A generation ago, no one dared pop open a bottle of Italian sparkling wine for the fear of being considered a common, uncultured suburbanite. All we knew was spumante. Most of the stuff that was imported was cheap, sweet and bubbly. Then something happened. Just before the new century, young wine industry professionals and food tourists returning from Italy, brought with them their newfound love of the pretention-free sparkling wine from Veneto called prosecco. Light, bubbly, often quite dry, it was affordable luxury. Importers started bringing in the good stuff and then an Italian-born King Valley winemaker, Otto Dal Zotto, planted prosecco vines. Others followed suit, with the likes of Brown Brothers and Sam Miranda wines adding prosecco to their range. Today, prosecco sales in Australia are growing 10 times faster than those of champagne and it is becoming the go-to affordable sparkling wine for a new generation of wine drinkers. Prosecco is now grown in regions around Australia but its story starts in the King Valley with grower Otto Dal Zotto.
Dal Zotto Wines’ Otto Dal Zotto
‘I grew up with a bottle of prosecco on the table,’ says Otto Dal Zotto. The King Valley winemaker was born in Valdobbiadene in the hill country of Veneto. ‘It was a nice drink we had in the morning, sometimes lunch and at night,’ the Dal Zotto wines patriarch says with a warm laugh. He immigrated to Australia with his parents, grew tobacco, then changed to growing the classic varieties of grapes in the late 1980s for Milawa-based wine makers Brown Brothers before starting to make wine of his own.
‘Then one day my sons asked me, “Dad, what do you really want to do?” I replied. “It isn’t the Italian water I miss, it’s not Italian beer I miss… No! I really miss the prosecco”,’ he tells Essentials. He began searchings across Australia for someone who could supply prosecco cuttings for propagation, eventually finding an Italian man in Adelaide who could help. ‘It was amazing,’ says Otto. ‘Here was this Italian man who, unlike the others who sneak cuttings in their socks and underpants, he had followed the strict quarantine regulations properly. We could propagate his vines and plant them.’
With the first few rows planted in 1999 it wasn’t until 2004 that grapes were available to create Dal Zotto’s first prosecco wine. Because the volume was so small the winery made its prosecco by méthode champenoise. That involves racking the fermented wine into bottles, dosing them with sweet wine and capping the bottles to allow the wine to undergo a natural secondary fermentation that creates the bubbles. Dal Zotto still uses this labour-intensive process today for its L’Immigrante prosecco, which increases the price point. Most King Valley prosecco remains affordable because it is produced using the charmat method. Instead of the secondary fermentation happening in the bottle it occurs in a stainless steel tank, then the wine is bottled under pressure eliminating the time-consuming (and expensive) hand processing required by méthod champenoise. The result is fresh and vibrant prosecco made at a reasonable price.
Looking out at the vineyards that sprawl now across the river flats and cling to the hills of the King Valley one can understand why so many immigrants from the north of Italy came here. It looks like northern Italy. Otto draws the comparisons between the King Valley and his old home. ‘We are at the same elevation here as we were there in Italy,’ he says. ‘Rolling hills and valleys. Both are very beautiful.’
Visitors to Dal Zotto’s cellar door in Whitfield can explore a range of proseccos and taste – free of charge – the difference between non-vintage prosecco and the L’immigrante vintage prosecco. Many customers head into the trattoria next door to order some salume and antipasto, or perhaps a delicate dessert to enjoy with a bottle of Dal Zotto prosecco as they soak up the glorious view out to the river red gums, the vineyards and the bush-cloaked mountains beyond.
Dal Zotto Wines
4861 Wangaratta-Whitfield Road,
Tel 03 5729 8321