The Wine: Vitovska Orange 2016
Fermented in amphorae and aged two and a half years in botti, Vodopivec’s Vitovska exemplifies the murmuring, layered beauty of his style. Subtle, deeply stony, and caressing on the palate, it whispers to the taster and invites contemplation as it unfolds slowly and gracefully across the palate. It seems to occupy its own aesthetic space, a pure exploration of cool-toned texture, Rothko-like in its single-minded yet comfortingly enveloping character. (source: Rosenthal)
The Producer: Vodopivec
We made the acquaintance of Paolo Vodopivec through none other than our mutual friend Giampiero Bea, who met us at dinner in Foligno with a bottle of Paolo’s Vitovska “Solo” in tow and urged us to pay him a visit. Giampiero is a difficult man to say “no” to, sure—but the wine was indeed utterly spellbinding. Even after a particularly long and strenuous day of visiting and driving, in a garishly lit restaurant, we were captivated by the meditative beauty of the Vodopivec, and so Giampiero arranged a visit for us for the penultimate day of our trip. In person, Vodopivec exudes physical robustness and strength, but he simultaneously possesses a thoughtful and quiet intensity that mirrors the personality of his wines almost eerily—a certain gravitas and solidity that echo the terroir of the Carso itself, in fact. He is friendly without being at all ingratiating, and he speaks clearly and precisely, without a great deal of flourish. Like Zidarich, Paolo brims with intelligence and thoughtfulness that becomes apparent even after only a few minutes of meeting him.
In comparison with the range of wines produced at Zidarich, Vodopivec works solely with Vitovska in his six hectares of vineyards. Having experimented with other varieties in the past, Paolo believes that Vitovska is the true voice of the Carso, and—in an almost monastic dedication of purpose—he has made it his life’s mission to channel the spirit of the Carso through the vehicle of its local variety. He also works entirely organically, and—although it is a historic practice—he rejects the transportation of topsoil, working only with vineyards that have a naturally occurring layer of soil, no matter how thin or poor. Furthermore, he employs incredibly dense plantings (10,000 plants per hectare), and never irrigates his soil. In comparison to Zidarich’s higher-altitude vineyards in full view of the Adriatic Sea, Vodopivec’s holdings are tucked away slightly further inland, flanking the quaint, rugged backroads, and melding gently into the stark pastoral beauty of the area.
Paolo works with an incredibly labor-intensive, fully manual basket press in the cellar, and—like Zidarich—employs extended skin contact during fermentation, which always happens naturally. An early disciple of Gravner, Vodopivec’s wines used to be more marked by tannin, deeper in color, and more ruggedly structured. Today, however, his wines are far more transparent, ethereal, and harmonious, with the tannins playing a background role in the service of greater textural profundity. Like Zidarich, Vodopivec employs large Slavonian casks for aging—but, importantly, Paolo is a steadfast devotee of the buried Georgian amphora as a fermentation vessel. With the exception of the “Origine,” all of his wines spend at least twelve months in these massive subterranean amphorae. Paolo rejects stainless steel entirely (there is none in his cellar), and feels that oak causes too quick and violent of a fermentation. Never one to rush, he gives the wines three years of barrel aging, plus another full year in bottle, before releasing them into the market.
There is a certain dark, almost gothic solemnity that permeates the air of an amphora cellar. Sure, quite a few growers in regions far and wide are now experimenting with these vessels, and we’ve seen above-ground amphorae tucked away in the corners of some unlikely places in our recent travels. But it is an entirely different experience to enter the cellar of a grower like Vodopivec (or like Gravner, for that matter)—someone who has fully embraced this ancient method and built their entire operation around it. Seeing the stark, circular lids at ground level, sometimes closed, sometimes open, surrounded by stones and dirt, one cannot help but think of death—of eternity. If a Burgundy cellar is like a hatchery, full of little eggs in rows waiting to come into their own, an amphora cellar is like a burial ground, quiet and beautiful and contemplative.
And indeed this feeling of solemnity and eternal beauty is echoed in Vodopivec’s wines themselves. Even more so than with Zidarich, these wines defy flowery descriptors and name-that-scent adjective-flinging—in fact, they possess such a force of spiritual potency as to seemingly mock the very idea of a traditional tasting note. They are profoundly mineral as befits the terroir of the Carso, yes, but these are primarily wines of texture—wines that go far, far beyond our linguistic capabilities and speak to us in the realm of the purely aesthetic. While they are undeniably beautiful, even gentle in their carriage, they are not exactly easy. They demand a level of attentiveness, receptivity, and concentration from the taster, and they make no obvious appeals to pure deliciousness. In the end, they must be experienced to be understood, and we trust that those among you who seek the most resonant and profound experiences of terroir out there will join us on this journey.
Toward the end of our tasting with Vodopivec, in the dim light of the cellar, Neal turned to us, his eyes glowing: “This is why I can’t stop…This is what keeps me going in this business.” We couldn’t agree more.(source: Rosenthal)
The Region: Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Friuli Venezia Giulia has become in recent years one of the most important wine-producing regions in the world. Winemaking and viticulture have reached levels comparable to that of major European wine regions such as the Mosel in Germany and the Loire Valley in France.
Friuli Venezia Giulia's wine landscape is a mosaic of international and native grape varietals. Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot are counterpointed by local heroes Pinot Grigio, Picolit, Friulano, Verduzzo, Ribolla Gialla, and Schioppettino.
Diversity is indeed the quintessential character of Friuli Venezia Giulia: a border region which throughout history has seen a commingling of peoples, cultures, and languages. Friuli Venezia Giulia's Italian, Austrian, and Slovenian influences are evident in architecture, literature, and of course winemaking and viticulture.
Friuli Venezia Giulia borders with Trentino-Alto Adige (north-west), Veneto (south-west), Austria (north), Slovenia (west) and gets its name from the merger of Friuli region and Venezia Giulia, a region encompassing parts of Italy, Croatia, and Slovenia. The capital of Friuli Venezia Giulia is the seaport city of Trieste, located near the border with Slovenia.
The Terroir of Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Friuli-Venezia Giulia displays a variety of microclimates, from the cold pre-alpine climate in the eastern part of the region, following the Julian Alps, to the Mediterranean climate characterizing the southern flatlands.
Wines from Friuli-Venezia Giulia are heavily influenced by the region's position, squeezed as it is between the Alps and the Adriatic sea. Freshness, good acidity, and finesse are some of their main characteristics.
Soil composition varies depending on the sub-region, but perhaps the most typical is represented by Marl and sandstone - also known as "flysch" or with the local term "Ponca", which is found in the Collio area.
The Red Wines of Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Friuli-Venezia Giulia red wine production is often obfuscated by its world-class white wine production. However, in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, along with native varietals such as Ribolla Nera and Schioppettino, we can find some of the best Italian expressions of red wines made from international varietals.
In recent years, more and more producers have been experimenting with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and also Pinot Noir. The quality of Friuli-Venezia Giulia winemaking is so consistent across the board that international varietals give some of the best red wines made in the region.
The White Wines of Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Friuli-Venezia Giulia is regarded as one of the top wine producing regions for white wines not only in Italy but also worldwide. All three DOCGs are white wines - Ramandolo DOCG, Picolit DOCG, Rosazzo DOCG. Some of the best Sauvignon Blanc in the world is produced in the Collio wine region, near the city of Gorizia, on the border with Slovenia, and the Grave DOC appellation.
Furthermore, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, together with neighboring Slovenia, is the mecca for orange wine lovers. Some of the techniques pioneered by winemakers from Friuli-Venezia Giulia are extended maceration on the skins and the use of amphorae.