Even if you know nothing about wine, you’ll have heard of both Brown Brothers and Pizzini. But did you know that both families owe much of their present winemaking successes to the other?
The Brown family began making fortified wine in the King Valley in 1889 – such was the demand at the time – before pioneering a move to table wines. They were one of the first farming families to make wine in the valley, and by the mid 1900s, they were making so much of it they began to approach other King Valley farmers to grow grapes for them.
The Pizzini family migrated from Italy in 1956, and began farming tobacco in King Valley. In the 1970s, the two eldest Pizzini sons, Rinaldo and Alfredo (Fred), began to take more of an interest in the family business.
“The writing was on the wall that the tobacco industry wasn’t going to go the distance,” says Fred. “But wanting to stay on the farm, we began looking at diversification, so we grew vegetables and all sorts of stuff in between the tobacco. And then we heard that Brown Brothers was looking for grape growers, so we put our hands up very quickly.”
From Brown Brothers’ end, the benefits lay in more than just the extra fruit. “My grandfather was always really interested in the grape varieties [the Italians] were using,” says Katherine Brown. “He spent a lot of time talking to them and thinking about ways he could move Australian wine away from fortifieds or Shiraz, to making some really interesting wines out of really interesting varietals.
“It’s something that’s continued through to the current generation of Brown Brothers winemaking.”
There came a point when Brown Brothers no longer needed the Pizzini family to grow grapes for them, so Fred, who had learned a lot from the experience, decided to begin his own label. They’d been experimenting with Nebbiolo and Sangiovese (Gary Crittenden from Dromana Estate was instrumental in helping Fred source Sangiovese vines) as well as some more traditional varieties. In 1994, the first wine under the Pizzini Wines label was produced.
To this day, the Brown and the Pizzini family (and other winemaking families in the King Valley) still work closely together. “It’s what’s so lovely about the wine industry,” says Katherine, “we don’t really look at it as stealing each other’s secrets or anything like that. We’d much rather be there helping each other and teaching each other new things.”
Catch the Pizzini family and the Brown Brothers at Makers & Muses this festival season.