Born in Bronte Sicily on 8th February 1902 as one of eight children Carmelo D’Aquino was the founder of the company D’Aquino Brothers Pty Ltd. He came to Australia in 1932 during the Great Depression, went back to Sicily in 1934 to marry his childhood sweetheart and returned to Sydney, Australia the same year. He fathered two children Leo D’Aquino and Zina D’Aquino. Having a farming background Carmelo ran his own fruit shops in Sydney with his brother and decided to follow the migrants west with the idea of supplying them his home-made Italian style wine. On the advice of a friend, he went to the country town of Orange 250km west of Sydney. He started a small winery in a tin shed in 1946, producing 6 barrels of wine in his first year.
He officially registered his wine making company (D’Aquino Brothers Pty Ltd) in Orange on 22nd May 1952 after building new premises on the current head office site. During his first year he produced six barrels of wine and thus became the first winemaking family in the Orange district. Carmelo continued to run the business until 1970, when he retired after selling the business to his daughter Zina and husband Illuminato D’Aquino. Illuminato Leo D’Aquino (2nd generation), born in Sicily in 1931 came to Australia as “the land of opportunity”, in 1949. He could not speak English and was robbed of all his possessions in Darwin on arrival to Australia. He worked with Carmelo in his fruit shops and married his daughter Zina in 1955. They followed Carmelo to Orange in 1958 to help in the business and had two children, Rex and Charles. While helping part time in the wine business, Leo owned and managed the migrant hostel in Orange, affectionately named “The Dude Ranch”, from 1955 to 1970. Carmelo lived to 100 years and 9 months. Illuminato retired in 1988 after suffering a stroke. Born in Orange 1959, Rex D’Aquino (Illuminato’s son, 3rd generation) officially joined the company in 1981 as winemaker after completing a Bachelor of Applied Science in Oenology at Roseworthy College in South Australia and fulfilling roles at Orlando and Jim Barry Wines.
Rex took over his family business, at the age of 29, following his father’s stroke – in October 1988. “I was in the warehouse on the Friday and he had the stroke at five o’clock in the morning on the Saturday and by Monday morning, I was running the business. That was interesting! We were building our warehouse at the time – it was half finished and I had a limited understanding of the operations. I took over the reins by default.”
Further expansion of the wine business came in 1991, when Highland Heritage was purchased from the Toby family. The vineyard grew from just 10 acres of grapes, first planted in 1986, to now over 40 acres of plantings in 2020. Other family members have contributed to the business, including Rex’s mother and his brother Charles, with the largest growth to the business coming in the past 29 years with Rex at the helm. In 2018, the youngest daughter of Rex’s family, Nikki DAquino, joined the business, bringing the passing of the business to the 4th Generation.
The optimal climatic conditions of Orange produce superior cold climate wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Shiraz, Merlot and Pinot Noir with Highland Heritage winning, and continually winning, a number of international and local awards. Although the group is vast and extremely diverse in its nature, the jewel in its crown remains to this day, Highland Heritage.
The total “DAquino Group” business is quite encompassing with its operations in the liquor industry. The main areas of the business are retailing, wholesaling and winemaking, with the winemaking and retail side representing the biggest portion of revenue.
The group owns Highland Heritage Estate in Orange with 40 acres of vineyard under vine and a restaurant facility, Cellar Door and state of the art heliport on site. A full range of own label wines, spirits, and most recently, beers, are also wholesaled through the business. Their seven retail outlets in Bathurst, Kelso, Wellington, Orange and Parkes operate under the Super Cellars banner, while an export business and an importing/bond business of spirits adds another dimension to the group.
Passion is the embodiment of the business maintaining communication and the development of innovative ideas.