BILL (WILLIAM) CALABRIA, AM
"If the definition of a Regional Hero is someone who has almost single-handedly put a region on the quality wine map against all the odds and did whatever it took to follow his dream - even if it meant resorting to washing bottles to make it happen - and be a model citizen along the way, then Bill Calabria is a true Regional Hero.”
Wine Business Magazine.
Bill (William) Calabria, was the ninth and last child born to Francesco and Elisabetta. In 1962, Bill was only 14 years old when he and his brother Tony were obliged to take over the modest family business. Bill had a burgeoning boxing career ahead of him but he followed his father's wishes and took over the selling of barrels of wine to the locals and across Sydney.
During the early '70s, the brothers release their first bottled wine, under the ‘Calabria’ label and Bill also met his wife-to-be, Lena. In 1974, Bill and Lena married and two years later welcomed their first son Frank, followed by Michael a year later. Life was busy as it was still all hands on deck at the winery, with the family also living on-site, running the daily operations and raising two energetic little boys.
The business was going smoothly right up until the late 1980s when the Australian economy was facing a recession. The wine industry was in the doldrums, sales had dried up, and vines were being ripped out across the country’s leading wine regions. Bill needed to make the heartbreaking decision to put the family winery on the market which also saw him inherit a lot of debt and owe a lot of money to the bank. Bill vowed to do whatever it took to keep food on the table for his family.
Bill, his wife Lena and children; Frank and Michael started washing wine bottles and two litre flagons for other wineries in the Riverina, using an old soft-drink bottle washing machine that he salvaged from a paddock in the back-blocks. The idea of washing bottles was never ideal but it allowed the winery to keep functioning and believe it or not that old machine got the family back on track at the right time. The family wine business was in a better position when the 1990s brought new interest and prosperity to the wine industry, with the demand for export.
It was the start of the decade and Bill made the conscious decision he did not want to become a big bulk producing winery, instead he vowed to produce quality wines, wines that would soon win him accolades internationally. Thirty successful years later, Bill is no longer washing bottles for other wineries, he has grown his Riverina winery and cellar door base, while extending his portfolio to the Barossa Valley region with three remarkable vineyard sites & a cellar door.
“For 40 years our family has united around the kitchen table. A table overflowing with good food, great wine and very passionate (or some may say robust) conversation about the future of our family business. My children are custodians of Calabria Wines today and together they will continue to thrive beyond three generations because of the determination, vision, and loyalty they have to each other,” says Bill.
DID YOU KNOW
Bill received a Member of the Order of Australia in the 2013 Queen's Birthday Honours List for supporting dozens of cancer charities. The AM following his name is in recognition of this honour.
Bill is at the winery every day, even on the weekend - he says when you are passionate about what you do, it just becomes your way of life! Bill enjoys spending time with his grandkids; “They love coming to work with me at the winery and playing around in the vineyards.”
Even though Bill is busy overseeing the day to day operations at the winery, he will always find time to play in his band ‘The Echoes’. “We started playing when I was 14 and have now decided to dust off our guitars to play at local events, which I really enjoy.”