Words Jessica Gadd Images supplied
The King Valley wine region is often described as a little slice of Italy, and there are a few good reasons for that.
There’s the setting at the foothills of the Victorian Alps, with the gentle north-and northeast-facing slopes providing a range of microclimates from warmer valley floors to chilly higher hillsides. There’s the consistent soil structure that is mostly a deep clay loam, the plentiful rainfall, the warm days and cool nights. And there’s the 1950s–60s arrival of Italian immigrants, many of whom quickly realised that the region was perfect for growing a wide variety of high-quality wine grapes.
They were not the first to do so – Brown Brothers, for example, had been making wine in the region since the late 1800s. But the new arrivals brought their culture, and a style of winemaking that differed from that being produced elsewhere in Australia at the time. The King Valley is all the richer as a result, with one of the greatest concentrations of varieties of any wine region in Australia.
‘The King Valley, being of a cooler climate, is well suited to these Italian varietals that originate in the northeast of Italy,’ says King Valley winemaker Sam Miranda. ‘We’ve got all the Italian varietals, but Prosecco, pinot grigio, sangiovese and nebbiolo are probably the lead varietals here.
‘The thing is – it’s as much about the style of wine as it is the variety. It’s that real food-friendly sort of wine style that we produce here – bright flavours, crisp and sharp whites, nice savoury reds – as opposed to the big super-ripe styles that have been the typical Australian style. A lot of the bigger labels are now coming to the King Valley to source Prosecco, pinot grigio and sangiovese, because the style of the wines made here is very Italian – which sums up what La Dolce Vita is all about.’
That’s the La Dolce Vita Festival Miranda is referring to – an annual celebration of the area’s now-famed Italian heritage, food and Italian-style wines. He says that the intention of the festival is to give visitors a chance to experience the joy of living the way the locals do – big family gatherings, tables groaning with platters of fabulous food, and a glass of wine in hand.
Choose from the Sicilian seafood feast at Politini Wines, served by Nonna Josie and daughter Bianca, along with the winery’s savoury wines. At Pizzini Wines Katrina of A Tavola! Cooking School has a knock-out gnocchi to match the new release pinot grigio and sangiovese, and the kids can make their own kites and fly them over the valley (or indulge in the ice-cream bar). King River Estate has an Italian street food pop-up kitchen, wood-fired pizzas and live music from folk artist Liv Cartledge.
Brown Brothers has food and wine matching classes with Adam Liaw, and a farmers market and produce corner, with all the ingredients you need to create your own picnic – plus six musical acts across the weekend. If you prefer your wines preservative free, you won’t want to miss La Cantina, which is one of the only vineyards in Australia with a completely preservative-free wine offering – they’ll have a local produce market and handmade goods on site, too.
‘La Dolce Vita is a real occasion to show what we do when we’re at home with our own families. The kids can run around, and feel safe, and the parents can sit back and enjoy a bottle of wine with some delicious food, and watch their kids climb the trees.’
The other benefit of visiting the cellar door during La Dolce Vita, Miranda says, is that you’ll be among the first to try some of the earliest releases from the 2018 vintage, which are just starting to emerge. Miranda is excited about the promise shown by the 2018 arneis and pinot grigio grown in the King Valley, both of which are available now at many of the participating wineries – just in time for La Dolce Vita. Reds can take longer, particularly nebbiolo, which takes a few years to mature, but Miranda says the 2018 reds will be wines to watch out for due to the perfect conditions in which they were grown.
If you’d like to try one of the lesser-known varieties that the King Valley produces, Miranda suggests barbera, sagrantino, garganega, brachetto and verduzzo. Miranda tips that the 2017 sangiovese, as well as the 2017 whites, are all really good drinking now.
‘The 2017 whites, especially, are just starting to hit their straps. We find that our whites really start developing some great flavours once they have had 12 months in the bottle.’
We’ll give the closing word to King Valley heavyweight, Prosecco – first planted by the Dal Zotto family in 1999 as an Australian first, and now one of the region’s most-loved varieties. At La Dolce Vita you’ll find Prosecco served up in everything from cocktails to confectionery. A visit to Dal Zotto Winery on the Saturday won’t disappoint, with Prosecco cocktails prepared by mixologist Tim Dundoon, live music and DJ, and mouth-watering Tuscan porchetta (pork) rolls. Si grazie – yes please!
La Dolce Vita tickets are $25pp valid both days, and include free tastings and Spiegelau tasting glass.
What: La Dolce Vita 2018
Where: King Valley
When: 17–18 November
More information: http://www.winesofthekingvalley.com.au/events/la-dolce-vita-2018/