In talking with Joel Pizzini ‘luck’ often came up in the conversation, reflecting a warm outlook on life. However, our conversation revealed an adventurous and innovative spirit, from the move into Italian varietals, a drive for quality in the vineyard, and an eye to the future, together with resilience in the face of numerous annual challenges of growing grapes and winemaking ‒ let alone the impact of COVID-19 and the 2019-2020bushfires. Pizzini’s awards and rewards are truly well earned.◆How did your family come to Australia and King Valley?Joel――One of my great uncles, who was the adventurer in the family, saw atv show and was keen to get out of post-war Italy. He was in his early 20s and while walking along the wharf found a flier that said: ‘come to Australia, there’s plenty of work and opportunity’. So he emigrated to Australia, bringing a couple of brothers with him. Lots of letters were sent to Italy to encourage the rest of the family to come, and my grandparents Robert and Rosa, who was pregnant at the time, my father Fred, uncle Ron and Robert’s mother made the voyage to Australia. Robert was a fitter and turner by trade, and was sponsored by the Australian government to help pay for his trip.They arrived at the wharf in Melbourne, transferred to the Bonegill a migration camp (near Wodonga in north east Victoria), where my heavily pregnant grandmother said “we’re not going any further.” So rather than going to the Snowy Mountains hydro scheme*, Robert and his brothers ended up settling in Myrtle ford where they got involved in farming and restaurants, before focusing primarily on farming and growing tobacco.They basically arrived in Australia with the clothes on their back. Starting off with nothing they worked as share farmers, and saved up enough money to buy their own farms to grow tobacco which the Government was heavily subsidizing at the time to encourage land use. That’s how they arrived in the King Valley. It was very fertile land with plenty of water which tobacco really needed - primarily grown on river flats on sandy, alluvial fertile soils. We’re just lucky that grapes also thrive in the same area.From left: Natalie (brand manager), Fred (founder, retired from management 5 years ago), Katrina (Head of “A tavola!” Cooking School), Carlo (CEO), Nicole (her husband is in charge of accounting), Joel (chief winemaker and viticulturalist), ◆ When did you transition from tobacco to grapes?――Our family first planted grapes in 1978, when we could see the writing on the wall for tobacco. Brown Bros were really starting to grow and were wiped out by a hail storm. So Ross Brown and his brothers came into the area to ask tobacco growers to start producing grapes for them, and pioneered grape growing in the region. Talking about the expansion Ross later said “we approached tobacco growers in particular, and Italian tobacco growers specifically, because they all have green thumbs and we know that they can grow anything.” The Browns had a great program for educating their growers and supporting them during the transition. We planted 30 acres of Riesling to sell to Brown Bros ‒ and slowly added the other internationals in over time, Chardonnay, Cabernet, and Shiraz. Riesling is a great wine from the King Valley ‒ of all the internationals it is the most consistent varietal, and we can make fantastic styles.Winery◆When and why did you transition to Italian varietals?――We planted our first Nebbiolo vines in 1987 ‒ the spark was from our Italian heritage and food. At the time my father Fred had become very good friends with the viticulturalists at Brown Bros and they would often make a little bit of wine outside work hours at our place and also share bottles that had arrived from Italy. Also, the market is so competitive for Chardonnay and other internationals, it is virtually impossible for a new region to shine. Putting our passion into our Italian varieties enabled us to stand. Once we started in 1987 we never stopped. We planted Nebbiolo, then Sangiovese, Arneis, Verduzzo, and Pinot Grigio, and began to build a portfolio of wines.There was a lag while building our reputation with Nebbiolo and Sangiovese, we were still making Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Merlot, Cabernet and Shiraz. At that time there really wasn’t a lot of education about Italian wines, so we put a lot of effort into travelling and tastings to get our message across. We were well supported by sommeliers who were very keen to see different varietals and styles that were easy to match with food, which gave us encouragement that we were doing something right.Between 1999 and 2004 we had strong interest, mainly for Sangiovese, which encouraged us to grow the business, planting more vineyards. We planted new clones as they became available, to keep up with new technology and styles so we could be the leaders in this field and maintain a high quality and style of wine people like to enjoy.The next major growth came from Pinot Grigio, and we developed a great style. At that time Sauvignon Blanc was really smashing it in Australia and globally, and I looked to create a similar style. I spent time understanding what people liked about Sauvignon, how we went about picking our batches over a couple of weeks, so green, green crunchy, a little ripe, riper, to create a jigsaw puzzle of blending components, and then bringing them together to create this style. Our Sangiovese and Pinot Gris drove growth over a 10-15-year period while other wineries around us were going back wards.We were late coming into Prosecco (Glera), about 2011. We planted 20 acres and it has been quite successful. In the early days we hand-picked and whole bunch pressed, to get nice length without astringency which can add a touch of bitterness. Treating it gently also keeps the sugar level down‒ it’s in the 7.5 ‒ 9 g/range.◆With a new varietal how do you benchmark yourself?