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  • Liane Morris

Enterprising Founder Begins a Winemaking Dynasty


Perched on the corner of Wine Country Drive and Broke Road at Lovedale in the heart of the vineyards, is one of De Bortoli’s most successful cellar doors, home to the weekly Hunter Valley Wine Country Markets and a must-visit destination with one of the most extensive wine lists in the valley. This is one cellar door that you can’t and shouldn’t miss.

 

The De Bortoli story is steeped in tradition, history and family, beginning in 1924 with the journey from Castelcucco, Italy (just north of Venice), of Vittorio De Bortoli to the NSW country town of Griffith, where he worked hard and was eventually joined by his fiancée Giuseppina. In 1928 there was a glut of Shiraz grapes, with many farmers choosing to let the fruit rot. The enterprising Vittorio took the fruit and made wine, catapulting himself and his family on an extraordinary trajectory and winemaking family dynasty that is still going strong almost a century later.


Each generation of the family has added to the growth and success of the business, with De Bortoli now producing wines from extensive vineyards in the Yarra Valley, King Valley, Heathcote, Rutherglen, the Riverina where it all began, and of course, our own Hunter Valley. Acknowledged as one of Australia’s most prominent and respected wine producers, De Bortoli is also a leader in innovation and sustainability practices having been recognised as the first Platinum Partner in Sustainability Advantage, a NSW government scheme that celebrates and provides public acknowledgement of the sustainability outcomes achieved by members. The company is committed to becoming a truly 'Zero Waste Wine Company’ and leaving a legacy for future generations.


Creators of some of the most recognised wine labels in the country, the flagship wine is, of course, Noble One, Australia’s number one dessert wine. Created in 1982 by Darren De Bortoli, it has won over 182 trophies and 505 gold medals to date, both here and internationally, and it now makes up 45% of all dessert wine purchases in Australia. The portfolio boasts other well-known brands such as Yarra Valley Estate Grown, La Bohème, Melba, Windy Peak, Deen Vat Series and Emeri, as well as premium fortified wines, including the unique Black Noble. The De Bortoli philosophy is that wine should reflect the terroir of the region in which the grapes are grown, with minimal interference and respect for nature and the seasons.



De Bortoli made the move into the Hunter Valley in 2002 with the purchase of the former Wilderness Estate in Lovedale. At the time, second-generation patriarch Deen De Bortoli had big plans for the estate, to replicate the success of the Yarra Valley operation. Sadly, almost at the time of opening the Hunter Valley cellar door and just after the 75th birthday celebrations for De Bortoli Wines, Deen passed away suddenly without fully executing his vision for the Hunter Valley estate.


When all of this was happening, Robert Travers was working as a chef. Robert grew up in Sydney, spent some time in Bowral and then headed to the Hunter Valley, where the peaceful, easy-going lifestyle and wide-open green spaces made him happy. He spent ten years at Kirkton Park with five years as Head Chef before spending another five years running the café at Peterson’s Champagne House (now Peterson House). “One day, I’d just had enough of cooking,” said Robert.


“I literally walked across the road with my resume and handed it in to do some cellar door work at De Bortoli’s. That was sixteen years ago, and now I’m running the place.”



It was around 2012 that De Bortoli’s decided to close the winery and lease it to Gundog Estate. The vineyards grow Chardonnay, Shiraz and Merlot (which is used to make Rosé), with local single vineyard release wines still being produced under the Regional Ultimate label, only available from the cellar door.


The Chardonnay is lightly oaked and quite unique. The Shiraz is a lighter style and reflects the vintage, whilst the Rosé is a tremendously dry style, pale in colour and reminiscent of Southern France Rosés. What fruit doesn’t get used is sold locally to First Creek and Gundog Estate. The main focus of the Hunter business has become the cellar door and the creation of it as a destination in its own right.


“When I started here, our liquor licence was restricted to what we produced here. Once we obtained a retail liquor licence, it was a game changer and opened up the opportunity to stock the full De Bortoli range. We now have at least 200 different wines representing around 50 labels.


“It’s a very competitive market here in the Hunter Valley, and it’s critical to stand out, offer something for everyone to enjoy, and become a destination that people seek. I believe we’ve done that here and although we may be the smallest component of the company, we’re the most profitable cellar door!


“The covid pandemic forced us to change how we thought about the business. Before the pandemic, people would jostle for positions at the counter. Suddenly we had to have social distancing. We extended the licencing boundaries so that people can enjoy a drink in the big courtyard and over the entire property.”


Tastings are available 10am to 5pm daily with tastings for just $5 per person, which is redeemable on the purchase of a bottle of wine (excluding special offers). Tastings take place surrounded by the barrel artworks of talented De Bortoli cellar door team member Chloe James who creates her colourful and quirky artwork in chalk with representations of everything the Hunter Valley has to offer.


Visitors can enjoy a selection of local and imported cheeses, a variety of olives and charcuterie items to compliment the De Bortoli wine-tasting experience from Roberto’s Gourmet Dispensa, which is open seven days per week. There’s also a fine selection of gourmet Mediterranean produce available for takeaway purchase for those looking at a night-in during their Hunter Valley stay or to take home with them.



“Robertos has only been open for six months,” said Robert.


“We thought the name sounded better than Bob’s Pantry! It’s a wonderful addition, and we find people stay longer, seated around their barrel with family and friends. There’s plenty of space, and we’re happy for people to stay as long as they want.


And if wine is not your thing, De Bortoli’s have you covered there, too, with a selection of beers from local brewer Maltnhops or one of their new range of cocktails in a can by luxury brand Curatif, offering everything from Espresso Martinis, Amaretto Sours, Negronis, Margaritas and more.


Robert and his team ensure that visitors always have something more to enjoy. Possibly the highest profile of these attractions is the Hunter Valley Wine Country Markets which have been on site for just over ten years, every Saturday, weather permitting, plus Sundays during school holidays and long weekends. There are between 35 and 50 stall holders from 9am to 2pm.


In keeping with Robert’s background as a chef and his passion for food, De Bortoli’s Hunter Valley has teamed up with BBQ Cooking School to offer BBQ cooking classes which have been running for four years on most Saturdays with a morning and afternoon class, usually with 10-20 people per class. It’s a hands-on cooking class where participants get to eat what they cook, ending the three-hour lesson with a visit to the cellar door to enjoy some wines. There are eight different themed classes from American Smoking BBQ, Middle Eastern, South American, Seafood BBQ and even a Christmas BBQ. The menus sound delicious with the American Smoking BBQ, for example featuring favourites such as Bacon Wrapped Jalapeno Poppers, Smoked Baby Rack Ribs with Apple Bourbon BBQ Sauce, Texas Style, Smoked Low and Slow, Bass Strait Brisket Smoked Corn with Jalapeno and more.



The latest attraction at De Bortoli’s Hunter Valley is the renowned Pinot and Picasso Paint & Sip art classes popular with groups. There is an array of wine and beer by the glass and cocktails for the artists to sip on whilst creating their masterpieces. Charcuterie items from Robertos are available for nibbling while learning how to create art.


Vittorio De Bortoli probably never could have imagined the success his family would reap from his hard work and vision all the way back in 1928 when he made his first wine. With so many activities to enjoy at the Hunter Valley estate as well as an extensively stocked cellar door, there truly is something for everyone to enjoy. And with family, food and wine at its heart, Vittorio would be proud.

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