Imagine a small boy in the tiny rural village of Seppino, in the province of Molise, Italy in the 1950’s. He dreams of owning a bicycle, but his family are farmers and in no position to buy one for him. He decides to take matters into his own hands. Knowing that rabbits ‘breed like rabbits’, he starts with a male and female, and soon has a hundred. He begins a business selling his rabbits to the local butcher, and is soon the proud owner of a shiny new bicycle. The very first child to own a bike in his village.
Years pass and Serafino (Steve) Maglieri has a new dream. To own a little Fiat car. Although working in his village, he cannot see a way to earn enough money to buy one. His father is already working in McLaren Vale, sending money back home to the family while Serafino was raised by his grandfather. So, an almost 18 year old Serafino, gathers up all of the Lira he has to his name in an old suitcase, and boards a boat to Australia. His plan is to earn enough money to buy his Fiat and save a little extra, and then return back to his village to start his adult life.
The journey starts with a lesson that he has carried with him till today. Buoyed with the accessibility of his suitcase of Lira, the overwhelming freedom from village life and a good dose of a normal teenage boys bravado, Serafino proceeded to have quite a good time on the boat. This meant, that upon arrival into port in 1966, when changing over the remaining Lira into Australian dollars- he had a grand total of $20 to his name! His grandfather had always told him, “When you make two dollars, you can spend one.” After the experience on the boat, Serafino has lived by this mantra ever since.
Upon arrival into Port Melbourne, caught a train to South Australia, eventually arriving in McLaren Vale.. He started work immediately, working in the vineyards for Connor Sparrow, and the almond orchards of Alec Baxendale. He became known as a gun worker for hire. His first impressions of McLaren Vale were tainted by an accidental purchase of what he thought was a sweet pastry morsel at the corner store, only for it to turn out to be a meat pie on his first bite! Luckily, there were many other positives to the region, and although he has never eaten another meat pie to this day, the original plan to return to his village eventually went by the wayside.
Soon, Serafino was working at what is now known as Middlebrook, running the cellar.. By now he had married Leticia, and daughters Maria and Diana completed his family. He had also achieved another of his dreams, purchasing a block of scrub on Douglas Gully Road, which he and his father had cleared and planted Grenache vines.
He had a plan of producing some wine from the vineyard for his family consumption, not unlike what his family had done in Italy. To do this, he needed to get a producers license, and unbeknown to him, all applications for licenses were published in the newspaper. His employer was not at all impressed that Serafino may become a competitor, and he was sacked on the spot. Shell shocked, and with a family to provide for, he decided that he would use his contacts in the bulk wine game and see if he could make a go of a little winery. His first vintage was 1976, after cobbling together some winery equipment from the back lots at Penfolds, one tank and a shed. Tollana was his first customer for bulk wine. He had filled his one tank, and was relying on them to buy it straight away. Luckily, they were happy with the quality and paid a price above his cost of production. He proceeded to fill and sell the tank five times that vintage, using not just his own vineyard, but buying fruit from numerous growers. He made more money in that vintage, than he had for the entire previous 10 years he had been in Australia.
Post vintage, he packed up his wife Letitia and daughters Maria and Diana, and returned to his home in Seppino. He had been embarrassed that he had not seen much of his country beyond his rural village, and wanted to see the iconic cities for himself. For two summer months he and Leticia travelled from Roma to Verona, Fiorenze and Napoli, the length and breadth of Italy by train. He always asked to try the local vino- and was often given a slightly sweet and spritzy chilled red wine, Lambrusco. Then Serafino had another dream. If he could make a wine such as this in warm climate Australia, he had a feeling that it would appeal to female wine drinkers in particular, who at the time, were shunning red wines.
Serafino returned to his winery in McLaren Flat, hired winemaker John Loxton from the Riverland, and set about recreating Lambrusco in Australia. He gave away the first 1000 cases, just getting it into the mouths of as many people as possible, and the rest is history. Maglieri Lambrusco became a phenomenon, and was the top selling red wine in the entire country for two years straight. Growing to 500,000 cases from 500 in four years. A mind-boggling achievement.
Uncontent to rest on his laurels, Steve had a dream to produce a more premium wine under his label. A chance meeting while he was in London picking up the trophy for the Red Wine of the Year at the Decanter World Wine Awards, lead to the sale of the Maglieri winery in its entirety in 1998. Serafino wasn’t prepared to leave the wine community just yet, and purchased the bankrupt ‘McLaren’s on the Lake’ in 2000, adding a 3000 tonne winery to the function centre and hotel business.
Serafino (Steve) Maglieri is a man who has always been driven to succeed, to be better, to achieve his goals and dreams. Never one to just let life happen to him, he epitomises the rewards to come from hard work. “Corrina”, he says, “You must remember, in this life the harder you work, the luckier you become.” With his daughters by his side, Serafino still has a few dreams left. I have no doubt, he will achieve them all, and then some.