For the flood of Italian immigrants that landed in Melbourne after the Second World War their new home must have in some ways been like stepping onto another planet. The challenges of finding work and learning the English language no doubt loomed large as did coming to grips with the local diet – slabs of meat and overcooked vegetables all washed down with a longneck of Dinner Ale.
Having come from a country with a rich food and wine heritage the simple Australian diet of the time had many of these recent arrivals searching for a taste of home. To these new Australians in Melbourne brothers Tony and Bruno D’Anna became their vital link with the produce of their homeland.
In the early fifties the D’Anna brothers while working weekdays in local factories spent their weekends delivering Italian bread, which soon expanded into a wide range of Italian foods. Unsurprisingly the business was a success which saw the D’Annas buy numerous shops, the first of which was in Racecourse Road New Market, to keep up with demand.
One of these stores in North Melbourne already had a liquor license, and soon the family branched out into the popular ports and fortified wines of the time, sometimes bottled under the D’Anna label. This was, though, not the first time the extended D’Anna family had been in the wine business. Before arriving in Australia the D’Annas owned small vineyards and olive groves in Calabria and began to make wines as soon as they arrived in Australia so the family was in many ways returning to its historical roots.
In 1960 the D’Annas purchased their future vineyard in the upper reaches of the Yarra Valley at Hoddles Creek, chosen due to the presence of a small creek which provided a natural water supply. Ironically the property was bought completely without vineyards in mind – merely to grow vegetables and run some cattle – and well before the potential of the Yarra Valley as a wine region had re-emerged after a long hiatus.
It was not until the nineties, when interest in small wineries exploded around the country, that the D’Annas made the logical leap to plant vines at Hoddles Creek. Mario Marson, whom was viticulturalist and winemaker at Yarra icon Mount Mary, assisted in the planting of traditional varieties such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with the surprise addition of Pinot Blanc, which has turned out to be one of the star wines. With their now highly successful Boccacio Cellars wine business behind them, all the pieces were in place to return to serious winemaking and again follow in the steps of their forefathers.
For Tony’s son, Franco D’Anna, the path into the family business was almost a foregone conclusion. On finishing a commerce degree at the University of Melbourne he moved straight into a buying role for Boccacio Cellars but never quite settled. “ I did this for a few years but never loved it. I went out to the vineyard to help out after planting and never left. I loved being outside, not enclosed within four walls and working flexible hours. On the vineyard I’ll start work at 5am and then go play golf in the afternoon. What’s not to love about being a farmer?”
But Franco still lacked the technical knowledge and he knew it. So Franco went back to university – this time studying Applied Wine Science – which was followed by vintages with James Halliday at Coldstream Hills as well as overseas in Burgundy, Sicily and Piedmont. What those experiences have given him, combined with a lifetime surrounded by wine, is a unique take on classic Yarra Valley styles which centers on fruit quality “Without good fruit it’s impossible to make good wine. I have four staff members, and we spend 90 percent of our time in the vineyard.”.
Winemaking is also relatively natural and in true Italian style concentrates as much on mouthfeel and structure as the more traditional Australian flavour-oriented wines. “We are lucky enough to grow grapes in an area where additions aren’t really necessary. We don’t add acid, enzymes, filter so there isn’t much manipulation in the winery.”. And what stands out is that these winemaking philosophies are imprinted on each and every wine under the Hoddles Creek and Wickham Road labels which are unique, characterful and savoury expressions of the modern Yarra style. They are also delicious and generally made to age.