Franco D’Anna was born into a family with fair wine credentials, having established and run one of Melbourne’s legendary wine stores since the 1960s. A childhood in wine retail blossomed into a career in winemaking when the family put down some literal roots in the cool of the Upper Yarra Valley in 1997. D’Anna uses the classic Yarra vehicles of chardonnay and pinot noir, plus pinot blanc, to turn out wines of significant sophistication, minus the obvious winemaker trappings – svelte, varietal and deeply characterful. D’Anna was the Young Gun of Wine People’s Choice winner for 2010.
For those is the know, the D’Anna family are Melbourne food and wine royalty. Working out of their traditional Italian-leaning grocer and fine wine store, Boccaccio Cellars, the family have endured and thrived in a market dominated by major supermarkets and chain liquor stores. While they cornered the market in Balwyn, the D’Anna’s were also making significant moves in the Yarra Valley, with the establishment of their Hoddles Creek Estate.
The first plantings went into the ground at their Gembrook property in 1997, with 8 hectares of pinot noir and chardonnay planted to the steepest slopes on the vineyard. More pinot noir and chardonnay, plus some pinot blanc followed in 2001, with cabernet sauvignon, pinot gris and sauvignon blanc coming later still. Franco, whose twin brother, Anthony, takes the reins at the store and for their prolific wine importing arm, Mondo Imports, first worked onsite in 1998, and it skewed him away from a career employing his commerce degree (Melbourne University) to retraining as a viticulturist at Charles Sturt.
The first commercial vintage at Hoddles Creek was in 2003, in their just-completed bespoke winery. The sure hand of Mario Marson (ex-Mount Mary, now Vinea Marson) steadied the course then, but it was not long before Franco was in full charge, with the mandate to make the best wines he possibly could. Peppered with vintages overseas (Mondo Imports being a good launching place for some great contacts), including in Burgundy, Piedmont and at the Sicilian star Passopisciaro on the vertiginous slopes of the very actively volcanic Mount Etna.
Hoddles Creek have been perhaps as well known for their premium bottlings as they have been for their dazzlingly economical Wickhams Road range, perennially the best-value chardonnay and pinot noir in the market. Although it caused its fair share of concern to Franco early on, once established, the pinot blanc vines excelled. Franco launched two tiers from the variety, with one in the ‘1er’ (or Premier Cru) range, a tantalisingly confident gambit for a variety with scant representation here. And the proof was in the bottle.
Along with the established range, Franco has started bottling single block wines as he starts to see distinct micro-site variation with the vines hitting meaningful maturity. In the vanguard of these bottlings is a chardonnay from the coolest, most elevated and steepest blocks, ‘Syberia’. It is a wine where verve and elegance are matched with intensity and deep character, and a neat encapsulation of Franco’s wines.