Viticulture

With love from Italy: Mario and Madeleine Marson pour soul into every drop

By Vanessa Wiltshire

Had the cards fallen differently, Mario Marson could have an Argentinian passport.

Co-owner of, and winemaker at, Vinea Marson, Mario’s parents faced two options when work dried up in Italy after the second world war.

With one brother already in Melbourne and another in Argentina, his parents applied to emigrate to both countries. A letter arrived from the Australian government first.

And so the couple packed their belongings, leaving their village, Friuli in Northern Italy, behind. Home to generations of Marsons; skills in viticulture and winemaking have been passed down for years.

Mario Marson has been in the wine industry for most of his adult life. His interest was piqued in the third year of an agricultural science degree, starting his career in the Yarra Valley. For 15 years Mario was the winemaker and viticulturist at Mount Mary. Working alongside the late Dr John Middleton gave Mario a valuable understanding of the technical and creative skills required to produce premium-quality wine.

Starting his own label in 2004 was a natural step forward.

"I wanted to create new-world versions of my Italian wines, that linked with my heritage in Friuli," Mario said.

"After lots of research I decided that Heathcote would be the best environment for Nebbiolo and Sangiovese.

"The Cambrian soil, together with the temperate climate and evenly distributed rainfall were the original drawcards."

Thus began the transformation of 49.50 ha sheep-grazing property with the planting of seven hectares of vines in 2000 and 2001.

"We did a combination of importing of Italian grape clones, together with the planting of newer clones already available in Australia," he said.

The first release of the Vinea Marson Syrah and Sangiovese occurred in 2004. 

Since then the brand has evolved and diversified, but always remained true to Mario’s background and experience.

He recollects the first trip back to Italy, visiting the village his parents came from.

"I was eight years old," Mario said.

"It was a wonderful time," Mario said. "Not only did I get to see where my parents came from, but also my grandparents and great grandparents."

He said his mother must have been homesick, because she put Mario in a local school.

"I think they wanted to see how I'd go. But the school wouldn’t take me. So there I was in kindergarten with four-year olds," he said.

After the sojourn, Mario and his family returned to Australia. To keep their culture alive, Mario’s father planted vines in the backyard of their Balwyn home. Italian varieties of course; Sangiovese and Nebbiolo.

"Over the years we shared countless meals as a family, always with a glass of wine," Mario said. "Food and family is just so central to the Italian culture."

It is a tradition he and wife Helen introduced their three daughters to, taking the family to France and Italy in 1994.

"I did a vintage in Burgundy," Mario said. "With three young children, one eight and two six, we packed our bags and went. I took them back to Friuli, too."

The trip is one of Madeleine Marsons greatest memories. 

Second-generation Australian, Madeleine now works in the family business, learning the skills and knowledge from her father.

Looking after marketing and customer experience, Madeleine is also studying the technicalities of viticulture and winemaking.

"Of the three sisters, I was probably the most likely to go into the family business," Madeleine said.

"But I love the variety of the work. One day you can be in the vineyard the next in the cellar door.

"It’s rewarding and I hope to do a vintage in Italy in the next couple of years."

Brand and customer experience set Vinea Marson apart. One cannot help but be hooked by the authenticity and passion of the Italian culture and the Marsons' personal touch.

Across three labels, Vinea Marson wines have broad appeal.

They include, but are not limited to: Viognier, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Rose, Pinot Bianco, Picolit, Grazia, Friulano and Prosecco.

For the future, the outlook is bright, particularly locally.

Madeleine says the biggest market are restaurants in Melbourne and Sydney. Beyond that, export.

"We're farmers and we love what we do," Madeleine said. 

 "But we're also running a business. As exciting as it is to go to places like Hong Kong, you’ve got to focus on where the biggest opportunities are. For now that's home."