Primo Estate’s success was well designed

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When Primo Estate opened its new cellar door in McLaren Vale in 2006, Adelaide wine writer Phillip White described it as “the most intelligently beautiful wine tasting edifice in this state, possibly the known universe”.

A decade on, at least a part of that known universe is going to get a chance to see what all the fuss is about.

Primo Estate has won the Architecture and Landscape category in South Australia’s inaugural Best of Wine Tourism Awards. The awards were held as part of Adelaide’s membership of the Great Wine Capitals Global Network.

Primo Estate Cellar Door in winter

Primo Estate tells a very individual story. Joe Grilli and his late wife Dina were determined to build a modern cellar door that celebrated both their Italian heritage and the scenic beauty of the Fleurieu Peninsula.

They did a lot of homework, but still set the bar high. “We told the three young architects ‘build us a modern interpretation of a small Italian square, a piazzetta. Oh and please design it so that it doesn’t date’,” Joe said.

The general consensus of locals and visitors alike is that, far from dating, the building has become even more iconic and even more a part of the landscape (despite the fact that, by design, you don’t actually see it until you are almost upon it). It was named McLaren Vale Cellar Door of the Year for 2016.

Tasting areas have floor to ceiling windows for unhindered vineyard views and Italian touches can be in the ceiling and in the lights, which were made in Treviso near Venice.

But the real focus is the piazzetta – a carefully designed courtyard with its large wood oven imported from Umbria, where Joe and Dina worked two vintages in the 1990s. It is fired up for special occasions such as Tuscan pizza lunches.

“We wanted to create a distinctive, authentic experience that could only take place in one very special spot in the entire world,” Joe said.

“It’s a very human scale thing. Even if we were a much bigger winery we wouldn’t have made it any bigger because it was very important that it had an intimacy and a proportion that you get when you walk into anywhere in Italy.”

With a nice touch of symmetry, it is also a decade since Joe embarked on another venture that reinforces his ongoing relationship with his homeland. Each year he returns to Italy to work with local growers to make one wine in Tuscany (a red) and one in Veneto (a white), which he then brings back to sell in Australia.

Joe has been working vintages in Italy each year for 25 years, and in 1991 worked for two years in Umbria after being persuaded by another Australian winery, Hardys, to help make wine for its newly purchased winery there.

Other than that, Primo Estate has been his life since graduating from the then Roseworthy College as dux of the winemaking course and taking on the winery that his grape growing father Primo had established.

On 1 July, Adelaide / South Australia officially became a member of the prestigious Great Wine Capitals Global Network, a group of major cities linked to internationally renowned wine regions. It was elected unanimously by the eight other members: Bilbao / Rioja (Spain), Bordeaux (France), Cape Town (South Africa), Mainz-Rheinhessen (Germany), Mendoza (Argentina), Porto (Portugal), San Francisco / Napa Valley (USA), and Valparaìso / Casablanca Valley (Chile). The network has since expanded to ten members, when Verona’s application was accepted at the Great Wine Capitals annual general meeting in Porto in November.