BILL Calabria is an award-winning winemaker from the Riverina but he can never drink his wine.
Instead he prefers to sip on a cup of tea as he is allergic to the ingredients of wine.
“I do a lot of sniffing, sipping and spitting when my winemaker and I work on each vintage,” Mr Calabria said.
It hasn’t stopped him from producing a household name of quality wines from his Griffith winery.
As Mr Calabria looks over the land that was built with his father Francesco’s hands, he reflects on the generational export business that now involves his wife Lena and all four of their children Andrew, Michael, Frank and Elizabeth.
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"For 40 years our family has united around the kitchen table,” Mr Calabria said.
“A table overflowing with good food, great wine and very passionate (or some may say robust) conversation about the future of our family business.”
The wine business started when his father began an making homemade wine using laundry tubs to sell to neighbours.
“As a child I remember the wine being enjoyed by family and friends, who would purchase the wine in large barrels,” he said.
“His techniques of making the wine never changed and the end product was always delicious.
“The idea of making home-made wine was simply to survive; it was a means of income for my parents – something that I am eternally grateful for.”
In 1945 his parents Francesco and Elisabetta founded Calabria and Sons and it wasn’t long before Bill and his brother Tony were running the small winery.
But by the 1980s (the winery now called Westend Estate), Australia was in a recession and sales had dried up with vines ripped out of the land.
They started washing wine bottles for other wineries in the region to keep the winery dream alive.
In the 1990s things turned around and with demand from overseas they exported 500 cases to the United Kingdom in 1995.
The winery changed name again back to their origin to Calabria Family Wines in 2013.
Now the family business exports to 42 countries to including the US, Europe and China as well as Malta, Germany, Indonesia and Japan.
They have built a fine reputation and earned themselves a number of awards – the latest including being named as a James Halliday five star winery, ‘Best in Show’ trophy at the London 2018 ‘Decanter World Wine Awards’ for a new release: Calabria Saint Petri Grenache Shiraz Mataro from the Barossa Valley as well as winning ‘NSW Wine of the Year’.
According to Winetitles Media, Calabria Family Wines are ranked in the top 20 of wine producers in Australia.
The next generation have expanded their wine portfolio and they are now sourcing fruit from the Barossa Valley in South Australia.
On a trip to the Barossa Valley, the family came across an old derelict vineyard that contained 100 year old vines.
“My father touched the dirt and looked at me and my brothers and said ‘this is it’,” Mr Calabria’s son Andrew said.
“It was those three simple words that brought us to our new home, for once we didn’t challenge or judge my father’s statement, as we to could see the potential of the vineyard.”
In 2010 they became proud custodians of "The William Vineyard", which was planted by the Hahn family. It followed by an additional Barossa Vineyard purchase in 2012, "The Sophie Vineyard".
In March 2015, another opportunity presented itself and they purchased the picturesque ‘Magnolia Vale’, which comprises of 10 hectares of quality Shiraz fruit, a 1800’s bluestone cellar door building and award winning restaurant.
The Calabria Family now have three diverse locations across the many micro regions in Barossa Valley and on January 1, 2019, they will turn the key to an additional cellar door in the region, joining the existing premises of the award winning restaurant; Harvest Kitchen.
AUSTRALIAN wine exports continue to experience strong growth in both value and volume, with an increase of 11 per cent in value to $2.71 billion and 5 per cent in volume to 842 million litres for the year ended 30 September 2018.
Wine Australia CEO, Andreas Clark, said today’s export figures show that there had been strong and sustainable growth over the past 12 months, delivering the third year of double-digit growth on a year ended September basis.
“These figures are the result of a lot of hard work by Australia’s 2401 wine exporters, the people who spend time in market to build their brands, distribution networks and awareness of all that Australian wine has to offer consumers,” Mr Clarke said.
Mr Clarke said Australia exported more than 60 per cent of the wine it produced, so it was important to continue to build export markets.
The 2018 Australian winegrape crush was 1.79 million tonnes – a decrease of 10 per cent from the record 2017 harvest.
- This story first appeared on The Land.