Katrina Pizzini – Pizzini Wines

Katrina is the co-owner and founder of Pizzini Wines in the King Valley, along with her husband Fred. Their four adult children are now also involved making Pizzini a true family wine business – one that is based on Katrina and Fred’s shared passions and their commitment to family and Pizzini’s Italian heritage.

A few years ago Katrina set up the A tavola! Cooking School at Pizzini Wines, where she offers a range of Italian inspired cooking classes throughout the year – and it’s been a runaway success. This is Katrina’s fabulous story.

When, why and how did you first enter the wine industry?

I entered the wine industry when we planted our first vines. The year was 1978, the same year as the birth of our fourth (and last) child. Brown Brothers in Milawa were keen to procure grapes from wine regions other than Milawa as they had just experienced a mini cyclone that destroyed most of their vintage.

The Pizzini family had been tobacco growers since the late 50’s and after 20 years of being very profitable for the family, the industry was experiencing a down turn. Fred, my husband, and his brother Rinaldo were already looking at diversifying to other crops. We were one of the farmers asked by Brown Brothers to grow grapes so we saw this as an excellent opportunity and hence planted our first vineyards of Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.

1994 was the year that we developed our own wine label “Pizzini”. In 1996 we purchased the local Mountain View Hotel in Whitfield as well as, with local partners, King River Café/King Valley Cellar in Oxley. Both of those businesses were fabulous with regards to exposing our wines to many customers as well as owners of other restaurants and bottle shops etc .

Where has your career taken you so far?

My initial working days were in the vineyards as we developed to 80 hectares over twenty years. Once we started to make and sell wine, my time was increasingly spent in the office. My daughter Natalie and her cousin Adam took over the management of the hotel in Whitfield and as tourism developed, there became the demand to purchase our wines that diners enjoyed at the hotel so we converted one of the tobacco kilns into a cellar door. We also converted one of our share farmer’s cottages on the farm into a guesthouse so my time was juggled between cellar door, office and cleaning the guesthouse until we became so busy that we eventually employed full time staff so that we were able to fulfil customer demand.

In 2009 we built a new cellar door and included a purpose built kitchen so we could conduct cooking classes and cater for the festivals that we held 3 times a year. We are into our eighth year of running classes with most of them filled to capacity. My time is spent managing and running these classes as well as assisting with catering for the events and functions that we continue to host at the winery.

You are the Owner of Pizzini Wines. Can you tell us the story of why, when and how this happened?

Fred my husband took over the running of the farm when his father retired in the early nineties so that was when Fred and I became joint owners of the business as his brother and family moved to Queensland.

What is the philosophy behind Pizzini Wines?

The philosophy behind Pizzini wines is to develop vineyards on the best land we have available, to grow the grapes using minimal chemicals and minimal harm to the environment and to make the best wine we can with resources available. Most of our wines are to be affordable to the average person. In cellar door, cooking school, guesthouse and hotel our philosophy is generous hospitality with excellent customer service.

What grape varieties do you make wine from at Pizzini Wines? And where are they sourced from?

Most of the grapes used come from our own vineyards, we also source grapes from other vineyards in King Valley and Beechworth. Our range includes Italian and traditional French varieties, these are Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Sagrantino, Canaiolo, Colorino, Pinot Grigio, Prosecco, Verduzzo, Verdicchio, Arneis, Brachetto, Moscato, Trebbiano, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz.

What are your personal favourites from those you produce, and why?

My favourites are Nebbiolo as it is such an interesting wine, sometimes a challenge on the palate because of the tannin structure and is fabulous with the food that we make at home. I love Pinot Grigio as it is a wine that you can have a glass or two when relaxing on a warm day with lovely company, it is a fun wine and you don’t necessarily need food as it’s acidity is soft. 

Within the business – what’s a typical day like for you?

My days vary as on a Monday, I need to plan the cooking classes that are being held on the following Friday and Saturday. We are very lucky to have wholesale businesses that deliver into the King Valley but my ordering needs to be completed on Monday so that I have my ingredients for preparation on Thursday.

On a cooking class day, I start at 7.30am to complete the final preparations and set up for the class which commences at 10am. Guests are greeted with coffee and cake before being ushered into the kitchen where we include demonstration as well as hands-on components to the class. At 12.45pm at the conclusion of the tuition, guests participate in a group wine tasting to choose a glass of wine to enjoy with lunch while my assistant and I do the final prep for lunch. We say our goodbyes to guests around 2.30pm after which we set up for the following day’s class. My day finishes mostly at 5.

How does your overseas experience translate to your day to day work?

Whenever I travel for holidays and work, I always include participation in cooking classes and always translate my experiences into my own classes.

What is your absolute favourite wine and food pairing? And what should we keep in mind when matching food and wine?  

Nebbiolo with beef or goat ragu and potato polenta on the side. The Nebbiolo needs protein, saltiness and a little oiliness in the dish to tame the tannins and acidity, so this is perfect.

Bold flavours in wine deserve bold flavours in food, and vice versa.

As a woman working in the wine industry, have you faced any particular challenges where your gender has ever been an issue?

I think in the early years when in general most industries were male dominated, to be taken seriously was a challenge. Now women are more respected but I think we have to work harder than men to be noticed.

In your experience, do women think about or talk about wine differently than blokes do?

I don’t believe that men and women in the industry talk differently about wine but there are probably more men that “own” or have developed their own cellars at home, but that is changing with cellar doors being visited as part of the tourism experience and the choosing of wine purchased is shared.

What’s your number one tip for tasting wine?  

Take a big mouthful of wine. Keep it in your mouth and swill for at least 10 seconds, this  coats your whole palate, so you get the full experience of the wine, then spit. Drink water in between.

If there was one thing you could tell the sisterhood of wine-lovers out there, what would it be?

Enjoy your wine with food and be mindful not to drink too much.