June 1955 Roberto and Rosa Pizzini, their three children, Elena, Rinaldo, Alfredo and a baby on the way, embarked on a journey from Trento Alto Aldige in the Italian Alps for a new life in Australia. Two of Robert’s brothers (Arnold and George) had already made the move to Australia seeking greater opportunities after the second world war.
Once in Melbourne they were met by Arnold and taken to Myrtleford. Having been destined for Bonegilla near Albury, the first stop for many migrants on their way to the Snowy Mountain Scheme Arnold took responsibility for the family housing them and finding them work digging potatoes.
Their new life in Australia was not easy, but a letter written by a close aunty gave Rosa encouragement and some valuable advice “take the time to learn the language” and “do not make your children work too hard after school”. This would allow them to mix with local children and learn their new culture. Rosa took the advice, bringing up her children with open minds and a good grounding of the English language.
Roberto’s yearning for his old trade fitting and turning initially made harvesting potatoes an odious task and sometimes reduced him to tears at the thought of what he had left behind.
But Rosa’s refusal to move elsewhere meant that he had to stay. Together with his brothers and their wives Roberto and Rosa began to grow tobacco in Myrtleford, share farming for the first year and then on their own. This consortium of brotherhood encapsulated the Italian culture at the time and proved to be the important success factor in the survival of the four families.
At this time they grew the tobacco seedlings in Corowa where it was warmer and less frost-prone and then transported them to Myrtleford when they were ready to plant. They spent alternate weeks looking after the young plants in Corowa, living in a small tin shed with a kerosene stove and lamp. They lived on the bare minimum, but sugar was one thing Roberto could not go without. Running out one day the shy young Italian made his way to the local store to replenish his stocks. Still not able to speak English he began to describe what he wanted to buy. This proved impossible and after a long process of eliminating products they finally came to the one he wanted. Haphazardly, sugar was the first English word that Roberto learnt.
The four brothers and their families continued to grow tobacco together and progressively grew their business to eventually being the largest tobacco producing company in the southern hemisphere which at one point was able to employ and support seventeen share farmers as well as the four brother’s families. This was helped by the brothers expanding their operations to include tobacco growing sites in the King Valley. In the late 1960’s the four brothers decided that it was time to divide the business, three of the brothers (George, Arnold and Roberto) remained in the King Valley, while Alf remained in the Alpine Valley.
In the 1970’s the tobacco industry began to change in Australia as a quota system for the growing and sale of tobacco was being introduced. Around this time Roberto’s sons Rinaldo and Alfred began to take more interest in the businesses future and convinced Roberto that diversification to another industry was necessary for the business to prosper. Many options were discussed including the planting of blueberries. At this time Brown Brothers of Milawa were looking to expand their winemaking operations and were looking for local farmers to plant grapes. In 1978 Alfred and Rinaldo planted their first thirty acres of Riesling vines.
Over the next decade Alfred and his wife Katrina planted Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Shiraz, all of the fruit produced from these vines was sold to different winemaking companies around Australia. Towards the mid 1980’s Alfred began to experiment in the vineyard by planting two relatively unknown Northern Italian red grape varieties, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese.
In 1983 in Australia there were very few producers of Nebbiolo and Sangiovese let alone nurseries stocking Nebbiolo and Sangiovese vines, so it took a couple of years for Alfred to initially take some Nebbiolo cuttings to Charles Sturt University in Wagga and for these to be green cultured and propagated to get enough stock for grafting a full vineyard. In 1985 Alfred planted 35 vines which in 1986 gave enough buds to graft four acres. Gary Crittenden founder of the wine label Dromana Estate was instrumental in helping Alfred source some Sangiovese stock for the vineyard. In the late 1990’s Alfred began to experiment with the white Italian varietals Verduzzo, Picolit and Arneis.
In 1994 Alfred and Katrina began the Pizzini wine label with a Chardonnay. Initially the wine was made by John Ellis of Hanging Rock, but over time Alfred choose to bring the winemaking back to the King Valley. Now the wines are made by Joel Pizzini, Alfred and Katrina’s son. Joel has studied winemaking at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga and completed three vintages in the Piemonte and Tuscany regions of Italy.
In 1996 Alfred and Katrina began selling their wines at their cellar door which was created by converting one of the tobacco drying kilns.
The business today
In the late 1990’s Pizzini employed a distributor to distribute the wines in metropolitan Melbourne, New South Wales and Queensland as demand for the wines began to grow. The Family is currently exploring the export market.
Pizzini wines has been built by Alfred and Katrina based on the passions and commitment to family and the families Italian heritage, hard work and determination shown to them by Rosa and Roberto. Today these same virtues have been bestowed on Alfred and Katrina’s children who all work within the business in some capacity.
Alfred and Katrina’s vision is to entrench themselves as Australia’s premium producer of fine Italian style wines as they capitalise on their Italian heritage and the King Valleys ability to do so.