Chrismont’s story is one of perseverance and continual reinvention, which has culminated in the recent opening of their spectacular cellar door, restaurant and larder.
Losing three vintages out of six might cause less stoic families to rethink their plans, but not Arnie and Jo Pizzini of Chrismont. “We lost our entire vintage due to the bush fires in 2007, our vineyard was wiped out by hail in 2009 and two years after that it was wiped out by frost,” says Arnie. While he admits this was heartbreaking, he adds that nevertheless, “we made a conscious decision to continue to push ahead, and develop our new cellar door and restaurant”.
More than five years in the planning, the building opened in late 2015, in a spot that is central to the vineyard operations. “We chose a site for the cellar door that’s on a plateau about 200 metres above the vineyard and offers sensational views over Chrismont land and the valley beyond,” he says.
The restaurant’s 40-metre-long balcony appears to float over the vines and is a beautiful spot to enjoy lunch, with a menu that pays homage to both Jo’s Sicilian background and Arnie’s northern Italian heritage. “It offers simple food done very well,” says Arnie. A well-stocked larder also offers take-home traditional Italian delicacies such as marmellata, house-made pickles, biscotti and torrone.
The Chrismont story began in the early 1980s, when Arnie was studying horticultural science. “I knew I always wanted to come back to the area, but not as a tobacco grower as my parents were. I heard that Brown Brothers were looking for grape growers so I deferred, came home and put in vineyards.”
Contract grape growers for Brown Brothers until the late 1980s, Chrismont then began supplying other wineries throughout Australia. All was going well until the mid-1990s, but then, “We could see that the writing was on the wall for the Australian wine industry in terms of oversupply,” Arnie explains. “We were faced with the choice to either get involved in winemaking to try and secure our future or to get out.” They chose to go down the winemaking path, engaging a contract winemaker, and selling wine from 1999 onwards, mainly into the Melbourne market. “We opened a ‘temporary’ cellar door in early 2000, which was our temporary cellar door for about 15 years!” he says.
The new building, with its spacious tasting area and welcoming restaurant offers visitors a real taste of the region. “We are seeing more visitors to the area than five years ago, as word of our alternative varieties spreads,” says Arnie.
With a venue like this, there will doubtless be plenty more.
Chrismont’s wines aim to reflect the unique terroir of the upper King Valley. “Our winemaking philosophy is to make approachable, world-class wines at an affordable price,” says Arnie. “We have the Chrismont brand, which encompasses more traditional international varietals, and then our La Zona brand, which features our Italian varietals, such as pinot grigio, prosecco, barbera, sangiovese, nebbiolo and so on.”
Chrismont’s winemaker, Warren Proft, joined the company 10 years ago and has been with them ever since. He adds, “We want to showcase the Italian varietals in their purest form and highlight their points of difference from other mainstream varieties, and to make their characteristics shine while making well-balanced wine.”