Otto and Elena Dal Zotto established Dal Zotto Estate in North East Victoria’s King Valley in 1987. Back then it was a small vineyard planted to chardonnay, merlot and cabernet sauvignon producing a few tonnes of grapes. These days the family vineyard holdings run close to 200 acres, there is a full winery on site, not to mention the cellar door, Trattoria, kitchen gardens, sweeping lawns running down to the King River and a bocce pitch where regular conquests take place, always with glass in hand.
The full story begins in 1948 with the birth of Otto Dal Zotto in Valdobbiadene, a cool-climate wine-producing village just below the alpine part of Italy’s Veneto region and the home of prosecco. In 1967 he came to Australia, and like many northern Italians, was drawn to Victoria’s alpine region where the snow-capped peaks in the distance and sub-alpine climate felt a little like home.
Otto’s first step was to buy land in Cheshunt, ten minutes from Whitfield in the King Valley. The land was used for tobacco farming for 20 years, and Otto believed his future was set. But things began to change in the 1980s, “The writing was on the wall for tobacco – there was already talk about banning it,” says Otto. “We were wondering what to grow, vineyards were starting to appear in the King Valley, so we decided to put grapes on it, an idea that had been in the back of my mind since leaving the Veneto where I’d grown up surrounded by vineyards.”
Having bought more neighbouring land soon after, the Dal Zottos began to plant the Italian varieties close to their hearts – barbera, sangiovese, pinot grigio and arneis. The scene was set for the greatest of them all – prosecco. “Like most good ideas, it came about sitting around the table with the family,” says Otto. “In Australia you couldn’t get a decent prosecco, and I wanted something that reminded me of home. So, in 1999 we initiated the first serious planting of prosecco vines in Australia. It was a long and painful journey – I was so scared you can’t even imagine, if it was a flop, all the time and money we invested would have gone down the drain.” Of course there was no need to worry. “We’re seeing more and more people just love prosecco here in Australia – you give them a glass and it puts a smile on their face,” says Otto. “I never thought what we started could have become what it is now!”
Otto probably couldn’t have seen the growth of the entire Dal Zotto wine business coming either. It was the addition of the next generation of Dal Zottos that marked the beginning of a major growth phase – Michael as winemaker and Christian handling sales and marketing.
Michael Dal Zotto started his working life as an accountant but was soon drawn into the family business. He has been making the wine at Dal Zotto for well over a decade now. In 2009 he was awarded a prestigious International Specialised Skills Institute (ISSI) fellowship, given to industry leaders to travel and further nurture their chosen art from the masters in their trade. Michael travelled to Valdobbiadene, the birthplace of prosecco (and Otto of course) to learn from the original prosecco producers.
Otto and Elena married in 1970. They farmed tobacco together, they raised four boys together and now they play their roles in the family business side by side. Elena’s main job is the kitchen garden, used to supply the Trattoria’s produce needs. The lush garden and orchard has a beautiful array of fresh organic produce and flourishes year round from the love and care of Elena’s well-worn gardening gloves.
The Dal Zotto family lives and works by the credo of family, tradition and innovation and with a third generation becoming involved in the vineyard, cellar door, kitchen garden and events, it seems there is plenty more family, tradition and innovation to come.