The life and times of Calabria Family Wines

The Calabria Family (Bill Calabria sits third from the right) (Photo: Calabria Family Wines)

The story of Calabria Family Wines is nothing short of inspiring. And the release of the 2013 Iconic Grand Reserve Barossa Valley Shiraz shows just how far the third-generation company have come in their pursuit of premium wine production.

The 2013 release, only the second vintage of this wine, is an amazingly concentrated wine with exceptional energy and brightness. It has the depth one only sees from extremely low yielding vines.

When I first heard about the Iconic Grand Reserve Shiraz, at AUD $175 per bottle, I was initially perplexed. Griffith, the home of Calabria Family Wines, is a long way from the Barossa Valley.

Though one suspects that the inestimable Bill Calabria AM would have seen this distance as a minor challenge rather than an impenetrable barrier.

Bill Calabria has spent a lifetime in wine. He was the youngest child of Francesco and Elisabetta Calabria, who immigrated to Australia from Italy, making a home in Griffith by purchasing land for fruit farming.

Francesco Calabria initially made wine as a sideline venture to provide extra income for the family, however interest in the wines grew, and Calabria Wines & Sons was officially formed in 1945. By 1959, they were crushing over eighty tonnes of fruit. Bill Calabria, along with brother Tony, were involved in the production from a very early age.

The wines that the Calabrias first produced were originally sold in barrels. It wasn’t until 1970 that they released their first bottled wine under the Calabria label and a cellar door was opened four years later.

Hardship followed in the late eighties. To keep the winery afloat, Bill, his wife Lena and children Frank and Michael started washing bottles for other wine companies. Though it was an unglamorous tack, it kept the business afloat and set them up for future success during the export boom of the 90s.

Under the name of Westend Estate, Bill and Lena Calabria were known for their personal approach to all aspects of the business. The pursuit of quality was the driver of their success. And through the local and international wine shows, they let their wines do the talking.

In early 2014, they reverted to their family name, calling the business Calabria Family Wines to distinguish themselves from the large corporate wine companies and to reflect the three generations, over seven decades, that have worked so hard to make the company the success it is today. All four of Bill and Lena’s children, Frank, Michael, Andrew and Elizabeth, are involved in the business. And working alongside the Calabrias in the winemaking team are Emma Norbiato, Sam Trimboli, Tony Steffania and Jeremy Nascimben. Today, Calabria Family Wines is a major player in the Australian wine industry with their wines exported to over forty countries.

Among their many ranges, they are particularly well-known for the Three Bridges label, including chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and durif, which offer bold flavours and consistency. Their expressive Italian varietal range, Calabria Private Bin, offers exceptional value and includes varieties such as vermentino, nero d’avola, montepulciano and aglianico.

For Bill Calabria, it’s been the tough times in life, as well as the successes, that have helped shape him as a person and businessman. In 2013, he was awarded an AM, a Member of the Order of Australia, for his significant service to the wine industry, and to the community of the Riverina. Despite his achievements, he is a humble, albeit highly charismatic, person who is clearly not troubled by hard work.

So, it is not entirely surprising to learn, that instead of indulging in a spot free time now that his children are running the daily company operations, he has instead dedicated himself to reviving old shiraz vineyards in the Barossa.

The Calabrias began their Barossa expansion in 2010 with the purchase of the original Hahn vineyard, which includes twelve rows of vines planted in 1914.

Winemaker Emma Norbiato explains that what makes the Iconic Grand Reserve Shiraz so special is the age of the vines the grapes are sourced from.

“They have survived drought, floods, they have at times been neglected, but they are still in the ground. Not many plants in agriculture last one hundred years. The fact that they are still producing makes them special.”

Add to that Bill Calabria’s determination to preserve them for the future.

Calabria Family Wines now own three Barossa vineyards and plan to open a cellar door in the region in 2019.

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