For a town of so few, it’s surprising to see two caravan parks in Whitfield, Victoria.
There are no major attractions or shopping strips in the area, but looking over the fields, it’s obvious why people come here. We’re in the King Valley, home of Australia’s Italian-style wines.
I’m travelling with my husband Gavin in a campervan. We steer away from sharing our night with other campers and opt instead for a night in the Dal Zotto vineyard. It’s a much nicer sight than a campground that greets us as we turn down its leafy entrance and pull up in front of rows of grape vines, underneath a gigantic gum tree.
The Dal Zotto family success is down to extremely hard work, including a busy family life with four sons, taking lessons at night school and changing industries from tobacco to wine.
Patriach Otto built up the vineyard, but it wasn’t until sons Christian and Michael took over that the Dal Zotto wine brand was born. Now the wines sell in top restaurants and wine stores as well as from their cellar door.
“The vineyard was once filled with tobacco fields,” Christian says.
He remembers black tar would stick to his hands after picking tobacco leaves. “It wasn’t glamorous, but it gave immigrant families like us cash to start a better life.”
The winery restaurant or ‘trattoria’ is in the old tobacco kiln, a room with lots of character. It is next to a 1950s-era police building the family saved from a demolition yard.
Crisp prosecco bubbles tingle on our tongues before we’re fed slices of The Otto, a thin crust pizza featuring “everything Otto likes on a pizza”, including caramelised onion, ham, mushrooms, capers and anchovies. Next, we scoff down fluffy balls of house-made gnocchi dunked in pulled pork ragout.
As we sip Arneis – an Italian white with the scent of a summer flower garden – we look out onto fields filled with grapevines. Cows and sheep graze, the Black Ranges provide a soft sketch on the horizon; it’s oil-painting pretty.
We contemplate a walk to nearby Paradise falls, a road-trip to fill up on foods from King Valley’s artisan producers, a game of bocce in the garden or a spot of fly-fishing in the nearby King River. But we’re invited to have another meal with the family and their guests.
After nibbling on cheeses, olives and chocolate in our Maui Haven package hamper, we head back to the trattoria. Christian and Michael make pizzas, roasted vegetables and a slow-cooked lamb roast. They tell us about the best way to preserve olives, tricks on how to make salami and about prosecco, an Italian wine the vineyard is famous for, having produced Australia’s first example of it a decade ago.
“Celebrating the tenth anniversary of our prosecco was my dad’s proudest moment,” Christian says. After a short walk in the moonlight back to our campervan, we settle down into country quiet, to be woken early by the long, loud laughter of a kookaburra in the gum tree.
“The Italian philosophy is to kick back and enjoy food and wine with family and friends,” Christian says, over coffee in the morning.
“There’s nothing pretentious about it, it’s all about making everyone feel welcome.”
That’s exactly the experience we had.
Reported for our AA Directions Autumn 2019 issue