Enjoy a taste of Italy in the Southern Highlands at Sutton Forest Estate Wines, where the Lo Russo family’s tradition in viticulture spans continents and generations to produce exceptional wines, served with a uniquely la dolce vita flavour.
Tucked behind the Hume Highway, near the village of Sutton Forest is one of the Southern Highlands best kept secrets, Sutton Forest Estate Wines and Cellar Door. It is here that Nick and Santina Lo Russo have been growing and handpicking grapes to produce award-winning wine varieties since 2002.
The estate’s impressive selection of premium pinot noir, pinot grigio and chardonnay is testament not only to the Southern Highlands’ cool climate and rich soil but to the family’s ancestral traditions and experience in viticulture in central Italy, a couple of hours inland from the Amalfi Coast.
“Growing grapes is in my blood. My Italian grandparents grew grapes and one made wine for the people in our village, Anzano,’’ says Nick, 78.
Nick’s father was a skilled bootmaker and after being imprisoned in World War II for seven years, he, like millions of others, emigrated to Australia.
“My father arrived in Sydney in 1954 and I followed him in 1958 when I was 17,” Nick says. “Then my mother emigrated here the year Santina and I were married in 1962.” The Lo Russos chose Sutton Forest for its similarities in climate and landscape to their ancestral Italian village.
“Our property was originally part of Black Horse Farm and we bought it in 1980 as an escape from city life, and because it reminded us of home,” he says.
With Nick’s parents, the couple built a cottage on the property and in the days before the construction of the Hume Highway bypasses, would make the long three-hour drive from Sydney most weekends with their three daughters.
“My parents spent quite a bit of time down here but back then I was still running my hairdressing business in Beverly Hills, Sydney,” Nick says.
“In 1990, after 29 years of business, I finally said ‘That’s it. I’ve had Enough’, and then we started coming down here more often.”
In retirement, Nick decided to try his hand at growing grapes.
“When I found myself with more time, I said to Santina, ‘well you know, vineyards are moving in the area, let’s put a few in’. We chose the grapes that produced the wine varieties we liked and agreed that if we didn’t sell it, we’d just drink it ourselves.”
During those early days, the couple consulted one of the area’s leading viticulturists, Darren Corradi from Southern Highlands Winery.
“I knew what I wanted to do, but there’s a method of doing it and Darren was very helpful in the setting up phase,” Nick says. ‘During those first couple of years, I’d ring him up and say, ‘Darren, what do you think of this?’, and he’d give some advice, which was great.”
In 2002, Nick and Santina planted five and a half acres of vines with chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot grigio grapes, which produced their first vintage in 2005.
Since then, the estate has gone from strength to strength, producing some exceptional vintages that have won the Sutton Forest Estate Winery a strong consumer following and local, regional, national and international wine awards.
But success hasn’t come without its challenges.
“It has a lot to do with the weather, which can be pretty unpredictable in the Southern Highlands,” Santina says.
“In 2007, our second year of harvesting, we had three major frosts in early November when there were new shoots on the vines, and it killed about 1500 plants.”
As Sutton Forest Estates Wine’s vines have become more established, so, too, have the quality and unique flavours of its wines and the Cellar Door offers an impressive variety of options to taste.
The celebrated Pinot Noir Three Daughters 2015 Black Label Reserve has been lovingly matured for 18 months in French and American oak barrels, which ensures a full-bodied taste with ripe cherry and strawberry flavours, with notes of forest floor. Another favourite, the delightful 2018 Chardonnay, is a perfect accompaniment to warm summer days with its velvety palate and vanilla, marzipan and fruity aromas.
Other varieties include the Italian style Pinot Grigio 2017, which boasts an impressive depth of fruit-driven flavours, and the limited Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir in an Italian Prosecco style. Port lovers will enjoy Nick’s 10-year-old rich Liquor Tawny Port. His Botrytis dessert wine has dried apricot and passionfruit characters and a deliciously lush and vibrant palate.
The Lo Russo family open their Cellar Door most weekends and welcome wine tastings, served with traditional Italian food pairings in their Italian-style courtyard.
“We have a lot of guests come and visit us for wine tastings from all over and some come back over and over again,” Nick says. “We know a lot of our return customers by their names now and over the years so many of them have become our friends.
“Every time they come they say ‘Oh, it’s like coming home’ and that means everything to me.”
Details Sutton Forest Estate Wines Cellar Door & Cafe, 21 Black Horse Lane, Sutton Forest Cellar door open Friday to Sunday 10am to 5pm