In November 2014, I met five winemakers at a small tasting in San Floriano del Collio. Quietly spoken and rather shy, Mitja Miklus from the Draga estate seemed to blend into the background. But this young chap is smart – he doesn’t need to adopt the bluster of a salesman, his wines do the talking quite well by themselves.
Damijan Podversic’s decision in 1999 to reject his conventional winemaking education, in favour of a more “back to the roots” style, did not sit well with his dad who denied him usage of the family’s ancestral cellar. Since then he’s developed an impressive and tradition style of skin macerated white wines, following in the footsteps of Josko Gravner.
I’m not sure that I have heroes anymore – and those I once had were certainly not wine writers. That said, if I did, and if they were, Hugh Johnson OBE would be a candidate. Several of his books are on my shelf, and his writings have accompanied my entire journey into wine over the last 25 […]
“The really big change was when I tasted the wine. It was something completely new, totally different and exciting. It made me crazy, just tasting it.”
This is how Stanko Radikon describes the life changing moment in 1995 which prompted him to change the family’s entire wine production to what we now know and love as “orange wines”.
You can tell a great winemaker not by what they produce in a good year, but by what they pull together from a catastrophic one. And it didn’t get much worse than Dario Prinčič’s 2008 vintage, where some 90% of his harvest was infected with Peronospora (downy mildew). Prinčič salvaged a pitiful amount of grapes, blended the entire output together and made a one off – the aptly named “Favola”, meaning fable or legend.
Old wines never cease to fascinate me. They invariably come to the table with a story to tell, with baggage attached, with secrets and profundities that are simply impossible in the latest vintage.
This 1997 Breg from Josko Gravner is laden with resonance – it’s one of the first years that Gravner bottled his then “new” style of wine, abandoning steel tanks and French oak barriques entirely, for long skin contact and ageing in much larger more neutral oak vessels. It’s the last year that Gravner kept his old label – the now iconic red/brown vine lable has graced every produced sine 1998. It also predates his usage of amphora for commercially bottled wines.
Large oak maturation vessels at Gravner
It’s starting to become a theme in this series – edge cases which are not really orange wines. Take the sole white wine from microscopic but world reknowned Le Due Terre, in Friuli Colli Orientali. A blend of Friulano with 30% Ribolla Gialla, it has 10-12 days of skin contact, and is spontaneously fermented without temperature control. Yet it definitely doesn’t fit the “orange wine” moniker in a stylistic sense.
If you want to have a masterclass in how skin contact affects white wines, there’s probably no better place than Franco and Anna Sosol’s tasting room. Il Carpino is their 17ha estate, situated on the same winding hill road as Radikon and Gravner, in Friuli Collio.
Sandi Skerk must have one of the most idyllically sited vineyards in Friuli, if not the world. Grassed terraces curve gently around the contours of the Carso hills, and lead your eye out towards the Adriatic coast. I’m profoundly happy to be standing by his albarello-pruned Vitovska vines, almost four years to the day after a previous eye-opening visit in 2011. Sandi is of course the same as ever – gentle, rather shy, yet somehow dogmatic and politely forceful when he needs to be.
Think Pinot Grigio, think insipid, water white cheap glugging plonk? Think again. Here is a 100% Pinot Grigio from Friuli Collio which confounds everything you ever knew about the variety.Dario Prinčič’s version macerates on its skins for around eight days during fermentation.