While the De Bortoli family initially built its reputation on cask wines and bottled wines that sold at bargain basement prices, there has been a rapid shift towards producing high-quality wines in recent years, both from the company's Riverina heartland and its cooler Yarra Valley outpost.
Darren de Bortoli, who now heads the company, created Australia's iconic dessert wine, Noble One, when he was still in his early 20s - and changed the family's direction forever.
“Noble One changed the public perception of the company and made people believe we produce quality wines," he says.
Now De Bortoli Wines is celebrating the 30th vintage of its landmark dessert wine and has released a special anniversary gift box for the 2013 vintage wine to mark the milestone.
The first Noble One Botrytis Semillon vintage was made in 1982 (it was then called Sauternes) and since then the wine has gone to earn global acclaim, still often being compared with the great sweet white wines of Bordeaux.
To date it has been awarded 136 trophies and 423 gold medals and today Noble One is the most commercially successful dessert wine made from botrytis-infected grapes in Australia.
"As one of the most recognised dessert wines in the world, Noble One has really cemented its place as the De Bortoli family’s flagship wine, both at home, and internationally," says winemaker Julie Mortlock. "As Noble One’s winemaker, I’m just a custodian, I look after it, and I find it quite a privilege to be given the role."
Since 1982 Noble One has only missed two vintages, in 1989 and 2012, both as a result of too much rain. The 30th anniversary gift box has been designed to "reflect the wine’s golden hue and recognise its significant contribution to the Australian wine industry".
It remains the only dessert wine to be listed on Langton’s Classification of Wine, classified as ‘Outstanding’. Such is its fame, that former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd presented a case of it to then Pope Benedict during his visit to the Vatican in 2009.
De Bortoli Noble One is a sweet dessert wine made from semillon grapes affected by the botrytis ‘noble’ rot.
|Darren de Bortoli|
Unlike other vineyard rots, which decimate harvests, botrytis cinerea simply weakens the skins of grapes, allowing water to evaporate; berries shrivel, but remain whole. This creates a high concentration of sugar in the berries, which produces incredibly sweet wines when harvested.
The Riverina climate has the perfect weather conditions to allow for the spread of noble rot: moist, humid mornings encourage botrytis, and warm, sunny afternoons dry out the grapes. Grapes are handpicked so that the weakened skins of the grapes aren’t damaged any further – a very slow process because there is little juice.
Fermentation occurs in stainless steel tanks, and is slow, taking up to three months. After fermentation, between 85-90% is barrel-matured for 12 months in French oak barriques, the same small tightly grained oak barrels as used by Chateau d’Yquem, the world's greatest sweet wine.
The 2013 anniversary Noble One Botrytis Semillon is now available nationally and comes in two sizes, 375ml, with a $33 RRP and 750ml, with a $64 RRP.