trucks leave the gate.
“I always say “not until it’s on the truck” because anything can happen with the crop up until that point.”
Family is central to Brian’s life and his working day at the vineyard starts with making coffee for his “legendary wife” and finishes when he goes to pick up his daughter Charlie from childcare (after he’s done a final round of the property with his dog – he on the Gator, the dog running). Holidays by the ocean, camping, playing cricket or cooking in the outdoor oven at their home all revolve around the family. “Family is number one for me”, he says.
Viticulturist, De Bortoli Wines Rutherglen Vineyard
“As a region, Rutherglen has this lovely Continental climate, and our access to great quality water means that as a region we are well placed to grow great premium fruit year in year out. We are also very lucky with our vineyard sites, as they have some lovely rolling hills and the views back to the Victorian alps that these provide are just fantastic.”
The challenge of every year being different is what Matt loves about his job. In the mornings, you’ll find him in the vineyard looking at the vines and checking that all is going to plan. From here depending on the season, Matt will be either pruning in Winter to monitoring the growth cycle of the vines in Spring, irrigation programs in Summer and finally vintage in Autumn. It is this time of year, that is Matt’s favourite. “The weather is still warm, the vines are still green and then start to change colour, and for most of it (hopefully) vintage is done so we are able to relax and reflect on the season just gone.”
Out of the Rutherglen wines there are two that Matt just can’t go past; the first being the Sparkling Shiraz Durif. “A great BBQ wine,” he says, “just a nice and relaxed wine for a nice relaxed time.” The other? Any of the Rutherglen Muscats of course! “Paired with a lovely rich dessert and the night always finishes on a high.”
Outside of work, Matt enjoys spending time with his family who are everything to him as well as supporting the local community through volunteering. He is currently the Captain of his local CFA, a member of the Apex Club and coaches the local boys soccer team.
Sign up for offers, wine insights, food and more