As unexpected as it may sound, the wine name Ribolla has proven to be one of the most researched grape types in Italian search engine results. Believe it or not, this is a fire-hot trending topic, and has been for some time. Understandably, Ribolla’s popularity on the internet has also translated into its representation on supermarket shelves.
With such a pre-existing buzz around them, Ribolla Gialla wines have a proven track record of easy, high sales.
The Ribolla Gialla autochthonous grape can be found in Northeastern Italy’s Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. Zeroing in on the Gorizia and Udine provinces, we find a local Friiulian producer with roots in nearby Slovenia as well. Josko Gravner, of the Josko Gravner wine estate, is devoted to the cultivation of the Ribolla Gialla grape, with an end result that is far removed from the varieties of wines available at the supermarkets
The Ribolla Gialla and Gravner combination has proven such a winning marriage that it’s easy to forget that the Gravner wine estate also produces a red wine. The identification between Gravner and Ribolla Gialla has been so strong, but the new generations of Gravner wines, Mateja Gravner, is looking to expand the immediate associations of the Gravner winery.
Mateja is dedicated to adjusting the erroneous misperception that Gravner is a white-wine only winery, a concept greatly spread unjustly through assorted social media channels, which tend to share only one side of the wine-making story.
Josko Gravner’s daughter recently spent the morning with me, with the winery’s unheralded red wine as the protagonist of the morning, and of our exploration of the Gravner estate.
The Only Red Worth Having - Pignolo or Nothing
The Gravner winery will have only one red wine available, and its name is Breg. The big names of Gravner’s past, like Rujno or Rosso Gravner, made with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes, will slowly be phased out to make room for the exclusive focus on Breg.
The Oslavia winery isn’t anticipating bringing back the Rujno until at least 2035, and intends to fully develop the red wine crafted with the Pignolo grape, the only other varietal Josko committed to growing outside of the universally appreciated Ribolla Gialla.
The creation process of the Breg wine is a long one, requiring patience and dedication to a final product. The wine has been fermented on their skins in wooden vats up to 2005. Following this first step, the wine is then kept in underground amphorae through 2006, brewing with indigenous years and completely absent from temperature controls.
We then head on for an oak aging for 5 years, and a further 5 years of aging in bottles, if not in fact longer than 5 years. For added esoteric appeal, the wines are bottles with a waning moon, absent entirely from clarification or filtration.
These wine-making production choices may seem extreme, but for the cutting-edge (and risk-taking) Gravner, there was never any doubt of which route to follow. Following on the heels of his successful international blends of the 199s, and a visit to the playgrounds of the colossal California wineries, Gravner decided the time was right to dedicate the winery’s resources entirely to native grapes.
Accompanying that decision was also an abandoning of vinification in steel cats, in preference of the adoption of more traditional wine-making techniques. These include long macerations, and the use of large buried terracotta amphorae, following the classic method practiced in the Kakheti area of the Caucasus. This wine-making process dates back thousands of years, a feature that did not escape Gravner as he undertook this most unusual path.
Gravner also implemented the natural cyclical rule of 7: just as humans experience naturally-occuring modification in our cellular structure, the same can be said of wines. As wines need an aging time of 7 years, we must heed the need of the wines to change their structure, allowing for one year aging in amphora, and another six years in big casks.
The choice of Pignolo made by Josko Gravner
The latest Gravner red available for purchase dates back to 2007, and comes on the heels of 5 years cask-aging, and 9 years of bottle-aging. The vintages from 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006 are also available, but before we get any further, let’s review what we know about the Pignolo grape.
This ancient varietal has been present in the Friuli area for many years, with the first written mention dating back to the 14th century. Documentation from that time shows the vine spreading its territorial growth from the hills of Rosazzo in a western direction, towards the city and province of Udine.
The production area of Oslavia today however, doesn’t recognize the Pignolo grape as being part of the DOC or IGT, so Gravner is forced to label this wine with the term table wine. The Pignolo grape is particularly sensitive to the fungus oidium, and had essentially disappeared from the area’s ampelographic lists by the 19th century. With the discovery of some old vines in the Abbey of Rosazzo’s vineyards, a recovery and rejuvenation of the vine became possible.
Thanks to the encouragement of wine journalist and wine critic, Luigi Veronelli, Gravner first began exploring the Pignolo vine in the early 1980’s, following up on ths interest in the 1990s when the first vine shoots were planted into the Gravner vineyards.
Today, there are currently 12,000 vines on the Gravner estate, with a vast variety of production relative to the yearly vintages. Numbers vary between 1,200 to 3,000 bottles per vintage.
The vines are planted on approximately 15 hectares of land, although the area is constantly being converted to more green areas, featuring gardens, trees, shrubs, and ponds. Thanks to this vision, the natural ecosystem is being constantly regenerated and reborn thanks to the presence of these green spaces where local flora and fauna can find their local roots once again.
Indeed, it was in the nearby Runk vineyard where the first area regenerative pond was born, right in the natural home of the Ribolla and Pignolo vines.