Q&A with Leanne De Bortoli

Leanne De Bortoli. 143316 Picture: ROB CAREW

Leanne De Bortoli is a third generation family member at De Bortoli wines and manager of the Yarra Valley Estate in Dixons Creek. Leanne and her winemaker husband, Steve Webber, now run the De Bortoli winery in the Yarra Valley, living and working on the estate. It’s where they raised two daughters, Sally and Kate, who, like their mum and uncles, grew up helping out in the winery and playing amongst the vines. The Star Mail did a Q&A with Leanne to find out more about her rich winemaking history and what life has been like on the farm during Covid-19.

Why did you start winemaking?

My grandfather Vittorio De Bortoli started making wine in NSW in the 1920’s, not long after he emigrated from Northern Italy. De Bortoli Wines was established in 1928 and is now run by my three brothers and myself. In 1987, we purchased the Miller vineyard and have now had a strong presence in the Yarra Valley for over 30 years.

How is your vineyard unique?

We have three vineyards scattered around the Yarra Valley with the main farm located at Dixons Creek; another opposite Tarrawarra Abbey and one in the Upper Yarra at Woori Yallock. Each of these vineyards is quite unique and suited to different varieties that gives us different options.

What do you think is the biggest challenge the wine industry will face in the near future?

Adapting to climate change and considering what varieties may be better suited to each of our vineyards in the future. Looking at how we farm our land and looking at sustainability as a must have – not a must want. We have made huge inroads into building up the natural biology in the soil using compost, compost teas, cover crops etc.

Phylloxera (a vine louse that affects the roots of vines gradually killing them) is prevalent in the Yarra Valley so we are looking at future-proofing our vineyard by replanting vines on American rootstock (the only remedy against it). We are looking at this as an opportunity to rethink carefully what we wish to replant; whether it is different clones and different varieties etc.

Has it been viewed as more of a business for you, or a lifestyle choice?

It is our life.

What is the role of farming in your local community?

Farming is very important to the Yarra Valley. We have such a rich history of dairy, orchards, vineyards and other crops. It is imperative we keep the ‘ruralness’ of the area and not allow urban creep to change the dynamics of the region forever.

What do you love most about your job?

Knowing that so many people enjoy drinking our wines.

What has life on the vineyard been like during Covid-19?

The winery and vineyard has been business as usual with winemaking, blending, bottling carrying on as per normal. In the vineyard we are towards the end of pruning and will be getting ready for summer training. It is the hospitality/tourism side of our business which is decimated so we have redeployed many of our full time hospitality staff into the winery and vineyard to keep them employed.

If you could choose one meal to have for dinner, what would it be?

Sorry, can’t do that. There are too many dishes I love. Pan-fried John Dory with a glass of Chardonnay, gnocchi with pine mushrooms and a glass of Gamay, Roast duck with a glass of Pinot Noir, Creme Crulee with a glass of sticky and so on and so on…

This Q&A was developed in conjunction with Agribusiness Yarra Valley. For more information, visit www.agribusiness-yarravalley.com or contact cab@agribusiness-yarravalley.com.