Alessandro, together with his brother-in-law, lifelong friend and business partner, Eugenio Valenti, established Vino Italia Wines in Middle Swan in 1954.
Alessandro was born in the small southern Italian town of Bivongi, a mountainous village in the province of Reggio Calabria, on January 7, 1926.
His life was a long and well-lived one, during which he worked hard to establish himself as an Italian migrant in a new country and to support his young, growing family.
From humble beginnings and with limited educational opportunities, Alessandro began his working life at the age of seven, spending long days and nights looking after goats with his father. Throughout his childhood, he also worked on his parents’ small plot of land where he became, among many other things, an expert on cheese and ricotta making.
Life was harsh for him as a young man and during this time, Alessandro worked hard and tirelessly — something his family, friends and local community in the Swan Valley know that he continued throughout his long life.
In 1948, he married his childhood sweetheart, Amelia Valenti, and they welcomed their first child, Maria-Caterina, a year later. Times were very difficult for them and conditions in Bivongi not ideal.
Alessandro, encouraged by his best friend and brother-in-law Eugenio, who had already emigrated to Australia, courageously left Italy and his young family behind, to make a better life for them in this foreign land, which was to become his new home. Arriving in Western Australia — speaking no English and with few material possessions — Alessandro set about with great commitment and perseverance to establish himself, with the support of relatives and friends in the close-knit Italian community.
After working as a wood cutter near Kalgoorlie and labouring at the brickworks in Midland, a few years later, he and Eugenio were able to purchase a property in Millendon in the early 1950s, where they planted their first vineyard.
Together, they arranged to bring out Alessandro’s young family and his in-laws, Gennaro and Annunziata Valenti. They shared a small dwelling, worked together to establish their vineyard and supported each other, despite the cramped living conditions in which the young families found themselves. During this time, the beginnings of a long-standing family and business partnership with his brother-in-law Eugenio and sister-in-law, Maria Argia, began, resulting in the purchase of a larger vineyard in Middle Swan and the eventual establishment of Vino Italia Wines, which still operates today.
Alessandro was a pioneer vigneron in the Swan Valley, working multiple jobs to not only support his family, but also to acquire land and equipment, and together with Eugenio, he tended the vines to produce a variety of wines using traditional Italian methods. The long and successful partnership between Alessandro and Eugenio resulted in grapes not only being grown for their own wine production, but also for distribution to larger wineries in the Swan Valley area and some in the South West.
As the business grew, as well as being involved with all aspects of running the vineyard and winery, Alessandro would head off each week, his station wagon or ute laden with flagons and much larger containers, to deliver wines to customers — residents, restaurants and stores — around the Perth metropolitan area.
He was also a daily presence at the winery and in the vineyard, until his early 90s.
Many customers will remember him through their contact with Alessandro at the vineyard cellar door or “the shed” when buying wines, grapes or grape juice. Alessandro worked every day of his life, until the very end.
Labouring in his beloved vineyard or backyard vegie garden was his weekend relaxation. He also enjoyed the occasional lunch with the extended family on a Sunday.
He was a respected grower and proud co-founder of one of the largest grape suppliers in the Swan Valley.
He is survived by his wife of 71 years, Amelia, daughters Maria-Caterina, Gina and Marcellina, son Frank, eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Alessandro is remembered fondly as a gentle and kind-hearted man, whose work ethic was admirable and achievements inspirational.
The Swan Valley community has lost one of its pioneers —
Vigneron and winemaker Alessandro Calabrese.