Despite being the biggest wine-production region in NSW, the Riverina has never had the same level of interactive wine tourism as the Hunter or Barossa valleys.
This could soon change, according to Yenda’s Robyn Turner, who recently took over the popular Bella Vita Riverina Tours small business.
“Wine tours are more common in the Barossa and Hunter because they’re both close to big cities, so more accessible to tourists,” Ms Turner said.
“Griffith is a long way off the track, so it’s more of a challenge. But things are changing. And we are now making some sensational wines … people are proud to display the Riverina label.”
Ms Turner sees Canberra as a key market.
“Griffith is an easy weekend trip for Canberrans … we are seeing more and more people from the ACT in town wanting to try wine and bring it back with them.”
Organised tours of Griffith’s wineries and tourist attractions all but ground to a halt during COVID-19. But now, Bella Vita and family-owned Griffith Tours have got them going again.
“Tourism can help drought-proof the region,” she said.
“It gives us something else to rely on [other than irrigation].”
Bill Calabria, managing director of Calabria Family Wines, has a similar vision.
“Gone are the days when you would just put a bottle in a paper bag and send the customer on their way. They now want more of an experience,” he said.
Ms Turner, born and raised on a rice farm in Yenda, says she has the local knowledge to deliver a memorable experience.
“If a tourist comes to Griffith, they wouldn’t know that the Beelbangera General Store lady makes a great slice … or about the panini at La Piccola or where to get the best Murray cod. We can offer them something different.
“Tours are relaxed and flexible. It’s not just about rushing from one winery to another. I can tell people about our history, explain how food production works, take them to Whitton Malt House or show them the art on Banna Lane. I don’t have any favourites, I get on with a lot of businesses and can take people anywhere.”
Later in August, Bella Vita is offering demonstration cooking and lunch at La Scala, one of the oldest restaurants in town.
Ms Turner said it could be the first time in decades La Scala was opening its door for lunch.
“We also do birthday parties, functions and hens’ nights. We don’t get male strippers [for hens’ nights] but we did get a male model once for a painting class I organised [for a group of women]. When he arrived the girls chickened out and he didn’t get naked,” she joked.
Ms Turner bought Bella Vita wines six months ago from dynamic young Griffith entrepreneur Cassandra Cadorin, who is pioneering a new marketing business.
“It was a no-brainer … an established business with a good reputation. It suits who I am, I want to see Griffith thrive,” Ms Turner said.