Close your eyes as you sip the lovely wine and savour the tasty food at Southern Highlands Winery, and be transported to a very Italian state of mind.
THE beautifully restored red Moto Guzzi on display at Southern Highlands Winery is a nod to the Italian heritage of this Sutton Forest vineyard estate, and chief winemaker Eddy Rossi’s eyes light up when we ask about it. The post WWII classic motorbike from a friend’s collection is the same type ridden by Italian farmers in their vineyards in the 1950s and ’60s, and makes a perfect conversation starter for visitors to the cellar door.
Winemaking is in Rossi’s northern Italian blood. His family emigrated to Griffith, NSW from the Tuscany and Veneto regions in the 1950s, and Rossi has fond memories from frequent trips back of watching his grandfather make wine near Venice.
‘Walking through the vines during harvest, there was a particular aroma of fresh leaves and fragrant fruit,’ he says. ‘I loved watching my Nono (grandfather) crushing grapes into his concrete tanks, preparing for fermentation. The best part of all of this was sitting down for lunch with all the family laughing, and after a few vinos, breaking out with Italian folk songs.’
Rossi’s original career plan was to study engineering, but after working in a winery lab after school and with childhood memories at the fore, he soon changed his mind.
‘I would see these winemakers every day, always laughing and having a good time, and I thought, that’s what I want to do.’
Owned by the Rossi and Corradi families, who come from the same area of northern Italy, the Southern Highlands Winery land was purchased in 1998. It has 30 acres of vines that were planted in 2002, which are all under cultivation today. Rossi clearly remembers the early days when they were excited to have a single visitor come through the cellar door. These days it’s a very different story. ‘Saturday is wine day,’ he says. ‘The number of people tasting wine is incredible. They flock in.’
The recently introduced five dollar charge for tasting is unusual in Australian wineries, but tasting fees are de rigueur in other parts of the world. With the cost deducted from any subsequent wine sales, Rossi considers it a reasonable business transaction that genuine buyers are happy to pay. Escape SH’s tasting took us through the full suite of Oldbury Reserve wines, described as Southern Highlands Winery’s pinnacle series.
‘It’s all estate grown, and we only select the best fruit,’ says Rossi. ‘We put a lot of time and effort into getting the best of the best.’
Their sauvignon blanc has long been considered a signature wine, but fashion plays a part and the trend now leans towards pinot gris, with the light to medium bodied 2017 vintage somewhat similar to the sauvignon blanc, but softer.
One variety that stands out for its point of difference is the 2016 Oldbury Reserve Pinots. A blend of pinot noir and pinot gris, it was created by Rossi to be rosé in style but using different grapes to a standard rosé. The result is light and fresh with lovely fruit flavours. Ideal for warmer months, but our group agreed it could easily be enjoyed year round. The pinot noir was a firm favourite in our tasting, described as having a ‘graceful curvy ending’ and a true sense of the Southern Highlands terroir. It’s delicious.
Both Oldbury Reserve and SHW wines are made on site. Rossi also collaborates with other local wineries, making wines for both St Maur and Sutton Forest Estate with their own grapes.
Beyond wine tasting, Southern Highlands Winery has plenty to offer. The restaurant (Italian, naturally), under the supervision of head chef (and Rossi’s cousin) Marco Salvestrin, serves up mouthwatering dishes including rabbit ragu with homemade gnocchi, paired with the Oldbury Reserve Pinot Noir, and zuppa di cozze (steamed mussels with chilli and garlic), a great match for their Oldbury Reserve Riesling. For insider tips, cooking classes are offered once a month with Salvestrin instructing in the kitchen and Rossi showcasing wines, and they’re consistently booked out.
Another drawcard is their wedding offering, with a choice of indoor and outdoor venues including the Tuscan style courtyard, depending on the time of year and size of the party. Some happy couples travel from as far as Asia and Europe to celebrate their big day with the vineyard as a stunning backdrop. The marquee outside seats more than 100.
If you want to get your hands on a bottle of SHW wine, you can buy online or visit in person (the cellar door is open seven days). Much of Rossi’s wine is currently exported into Asia, China being the biggest export market with a strong interest in premium wine, and Hong Kong a ‘good little niche market’. Making this winery a truly multicultural Southern Highlands success story.
GREAT FOR: Midweek wine tasting if you want to avoid weekend crowds; an al fresco wedding
RECOMMEND: the Oldbury Reserve 2016 Pinots, a very drinkable rosé style
Cnr Oldbury Road & Illawarra Highway, Sutton Forest
Cellar door open 7 days: 10.30am-4.30pm
Restaurant serves lunch Thursday-Monday, 12-3pm and dinner Friday & Saturday, 6-9pm.