FLOWER growers Mario and Lucy Centofanti have worked for 10 years to determine the best lavender varieties suited to the Riverland’s climate.
In 2008, their vision for a lavender farm came to fruition, with the couple establishing Bella Lavender Estate on five acres of land near Glossop.
Today 3500 lavender plants sit among a backdrop of vineyards and olive trees.
Mario said he had lived in the Riverland for 57 years and was previously a grape grower by day and bouncer by night.
“I worked for 42 years at the Berri Hotel as a bouncer,” he said.
“During the day we grew grapes and other vegetables.
“After Lucy and I went for a holiday in Moonta and saw a lavender farm up there, we decided to start a similar farm because there was nothing like that in the Riverland 10 years ago.
“We wanted to create more of a tourist destination, so that is where our dream started.”
Mario said after many failed attempts, three lavender varieties were now used to create their products.
“I have tried up to 10 varieties and some of them lasted about two to three years and then just died off,” he said.
“Now I have the right varieties, two intermediates and (an) angustifolia, the one we use for cooking, like in scones and cakes.
“We have about 10 products we create and we also buy and sell products from other lavender farms.”
These products include shampoo, body wash and conditioner, facial cream, soap, candles, massage oil, pet products, insect repellent, deodorant and arthritis and muscle rub cream.
“The arthritis cream is very popular with the oldies, like myself, and is completely natural,” Mario said.
“Our products have no harsh chemicals or artificial ingredients.
“Lavender is popular for its calming effects in aromatherapy, has been known to reduce stress and headaches, improve sleeplessness and heal burns and mosquito bites.”
Lucy and Mario have raised four sons in the Riverland, and in 2014 their youngest son David and his wife Nicola joined them in the business.
The lavender farm now includes a cafe built by the family and serves wood-fired oven pizzas, with a mini golf course and playground also available for children’s entertainment.
“During the summer season people can come view the distillation process and I can talk them through how we extract the oil from the lavender,” Mario said.
“It is amazing how the business has grown and there is something for everyone.
“We started to showcase our products just at farmers markets and now we have our own store today.”
Distillation process to extract lavender oil
After working the ground up to create good seepage and planting the lavender, Mario Centofanti says about 15 months pass before he uses a sickle or a hedger over the top of the plants at his family’s lavender farm near Glossop.
“We go along and we cut enough to fill up a still,” he said.
“Our still takes 25kg of flowers and you only put the flowers in with a little bit of a stem – no bush as it has a lot of camphor in it which will ruin the oil.
“We compact the flowers in the still very tight, because if you don’t compact it when you put the steam through it, it will go straight through the flowers and won’t collect all of the oil out of them.”
Mario said he uses a boiler to create the steam that travels through the still.
“It takes about 15 to 20 minutes for the steam to go through the flowers which begin to enlarge with the heat, and then once the steam travels through them it starts collecting the oil,” he said.
“I have another tank which is a condenser that has coils, and as the steam travels through the coils and water it cools off and returns to liquid form.
“This liquid goes into my five and a half litre flask, where you will begin to see a large amount of water (floral water) with the oil floating on the top.
“This part of the process goes for about an hour and I will get 600ml of pure lavender oil and about four litres of floral water, which we use for our liquid soap and spray freshener.
“Once we separate the oil from the floral water we then use it to create our Bella Lavender products.”