By Ash Robertson (Museums Victoria) and Catherine Forge (Curator, Invisible Farmer Project)
Industry: Wine – Pinot Noir and Riesling
Name of enterprise: Dirty Three Wines
Location: Leongatha South, South Gippsland, Victoria
“Our wine tells a story of love and abundance”, states Lisa Sartori, a 49-year-old viticulture farmer from South Gippsland, Victoria. Lisa – in partnership with her husband Marcus – is a proud owner and operator of Dirty Three Wines, an 8-acre vineyard in South Gippsland that specialises in Pinot Noir and Riesling.
Lisa was not born into the wine industry; she previously held a career as an investment banker before entering into viticulture alongside her husband Marcus. Her passion for wine, however, began much earlier on, during childhood, and is deeply linked to her Italian heritage and the memories that wine evokes for her:
My grandparents used to buy a barrel of wine each year; it was a rough red from South Australia. It came across on the train, and they would bottle it into beer bottles that would be their annual supply of wine. So from an early age we were part of the celebration of the barrel coming, where there was food on the table and the wine was bottled. Either someone would come and go home with a bottle of wine, or they would come for a meal and sit and enjoy the wine on the day. So, where I haven’t come from a wine industry family, I think that it was instilled from a very age that it’s lovely to share food and wine with family and friends.
With an incredible sense of appreciation and respect for the process of wine production, Lisa continues to instill this connection to family and friends through a shared experience of food and wine. Lisa and Marcus have twin daughters Ava and Ruby (aged 13), and Lisa believes that the sharing of wine and food is a gift that can be passed down the generations:
For our children and the generations to come, it’s about enjoying family, friends, and food and the festive side of drinking wine. It’s what we embrace with our girls. I’m sure one day they’ll want to be in amongst their friends and experience what we all have. For us it’s about teaching our children’s generation and beyond that the celebration of food and wine is an amazing story.
Adding to this sense of connectedness, Lisa also explains how wine-making has provided her with an opportunity to truly connect to the environment and awaken her passions for the landscape that the vineyard inhabits. The name “Dirty Three” is a unique moniker in that it represents the three distinct varieties of soil from which the vines are grown, and Lisa is inspired by her connection to the land she works on and the abundance that it provides:
It’s an amazing energy that the earth gives us. We’re very lucky to have our feet in the ground every day…I’ve always had a connection with the land as such; however, being able to be on the land every day, experiencing the seasons every day, has become my passion… The connection for me is just being in such a beautiful space. It’s abundant and beautiful and it provides us with very happy vines that talk to us, that embrace us with their beautiful lush leaves and their amazing fruit. It’s great to see the vines wake up; it’s great to see them grow.
Lisa’s role at Dirty Three Wines is varied and involves a mix of office work and client communications alongside hands-on outdoor activities that are dictated by the seasons. In summer Lisa drives a tractor to keep the grass mowed and she also ensures that the vines are growing up through the trellis correctly (shoot-positioning). She then picks the grapes and goes through a process of testing and tasting to develop the wine and bring out the flavours. In winter she prunes. ‘We’re governed by our weather and our seasons’, states Lisa, ‘so the day-to-day is literally what is needed on that particular day.’
Being based in South Gippsland, Dirty Three Wines is a cool-climate wine producer. Cool-climate wines are prized for their lower sugar levels, higher acidity and their herbaceous, spicy and floral flavours. One of the concerns facing Lisa and Marcus is their reliance on the weather to produce the cool-climate characteristics that their wines are known for:
Weather is a challenge for us every year. Last year wind was a massive factor for us. We lost a lot of our crop to the flowering season and the November winds… I’m not a scientist so I don’t know the words around climate change, but it does feel as though we are getting warmer, so that will be a challenge for us. Yes, climate change is going to be a massive challenge for us, however I’m not sure how this will play out in the coming years.
For Lisa and Marcus, one of the ways that they are meeting challenges is to stay connected with their industry and their local community. ‘Connections to me are everything’, states Lisa, ‘we’re really lucky to have like-minded people that are interested in what the land can produce.’
Like the vines she so carefully and devotedly cultivates, Lisa views her relationships within the wider community as a living social network, which requires constant care and nurturing to allow it to flourish and thrive:
It’s about connections. The vines are connecting and growing, and so are we. I see it as they do what we do, and we do what they do. I enjoy people and so our connections to our beautiful community of people is always growing. South Gippsland is an amazing food bowl, and connecting with our community is everything… For me it’s more about being able to tell those farming stories and to be able to connect the consumer with the farmer.
As a testament to their dedication to community outreach, Lisa and her husband often travel to Melbourne to offer wine tastings and seize opportunities to interact with their consumers and suppliers. In order to encourage more informed and understanding relationships that bridge the gap between producer and consumer, Lisa chooses to engage with the wider community through sharing their farming stories. These stories speak to a duty of environmental care and stewardship, community support, and a family business that overflows with love and abundance.