Just like prosecco, Otto Dal Zotto was born in the north-eastern town of Valdobbiadene (Dal Zotto in 1948; prosecco considerably earlier). His father, Giovanni, grew grapes and made his own wine; family legend has it that Otto had his first sip of the fruity fizz as a four-year-old.
But the history of Australia’s wine industry could have been vastly different if tobacco had maintained its hold on Victoria’s King Valley, where Dal Zotto planted his flag as a 19-year-old after finding a place that reminded him of home.
Tobacco’s decline proved the chance for an agricultural pivot. The patriarch-in-making of one of the nation’s greatest wine dynasties started implementing the plan that had been percolating since his arrival in his beloved Veneto-like region.
Starting off as a small vineyard growing chardonnay, merlot and cabernet sauvignon, Dal Zotto Estate was launched in 1987. It wasn’t until a decade later that Dal Zotto sprung the idea on his family that would turn them into pioneers.
"I said to them, I grew up with prosecco and I’d really love to plant it here. In Australia you couldn’t get a decent prosecco, and I wanted something that reminded me of home.
My sons Michael and Christian just said, let’s do it. But nobody then knew about it. We had to develop a market, then we started to introduce other growers in the valley to it.”
Australia’s first prosecco vineyard was planted in 1999. Dal Zotto’s fears that he had taken a punt and lost were allayed when the inaugural 2004 release, L’Immigrante, sold out in a flash.
“I’m just so happy about Australians embracing prosecco,” says the septuagenarian of the love for the sparkling wine that now accounts for more than $60 million a year across 11 wine-growing regions.
“We showed people a different prosecco we can make here in Victoria. It’s not like the Italian prosecco… there’s a big difference and people are starting to appreciate that. The climate in the King Valley means we can ripen a good bunch of fruit and retain quite a bit of acidity in it. It’s all about the warm days and cool nights and really appreciating quality over quantity.”
Dal Zotto remained hands-on in the vineyards until he employed a vineyard manager last year (one gets the impression the vineyard manager is still very used to the sight of him). He’s also concentrating his energies on expanding the winery further, ensuring the Dal Zotto label can be made entirely on their own premises.
The Dal Zotto story is very much one of family. Wife Elena (who hails from the region’s equally renowned winemaking Pizzini family) tended the first few hundred prosecco vines herself and now cultivates the kitchen garden that serves the estate’s trattoria. Son Michael is the award-winning chief winemaker who makes various styles of prosecco, including a compelling col fondo and one in honour of his grandfather; another son, Christian, is in charge of the winery’s marketing and was instrumental in setting up the Prosecco Road food and wine trail that showcases the King Valley and its producers to the world.
Photography and video: Kate Shanasy.
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