The matriarch of the Dal Zotto family, Elena Dal Zotto is a classic 1948 vintage with a youthful edge, a bold finish and a keen passion for gardening. During the day, the avid gardener can be found amongst fruit trees and vegetable patches of the kitchen garden beside the Dal Zotto Trattoria. The lush garden boasts a beautiful array of fresh organic produce and flourishes year round from the love and care of Elena’s well-warn gardening gloves. All of the produce makes its way from the garden to the dishes on the Trattoria menu.
Since planting her first vegie patch almost 50 years ago, Elena has embraced the soil under her nails and eating the food she planted and grew herself. Although, she is the first to admit that she didn’t always have a green thumb, “When I first started gardening, I didn’t know the difference between carrot tops and parsley tops!” Elena said. It was her Italian-born mother and father who taught Elena all she knows about planting, tending and harvesting. “Over the years you learn from the oldies, I still ask them questions about the garden today,” she said.
Elena’s garden is not just a labour of love; all of the produce in the garden can be found in various forms in the dishes served at the Dal Zotto Trattoria. The Trattoria menu follows the seasons and changes based on what’s been plucked from the garden that day. Any extra fresh fruit and vegies needed in the kitchen are sourced from local producers in Whitfield. Nothing goes to waste from the crop; the leftovers are made into preserves, and weeds are fed to the chickens or added to the compost heap to help nourish future produce.
Raspberries were the first crops planted in Dal Zotto kitchen garden soil. 12 years on, the Trattoria still uses them desserts such as the seasonal pannacotta and house made sorbets. “We are lucky in the King Valley, we can grow almost anything,” Elena said. Other edible greens found in the garden are potatoes, artichokes, asparagus, heirloom tomatoes, brassicas, radicchio and lettuce.
Dal Zotto’s philosophy of family, tradition and innovation seen through every aspect of the winery also translates to the garden. On weekends the Dal Zotto kids help ‘Nonna Elena’ plant new seedlings and gardening tips are passed down to this next generation. “I make a circle and then the kids put the seed in the middle. I think they like eating the fruits more than helping Nonna plant them!” Elena said. Even her sons (Michael, head winemaker and Christian, marketing and sales manager) help out in the garden from time to time when some extra muscle is needed for hanging nets on the trees and pruning the hard-to-reach branches.
Maintaining all of the produce in the large garden is a full-time job but Elena shows no signs of taking a break from the work she loves. The 70-year-old mother of four boys says that the job keeps her young, “In my head, I am still 25! It’s hard work, but it is enjoyable work.” To have a thriving garden, Elena recommends checking up on the garden once a day. “The grass and weeds don’t stop growing just because you have put vegie seeds in the garden,” she said.
Her hot tips? Grow what you like to eat and weed before the weeds sprout seeds.