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Croatian families who shaped the Valley

23 January 2019

Early last century, the Swan Valley attracted migrant families looking for a better life in a land of opportunity. Many of those families were from Croatia and generations on, they have helped shaped the Swan Valley we know today. DIANNE BORTOLETTO investigates.

Marlene and Mate (pronounced Matt-ay) Katich grew up in the Swan Valley in what Marlene describes as a ‘Croatian enclave’, describing it as a community of hardworking migrant families.

Her father left Europe in 1928 and arrived in Australia as an illegal immigrant. Five years later, he went into partnership to buy land in the Swan Valley. Fast-forward 90 years and Marlene has maintained many Croatian traditions and has a connection to the Swan Valley that she really values.

“We just returned from Croatia, and in some ways I feel that we are more old-world than the Croatians who stayed, in that we’ve kept the old traditions that our fathers brought with them, whereas in Croatia, society has modernised,” Marlene said.

Marlene and Mate’s business, Kato’s @ 3000, a nod to their address 3000 West Swan Road, is predominately table grapes, produce and seasonal homemade ice creams made with extraordinary flavours - such as Grime, a combination of grapes and lime.

Also in the grape growing business, but making wine instead, is James Talijanchich of Talijancich Wines. James is a third-generation Croatian.

After landing in Australia from Croatia in 1926, James’ grandfather bought the Swan Valley vineyard in 1932. Twenty years ago, James bought the family vineyard and homestead, a place he feels deeply passionate about and has a connection to the land.

“What struck me when I was fortunate enough to travel to Burgundy in France and in Europe, is how inherently proud the people were of their land and who they are,” James said.

“It’s something my father instilled in us growing up. He always said, ‘stick with what you do well and don’t worry about what other people do, tread your path’ and that’s been our approach our whole lives.

“He’d say, ‘look at what the region offers you, you don’t need to try to be a Barossa Valley, Italy or Croatia, every region offers something special and that’s what you need to get in tune with’. What he instilled in us was respect for the region,” he said.

“Winemaking is never just about wine, it’s about that particular parcel of land, the relationship between us and the land and about us, and I think our culture comes through in our wine.”

From humble beginnings producing fortified wines in the old days, Talijancich now produces table that have won them a swag of awards.

Find out more about the Valley's delicious table grapes.