Hard working, honest, tough, passionate and a dedicated family man – they were the terms that best summed up Stefano “Steve” DiGiorgio.
In a touching eulogy at his funeral mass on May 31, son Frank detailed his father’s arduous journey to Australia from Italy as a 19-year-old in 1952 and the physical, financial and cultural challenges he faced on arrival.
Like many other migrants of the time, Frank said he arrived with “a suitcase and enough money to send a postcard back to his mother”.
“There is one word that really I believe describes him down to a tee and that is tenacious,” Frank added.
“It was his tenacity that got him to Australia, enabled him to achieve all of the things that he has in his life, and they are many, it prolonged his life well beyond what was expected after being informed of the terrible disease and in the end gave him the strength to wait for his entire family to be with him before he passed away.”
After arriving in Australia, Steve worked hard in the early years dividing his time between Lucindale, where he contracted services to councils and farmers, and northern Queensland, where he took a cane cutting job. He was so careful with his savings that he was able to have his father, then mother, sisters and their husbands and other extended family join him in Australia.
In 1956, Steve married his beloved Rita in Italy, and brought her to Lucindale where they lived their whole married life, raising four children Frank, Nanni, Anna and Nicky.
Following hard work, further savings and an education in land development at “Bokara Station” where he worked, Steve bought his first bulldozer and started his renowned lifetime of land development. He quickly won admiration for his ability to handle any challenge thrown at him.
He worked hard and sympathetically with his craft, developing huge areas of land but having the skill and foresight to leave the best of it as it was. His expansive family property “Sterita Park” is today a living memorial to his work and foresight.
As his business interests diversified, Steve took his first steps towards what was to be a highly successful involvement with livestock. As long-time associate David Heinrich tells it, “Steve was a natural stockman with a superior eye for quality livestock.
“Sterita Park genetics are always marketable, whether a line-up of steer or heifer calves at his Christmas sale or prime lambs, you will see strong competition from many repeat buyers.
“Steve was obviously proud of his livestock and when they were offered in the saleyards he would stand in the buyers’ gallery front and centre of every pen. Steve would eye the auctioneer – no pressure – and analyse every word and bid.”
The DiGiorgio family farm now covers a vast area and includes cattle, sheep and wool production together with interests in horticultural produce as well as viticulture.
In 1989 the family set aside 4ha on their Lucindale farm for vines, and the first 2ha of Pinot Noir and 2ha of Cabernet Sauvignon were planted. As a result of its initial success, the family gradually developed the vineyard to its 126ha with the final planting in 1998. The varieties planted now encompass Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
During the 1990s, the fruit was purchased mainly by the large winemaking companies based in Coonawarra and the Limestone Coast. In 1998, the family decided it was time to produce their own bottled wines from the family's vineyards and to market these wines throughout the world. Initially, the wines were produced at a nearby winery by a contract winemaker. Then in March 2002, the family became proud owners of the second oldest winery in the world famous Coonawarra district.
The DiGiorgio family has amassed a quality and diverse rural portfolio including vineyards and winery, commercial and stud livestock, cropping and small seed enterprises.
All of his success considered, those close to Steve still say it was his wife Rita and family that mattered most
Long-time family friend and business associate Peter Westley said: “It’s not possible in such a short time to give proper credit to Steve's life, passion and achievements.”
He said Steve was a determined businessman but also a generous and gregarious host. The formation of a family board, with independent members including Peter and David and others, was a good example. Quarterly board meetings usually took a full half day with constant grazing from the kitchen table, followed by moving to the family dining room for five or more courses, good wine and happy discussion.
“Steve never missed a word at these meetings,” Peter said. “If he wasn’t getting his way, he would fiddle with his hearing aid and mutter something like ‘I can’t hear what you’re saying anyway.’ One one such occasion it was met with a muffled response from one of the boys: ‘You silly old so and so’. Quick as a flash in response, Steve said: ‘I heard that’.”
All of his success considered, those close to Steve still say it was his wife Rita and family that mattered most. That was clear in the eulogy delivered by son Frank as well as other tributes made at his large funeral.
“He was a proud and dignified fellow, very proud of his family and didn’t let the gravity of his illness deter (him from life),” Peter said. “I was asked to meet with Steve shortly before he passed. I wondered what instructions I was to get.
“I wrote out some of his words and got him to sign it. They finished simply with ‘They’ve got to look after their mother’. Such was the caring nature of this fellow that with everything else he could have thought or worried about, it was his darling wife of 61 years.”
Steve DiGiorgio died at the Naracoorte Hospital on May 22, aged 84, after a battle with cancer. He is survived by wife Rita, Frank and Margot, Nanni and Nadine, Anna and Nick, Nicki and Joe, and eight grand children.