Back in 1999, Italian-born Otto Dal Zotto planted a few rows of prosecco grapes in Victoria’s King Valley. He had no idea, when planning then with his sons Michael and Christian to produce their very own Italian-style sparkling wine, just what an influence their project would have on the Australian wine industry.
For Otto, the first L’Immigrante Prosecco, released five years later in 2004, was the obvious way of connecting their Australian cellar door and trattoria with the simple tradition of sharing a prosecco with family and friends, as was the norm in Valdobbiadene where he grew up, in the hill country of Veneto.
Today, the variety is grown in several regions around Australia and prosecco sales here are growing 10 times faster than those of champagne. Dal Zotto Wines alone now produces up to 40,000 cases of prosecco, a mighty leap from that 300-case startup.
‘Prosecco is a really nice fun drink, and it’s easy to drink,’ says Otto. ‘With the five different proseccos that we make you can choose the right prosecco for any occasion. It can be matched to food, enjoyed on its own and shared with friends and family; it’s enjoyable and versatile.
‘When we started, it was all low production – our own propagation of vines – from those first plantings in 1999, but that was a very good first step. Looking back, to where we’ve come from, it’s amazing what we’ve achieved. Not only for ourselves, but if you look all around Australia, you now have serious wineries, big wineries, that really want to have prosecco in their range. That’s great!’
Dal Zotto’s first effort, L’Immigrante, was a methode champenoise wine. They simply did not have enough volume to use the charmat process, an Italian method where the sparkling wine is produced in a strengthened, pressurised stainless steel tank.
Now, with production ranging from up to 40,000 cases across the various styles, ‘It’s a bit different,’ Otto says.
As output increased, allowing investment in new winery tanks and equipment, Dal Zotto started using the charmat method. The extra volume also allows greater consistency to be achieved in producing a range of excellent wines at affordable prices. There are five proseccos now, from fresh and sweeter to drier and more complex, designed to be paired with food and tease the palate.
In order of sweetness are Pink Pucino Prosecco NV (blended with moscato giallo fruit), the delightfully easy-drinking ‘go-to’ Pucino Prosecco NV (Essentials’ personal daily favourite), and the cellar door’s bestseller, a vintage Pucino Prosecco. The current 2016 release, well-balanced and boasting fresh, lively fruit, makes a great aperitif as it has a gentle touch of sweetness, yet it’s dry enough to continue drinking with food.
At the drier end of the spectrum are the final two wines in the collection, the L’Immigrante Prosecco, popular at the trattoria as it’s a fantastic food wine for warmer climates – Otto says it is well matched with fish or antipasto – and the recently released Col Fondo, a super-dry unfiltered prosecco that has gained complexity from time spent on lees. ’This wine goes back to the prosecco we made back at home where I was born and grew up,’ says Otto. It’s a brilliant creation.
That blossoming of Italian culture down under and the runaway success of prosecco, both for Dal Zotto and numerous other wineries, puts a warm smile on Otto’s face:
‘To me, it makes me feel good, makes me feel sort of happy and great. I just feel happy that so many people have embraced prosecco and see it as a nice drink. To me, for a person who grew up with a bottle of procecco on the table every day, I thought that this would never happen in Australia, but it did. I also feel so proud of my boys, with all the hard work they’ve done and what they’ve achieved with prosecco.’
Michael Dal Zotto, Otto’s son and winemaker, began working the vintages in the mid-90s. Otto says he ‘progressed well quickly’ as he had plenty of good people around to talk to and learn from. Michael’s pursuit of perfection paid off in 2013 when he was awarded a Melbourne University fellowship that allowed him to visit Italy for a detailed study of prosecco winemaking. The immersion in Italian culture was a powerful experience for him, Otto says. ‘He came back with a different view and mindset, with a real fire in his belly. Not just because of prosecco, but because of the culture, the people… He discovered more about the way I grew up. He now returns to Europe almost every year for vintage. With this, he continues to get better and better at winemaking.’
While the Dal Zotto family care about traditions in winemaking, they’re firmly focused on innovation. ‘We don’t sit in one place – we want to make our product better and better all the time’, says Otto. ‘So this is our commitment, and together as a family we’re all committed 110 percent. We’re lucky it’s this way. And there are never any shortcuts with our prosecco. From the vineyard to the bottle, each and every wine has to be made properly.’
To meet Dal Zotto Wines’ 40,000-case production target the brand now draws on three other estate growers in the King Valley, each vineyard being managed to Michael’s exacting specifications. For optimum fruit quality the grapes are hand-picked only when Michael gives the nod. Each step is carefully controlled, allowing each vineyard to produce fruit perfectly matched to one or more of Dal Zotto’s five proseccos.
Christian, the other son, has become a global dynamo in wine sales and marketing. Travelling Australia and now the world, he’s spent the past decade spreading the good word on just how enjoyable prosecco is. His energy is infectious and his can-do approach has opened up significant new domestic and international markets.
‘Christian is doing a great job’, says Otto. ‘He handles 100 percent of marketing, communication and branding and is so successful in this role. He’s now got our wine selling into Singapore and more recently Dubai. I’m very proud of his achievements: travelling on the road all the time is so hard, it’s an outstanding effort.’
Every member of the family plays their own part in the business. Michael makes the wine but also manages the company’s finances as CEO. Otto’s wife, Eleanor, runs a huge veggie garden where she grows all the produce that underpins the superb food served in the trattoria. Otto is content, now, to stay in the King Valley to manage the vineyard. ‘Together it’s a fantastic family effort’, he says.
We asked Otto if he’d like to share a special message with Essentials readers. He happily obliged.
‘Please just go out and enjoy yourself, and more importantly enjoy a celebration accompanied with a nice prosecco. It’s a celebration drink, and should be enjoyed with loved ones: close friends, your wife, your girlfriend, your entire family. Share it at the table and be together. Prosecco is very much a wine to celebrate with family.’
We’re happy to confirm that, for us, celebrating with a prosecco has become the norm.
DAL ZOTTO WINES
4861 Wangaratta-Whitfield Rd,
Whitfield, Victoria; Tel 03 5729 8321