In the early 1980s, just as I was planting my vineyard here on the Mornington Peninsula, I became aware of a bit of a push from Italian wine producers into the Australian market. I would experiment at random by purchasing a bottle or two. Not knowing what to expect, I would more often than not be disappointed. I mentioned this one day to a good friend who was, and still is, a wine importer and he set me on the right path with some Italian wine suggestions and reading on the subject.
The single greatest influence on my understanding of Northern Italian varietals has been the book BAROLO by Garner and Merrit. This book is why I now consider Piemonte to be my “spiritual home”. I visited Piemonte for the first time in 1992 and still travel back there every 3 years or so. I personally believe Nebbiolo to be the greatest variety in the world, even (controversially) above Pinot Noir.
In the early 1990s I was talking to a wine maker colleague from Great Western in Victoria who told me about the occasion the famous ampelographer Paul Truel visited his vineyard. Truel took one look at his vines and pointed out that what my colleague and his family had (for generations) thought to be Malbec planted was in fact Dolcetto. Upon knowing this he then changed the varietal name on his bottles from Malbec to Dolcetto, but in doing so the wine proved impossible to sell. No one had ever heard of Dolcetto.
Given his lack of success with the wine I asked if he would sell me some Dolcetto grapes. He happily did so and I purchased some for vintage 1992. When the wine was released in 1993 I found that with the correct marketing approach, it actually sold quite well.
Soon after this I became aware of some Italian tobacco growers in the King valley in North East Victoria (the Pizzinis), who had small plantings of Barbera and Nebbiolo. I began to buy these varieties from them and I also sourced planting stock of Sangiovese and Marzemino, which I then went on to contract purchase from them annually. Believing it was, by and large, too cool for these varieties at my home vineyard I avoided planting them on the Mornington Peninsula. The exception to this was Arneis; in 1996 I was offered 500 Arneis vines that I bought and planted at Dromana.
By the mid 1990s there was quite a bit of curiosity in the industry about what I, and a handful of others, were doing with non-traditional (as distinct from traditional or French) varieties and I felt some guidance was needed for people wishing to plant, make or grow them. I also knew that the Wine Press Club of NSW had an annual award for industry and/or media of $5000 for a recipient proposing a project that would enhance and benefit the broader industry.
I wrote a proposal and was awarded the grant in 1998. It soon became obvious to me that what I had intended simply as a monograph deserved a larger body of work so I decided to expand the proposal by funding the extra dollars required myself. With the support of the Australian Centre for Viticultural Excellence, where I met my co-author and assistant Alex Mc Kay, I eventually got the publication to print.
The book was published with a limited edition of 2000 copies on the basis that it had little appeal to anyone outside the industry. It soon sold out, primarily to grape-growers and winemakers.
A second run of 1000 copies was then printed, the total of which equates to roughly one copy for every winery in Australia (3000 copies).
It has been out of print for about 10 years and I sometimes think of trying for an electronic version. But the work and information is probably out of date and the broader industry, especially in warmer areas, has moved on and is now well ensconced in the growing of southern Italian and Spanish varieties. As much as I enjoy this new movement I will, however, stay true to my greatest love; Nebbiolo.