When my father Bruno arrived in Australia in the 1950s, from Abruzzo in Italy, he brought with him two things: a love of wine handed down to him from his viticulturist father Francesco, and an ethos belonging to the Abruzzo region - forte e gentile or strong and gentle.
He did what he knew best - with my mother Angela he grew vegetables and they became successful market gardeners. They worked very hard but never forgot their origins where food and wine were an integral part of relaxation. I grew up understanding that wine meant family and friends, laughter and celebration, around a shared table laden with the rustic foods of our homeland.
After years of working with my father in his potato business, I started making my own wine in 1995. For the first few years I operated on a small scale, providing wines for my family and close friends. Then in 1999 I was introduced to one of Australia's future winemaking talents, Ben Glaetzer. During a now legendary five-hour discussion over a restaurant table and quite a few bottles of Shiraz, we fashioned a dream of making the ultimate expression of McLaren Vale's rich provenance of soils and climate, and taking these wines to the world.
Our business plan was jotted on the back of a napkin and it consisted of just six words: individuality, integrity, quality, purity, elegance and power.
My grapes came from an old friend of my father's Don Lopresti, another Italian migrant of the 1950s, who left Calabria and established a vineyard close to the seaside town of Port Willunga in McLaren Vale. Don, along with his two sons Joe and Michael, have an affinity with their land, a deep understanding of its limitations and its potentials and through simple practices and hard work produce fruit of the highest quality. The fruit here is the essence of Mitolo, with a depth of flavour garnered from the heavy clay soils, yet freshness thanks to the gentle afternoon sea breeze that tempers the hot summer sun. Forte e gentile – strong and gentle.
Ben and I work closely with the Lopresti’s, picking the grapes when they are "flavour ripe" not simply at the right Baume level. We have come to understand their seven different blocks and the tiny variations in soil and micro-climate, and we keep each parcel separate to accentuate the sub-regional influence that McLaren Vale is famous for. We take a very ‘hands-off’ approach in the winery, fermenting cool to retain purity, and using a range of barrel coopers to generate complexity yet respect and enhance the fruit.
The first wine we produced, the 2000 G.A.M. Shiraz was named after my children Gemma, Alex and Marco. Since then we have added another ten wines to the range each with its own distinct personality and story. My Italian heritage runs strongly through the range: we use the Italian varietals Vermentino and Sangiovese; and we use the Italian appassimento technique of drying fruit to make our Jester Cabernet and Serpico wine. But perhaps most importantly of all, our wines are made to suit the Italian foods of my homeland.
Wine has always been a part of my family’s table. Every new vintage of Mitolo is a reminder of my grandfather's viticultural lineage and my parent's humble beginnings. Our business meetings are still held around the kitchen table over Sunday lunch, served with the foods of our heritage and now, my wine. At the heart of it all, in the wine style, in the people, is the motto that my father brought with him from Abruzzo - forte e gentile: strong and gentle.