When it comes to winemaking there’s New World, and there’s Old World. There’s new school, and of course, there’s old school. And then there are a select few people and wines who make the old school winemakers look like young tykes with newfangled toys.
In a world where “traditional” or “natural” winemaking has now become a self imposed designation of the most extreme proponents of biodynamic and non-interventionalist winemaking, Josko Gravner puts them all to shame. These people proclaim how in touch they are with the “traditional” methods of winemaking, but they’re still using what Gravner would call modern technology: wooden barrels. The iconoclastic Gravner eschews wines in wood, in favor of the original stuff: wines aged in huge clay amphorae lined with beeswax and buried in the ground.
Gravner, a small winery near Oslavia in Northern Italy’s Fruili Venezia Giulia appellation. It is run by the occasionally enigmatic and always driven Josko Gravner, who has been making wines in the same spot for more than thirty years.
While Gravner may have stuck to his beloved Fruili region for this long, he has not been making wine the same way for all that time. Indeed, at one time he was a celebrated “modernist” who brought new French Oak barrels into a region whose white wines were always made in steel. But in what can only be described as an inspired drive to explore all the possibilities for making the best wines he possibly could, he eventually started using a combination of old oak barrels and terra cotta amphorae, a winemaking vessel that was believed to be pioneered by the Georgians between four and five thousand years prior.
The Gravner estate sits on about 45 acres of land straddling the Italy Slovenia border, and grows Ribolla, Riesling Italico, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Pignolo, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Ribolla and Pignolo stand out of that list as varietals that most Americans, indeed, most people in general have never heard of. Ribolla Gialla, as this green skinned white varietal is also known, is grown only in this region of Italy (even rarely at that) and is mentioned in municipal documents from the area dating back to before the 13th century. Pignolo is also a native variety to the region, which was cultivated by the local monasteries in the region starting in the 17th century.
Since the 2001 vintage, Gravner has decided to make his wines exclusively in amphorae, leaving oak behind, just as he left industrial yeasts, sulphur, and even temperature controlled fermentation behind years before. Of all the winemakers I have ever heard of, Gravner seems to have one of the likeliest claims on the label “non-interventionalist” but he will shrug off such a label if he hears it, insisting that all winemaking is intervention in a natural process that leads to vinegar. Gravner has deliberately not adopted the principles of organic or biodynamic winemaking, instead opting to just do things “his way.”
If his way produces wine like this, then I’m more than content to sit back and let him work.
This wine is a cloudy, light amber color in the glass with highlights of orange. It has an amazing, expressive, and constantly shifting set of aromas in the nose, including beer, cedar, light floral components, and hints of cotton candy. In the mouth it has exceptional purity and length, with some light flavors of wheat surrounding a bright, crackling mineral core that manages to have a fruit component to it without really setting its foot down in any one flavor. The closest I could come was perhaps green plums, but it refused that classification too. The wine has an ethereal quality that lingers forever in a stunning finish.
I drank this wine with a fabulous dish of braised kid goat with Lefebvre Spices, white yams and coconut milk puree, and fava beans, courtesy of the kitchen at Manresa. I believe the wine to be a good pairing with any dish that has more complex spices, including milder Indian, Vietnamese, or Indonesian food.
Overall Score: 9.5/10
How Much?: $90
This wine is available for purchase on the internet.