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about_us_02The story of Enoteca Sileno begins with the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Italy and other war-torn European countries from the end of the 1940s and the large urban Italian communities which formed in the inner suburbs of Australia’s main cities.

Luigi “Gino” Di Santo arrived in Australia 1952 as an assisted passage immigrant from the region of Molise in Central Italy. With an extensive background in business and a long family history in wine and food he quickly saw the potential in Australia for Italian products.

In 1953 he was the first Italian immigrant to have a stand at the Home Show in the Melbourne Exhibition Building displaying a Borletti portable sewing machine, Venetian glass from Murano and Italian cigars and cigarettes.
In that same year he had returned to Italy to secure the agency for La Cimbali espresso machines and in 1954 installed the first one in Cafè Lexington in Exhibition Street. Gino also became the agent for Universal Coffee Machines installing the first one in David Jones department store in Sydney in 1955.

Enoteca’s role as an importer of Italian foods began with Plasmon, Italy’s most famous brand of baby food, much to the relief of the young migrant Italian mothers.
In the following years L. Di Santo Pty Ltd would introduce Australia to Italian mineral water, gelati-making machines (La Carpigiani), preserved vegetables such as artichokes and sundried tomatoes, durum wheat pasta, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and famous Italian liqueurs such as Amaro Ramazzotti and Amaretto di Saronno.

In 1955 he bought the first Christmas Panettone cakes (Alemagna brand)  to Australia, having them packed in zinc-lined wooden crates to maintian their freshness.


Gino is also credited with importing the first “calcio-balilla”, table football game to Australia, which was installed in the L’Europeo Espresso Bar in Lygon Street.

However, during the 60s he also played an important role in introducing Australian products to Italy by exhibiting at the Italian International Food Fairs. Here he gave Italians their first taste of Carlton Draught and Swan Lager beers and Australian tinned fruit. He was also responsible for what is possibly the earliest exhibit of Indigenous Australian artifacts in Italy, with a display that included bark paintings, carvings and tools.

The first Enoteca Sileno retail showroom was officially opened by the Italian Ambassador at 21 Amess Street, Carlton North on 30 June, 1982. It had been Gino’s dream to give Melbourne a genuine enoteca - a place where people could explore Italy’s rich culture of indigenous grape varieties and regional styles. The shop attracted lovers of Italian food and wine from all over Australia and many of our long-standing customers still remember the cramped and cluttered Amess Street store with great affection.about_us_07

Throughout the '80s and '90s Gino Di Santo and Enoteca Sileno continued to influence the Australian food and wine scene. In 1988 Gino founded the first delegation in Australia of the Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine) (pictured) which works to protect and promote the rich culture of Italian cuisine.

In that same year, while riding his bike around the rice fields near Verona, Gino had a chance meeting with rice producer Gabriele Ferron. This led to the first shipments of Ferron Vialone Nano and Carnaroli rice to Australia and set a new standard for genuine risotto making in this country.about_us_08

In 1990 Enoteca Sileno made fresh truffles available to Australians for the first time air freighting them in specially made transport containers.

In 2004, 14 years after opening the original Enoteca Sileno, the Italian Ambassador was once again invited to cut the ribbon on our current home at 920 Lygon Street.