In 1946, newly married Nita and Mario Constanzo established themselves at Golden Grove Estate near Stanthorpe.
Nita, the daughter of Italian immigrants, and Mario, having recently emigrated from Sicily with his family, set about establishing their stone fruit and table grapes business. In true Italian tradition, table grapes unsuitable for sale were soon converted to wine.
“Wine was always made from left over table grapes because that was a beverage that everyone drank,” says their daughter-in-law, Grace Constanzo. “There was a market for selling homemade wine to Italians living in Brisbane and North Queensland. They would send it up on the railway.” And so began the journey from Italy to Australia, and the journey from table grapes to a celebrated Queensland winery.
Not until 1972 did the couple turn their hands to wine grapes, when they planted the first shiraz vines. In 1985, their son Sam Costanzo and his wife Grace took over the business. Taking advantage of their prime wine country real estate, they planted vines over the course of the next decade, including chardonnay, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc and semillon.
A third generation of Costanzos has since joined the business. Sam and Grace’s son, Raymond, returned home to the family vineyard 12 years ago after completing studies at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga, with a Bachelor of Applied Science (wine science) followed by seven years working in vineyards interstate and abroad. Experience in wineries such as De Bortoli (where he worked under winemaker Steve Webber, who would become a great influence on his winemaking), and Hogue Cellars in the Yakima Valley, USA, helped shape the young winemaker.
“Dad was self taught, he learned how to make wine from his father and by reading books. I brought different techniques and the technical side to the winery,” says Ray. Running a multi-generational family business is no easy feat, although with Sam and Ray playing on their strengths, the grape producer and winemaker have proved a winning team. “Dad gives me fantastic grapes. It’s a rare thing to have a good, old farmer on hand. New farmers can’t just look at their vineyard and know what’s happening; they need to get everything tested. Ninety per cent of making good wine is in the vineyard.”
In preparing for the return of the prodigal son all those years ago, Sam planted vines of alternate grape varieties suitable to the region, to give Ray something to play with. Although nobody expected it, the alternative grape varieties have turned out to be the most successful.
The Golden Grove durif (a French red varietal), vermentino and temperanillo are just a few of the varieties winning accolades. Their success in the field has been heralded by wine authority James Halliday, who has given Golden Grove a five-star rating for the past six years, describing them as ‘one of the top 10 dark horses of the year’ in his 2014 wine companion.
The family winery will concentrate on more alternative varieties in the coming years. As for Ray, he will work on becoming a more relaxed winemaker.
Now that he knows the vineyard better and knows what to expect, he can concentrate on becoming less technical and more natural.
Words Alice Thompson Images supplied by Golden Grove Estate