――For Sangiovese which we pioneered, we worked with Browns who helped source vine material through their extensive network of contacts. We also started a great relationship with Alberto Antonini**, an Italian winemaking consultant. He bought a quality focus to what we were doing, building the knowledge base and management practices required, and helped start our journey in refocusing.When I joined the business full time in 2002 Australian wines were generally floral, fruity and sweet, and relatively simple but commercially successful. I wanted my wines to be earthy, savoury, with leather and spice complexity, and coupled my philosophy with Alberto’s knowledge. At its simplest, it was about growing picking and making, and speaking to lots of people who know more about it than me.Among the changes we made with Alberto was cane pruning our vines to help manage our yields ‒ they are more consistent and easier to manage. Also, our approach to thinning grapes and leaves to get filtered light through the canopy, all aimed at getting the grapes to mature, the flavors, the seeds, lignification of the canes, because the tannin structure of the Italian varieties is so important to the integrity of the wine. If you get 2 percent greenness and rawness in the tannins it makes them edgy and uncomfortable. Shiraz is much more forgiving, you can do almost anything to it and it is still a drinkable, easy-going wine. Then getting the harvest days right, not picking the fruit too ripe or under ripe. For me the perfect alcohol balance for a wine is 13.5-13.8 per cent. I try to avoid going over 14 per cent, because the alcohol aroma starts to override the other flavours in the wine.◆How have you evolved your approach in the vineyard?――More recently, I’m working with Pedro Parra, a Chilean who works as a ‘terroir specialist’. His gift and what he has trained himself in is tasting wines and then going and digging a hole two meters down in the vineyard, analysing the roots and the soil to understand what they are feeding on, and why the wine tastes like it does. We are basically doing a terroir survey of our whole vineyard which has been very insightful ‒ for example, this site will give you tight a stringent wines because of the powdery soil structure, whereas over here you will have more floral fruit.Our vineyards were all set up as large 5 to 10-acre plots to maintain the commercial realities of our business, and for a long time we identified certain sections with different qualities of grapes. While we picked them as separate parcels, we are now upping the ante across the whole vineyard. For example, the Sangiovese from the river flat primarily goes into Rose - it has low phenolics and beautiful aromas so it is perfect for that style. Medium sites are suited for blending with Shiraz. If you listen to them, the different clones and qualities are just speaking to me ‘make me like this’, and the result is this beautiful range of Sanglovese wines that celebrate the variety, and it makes my life so much easier when we do that. It is the sum of experience over time.Pedro has enabled us to fine-tune the focus, with GPS marked areas through all the vineyards that we handpick. We are also finding pockets on different soil types that ripen earlier, and different conditions within the soil so we pick that section out and then treat the fruit in separate batches in the winery. Finding patches of grapes that are unique to our vineyards enables us to keep producing unique wines. Looking 10 years out, I am keen on making terroir-based, small batch, highly individual wines.King Valley◆What impact did COVID-19 and the bush fires have on Pizzini?――COVID hasn’t been much fun. Melbourne is shut down which basically shuts us down because most customers for our wines, the cellar door and regional tourism comes from Melbourne. We were lucky to get the harvest in and processed, we were looking down the barrel of being closed down, and Wine Australia and Wine Victoria lobbied hard to keep wineries open as an essential service. We were also lucky in King Valley with the bush fires which came close, and there was low level smoke impact. We made all our white wines and Rose. I chose not to pick any reds because I felt it was risky with the way smoke compounds extract into the wine during fermentation on skins. With white wines we just pressed lightly and got good juice ‒ so the extraction rate was75 percent of a normal year, and that maintained good quality.◆Is the next generation coming into the business?――I have about 10 nephews and nieces, and some are just old enough to start doing work experience. My sister Nicole’s daughter is helping my mother Katrina in her very successful cooking school. My sister Natalie’s son is working in the vineyard with me and our team, and is showing good interest. As one of the family members working in the business it is an extremely important duty to foster that interest and desire, and give them the opportunity should they want to work in the business in the area they feel their skills lie.*Snowy Mountains Scheme: Australia’s largest water resource development(hydropower and irrigation) built between 1949 and 1974.** Alberto Antonini: Born in Tuscany, since 1997 he has worked as a wine making consultant. Selected as one of the world’s top 5 consultants by Decanter wine magazine, he focuses on winemaking that expresses regional characteristic.《From Village Cellars》Immigrants from across Europe arrived in the 19th century, pioneering the planting of grapes for wine in new regions, made wines we now know well, and began exporting them. This has led to trade friction and restrictions over the use of names such as Port, Champagne, and Prosecco. For example, in the future if a great sake is made in Australia, it cannot be called ‘Australian sake’, and for the same reason, we can no longer use the description ‘Australian Prosecco’.