Luigi and Athalie Bazzani are celebrating an end of an era of Warrenmang wines.
The regional Victorian food and wine pioneers sold their Moonambel empire last year after 40 years of passionate ownership.
Craig’s Royal Hotel hosted the End of an Era Warrenmang Wine Dinner for a second time on Saturday evening, following an initial sold out 120 seat celebration dinner early in October.
Mrs Bazzani said followers of Warrenmang wines from all around Victoria, some interstate, attended the indulgent dinner to say goodbye and purchase some of the last bottles of Warrenmang wine.
The five course dinner, created by Melbourne chef Ian Curley, was matched with some of Warrenmang’s best vintage and signature wines.
City of Ballarat mayor Samantha McIntosh presented Mrs and Mr Bazzani with ‘keys’ to Ballarat at the first dinner in October, as a symbolic recognition of their contribution to the city.
“We have certainly felt the love,” Mrs Bazzani said.
“We feel happy that we are able to enjoy saying goodbye and offer something special to the guests, something they can remember.”
Together Mr and Mrs Bazzani established restaurants the Copper Pot in Bendigo in 1970 and La Scala in Ballarat in 1976, both judged by The Age Good Food Guide as the best provincial restaurants of their time.
They established the Warrenmang Vineyard and Bazzani Wines in Moonambool near Avoca in 1979, expanding it into a resort in 1989.
The Bazzani’s led the way in regional Victorian dining as they moved and set up restaurants in Bendigo, Ballarat, Geelong and Warrnambool.
“Wherever we moved food moved with the times. But we were always really focused on classic but modern dining and always focused on, as people do now, regional produce,” Mrs Bazzani said.
“There has been much recognition, but we have just gone with the flow over the years and we have had fantastic people working with us. That makes all the difference.”
Mr Bazzani, who was awarded the Order of Australia Medal in 2014, moved to Australia in 1969 after meeting Athalie in London.
The dream, Mrs Bazzani said, was to start a business together and succeed in delivering top quality food and wine.
“We were so happy to be working together and creating our own little world of food and wine and we have done that ever since,” she said.
“We just dreamed we would succeed really. We had a lot of stamina. You have to have a lot of stamina in the food and wine industry. Luigi has driven 200km up to Warrenmang from Ballarat for 40 years.”
Their passion for creating quality food and wine experiences is clear. But Mr Bazzani said nothing came easy at Warrenmang.
“Three days a week we used to get fresh fish from the market,” he said.
Mrs Bazzani explained the remote location of the winery meant a lot of delivering to and from Ballarat.
“There was no water up there so no laundry was possible. Every pillow, sheet, towel, table cloth, napkin had to come up and down two or three times a week. This is what Luigi means about nothing came easy,” she said.
“No one delivered to Moonambel. No one even knew where Moonambel was. Slowly over the years they began delivering but if you ran out of something you couldn’t just run to the shop and replace it, you had to go back to the city to buy your supplies. But you get into a routine and it’s part of running a business.”
We were so happy to be working together and creating our own little world of food and wine and we have done that ever since.Athalie Bazzani, Warrenmang
Since their first restaurant venture in 1970, Mr and Mrs Bazzani have seen the food and wine industry in regional Victoria develop to the vibrant scene it is today.
“There was no other vineyard with fine dining when we started, not even a restaurant. Now every vineyard has food,” Mrs Bazzani said.
“Many country towns now have restaurants that are famous. Regional Victoria is just alive.
“I think attention to detail is the key to success in business and many people have learnt that now over the years.”
It took some time for the Bazzani’s to sell the Warrenmang empire. It was on the market for more than three years before it was sold to Chinese buyers last year. The resort has now reopened after a period of closure.
Mrs Bazzani said the multi-dimensional business model made finding a buyer a challenge. It was a 100-seat restaurant with a function and conference centre, accommodation for 80 and a vineyard with 80 acres of vines.
“Not everyone was willing to take on that work for the return. You have to be really passionate about what you are doing to take on something like that,” she said.
Mr Bazzani, who will turn 80 next year, is looking forward to transitioning to retirement. Until an April deadline, the couple will be selling the last of their Warrenmang wines.
The loss of the Bazzani’s may be a blow to the Pyrenees, but Mr Bazzani said the wine region will continue to grow and develop its reputation for quality.
“We are getting a fantastic reputation for the Shiraz grape,” he said.
“It will expand also with time as new varieties are introduced.”
It may be an end of an era for Bazzani’s Warrenmang wines, but their legacy in the food and wine industry and the Pyrenees wine region will be remembered for years to come.
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