Someone once said that why we should talk for clarifying some problems when we can fistfight over them. The relationship between Jean Michel Morel and I started this way. After I published an article about Orange wines he was educated enough to send me a private message instead of saying in public I did not know anything about wine. We then talked a bit about the topic and challenged each other to meet in his home turf. Hey, I’m from Bilbao! I won’t ever back away from a good appetite-opener fistfight.
Therefore, a visit was due and a visit was done. Kabaj winery also has a bed and breakfast in the small town of Šlovrenc in Goriška Brda, Slovenia, just a few kilometers from Gorizia in Italy. It is in the countryside and a very nice area full of vineyards in both sides of the border. Here is where Jean moved from his hometown Paris and after developing a winemaking career in Bordeaux and Languedoc Roussillon, he came to work for Borgo Conventi in Friuli. His marriage to Katja Kabaj in 1989 finally made him settle down at the Kabaj homestead.
Since then, the winery has grown to a big estate. They have several labels and now we can say they make outstanding wines. For the not-in-the-know, Slovenia is not a country in which great wine are produced, but as you go discovering, you can fall really in love with them.
Jean elaborates around 70,000 bottles a year coming from over 12 hectares of vineyards. It is a huge number for a family-owned winery. He mainly works with white varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Friulano, Rebula (Ribola Gialla), Sauvignon, Malvasia, and then Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. All the white wines undergo maceration on the skins, some for one day as the Pinot Grigio, some others like the Rebula for up to thirty days. He started doing this in the early 2000s, when he realized this was the traditional way of producing white wines in Slovenia and the best way to preserve and age white wines.
The most important aspect of Jean winemaking work is that he is one of the few producers in Slovenia using the Kartuli Method. What is this? Well, this is the traditional winemaking method of Georgia, where the must remains on the skins for a long period buried underground in big terracotta amphorae. In the case of Jean, he produces this way a white blend of Rebula, Malvasia and Sauvignon. On average, the maceration takes between 10-12 months in the amphora, and then the wine is transferred to big 2,000- and 3,000-liter French oak barrels for one year and one extra year in the bottle.
Upon arriving to the cellar, Jean gave us a hearty welcome, thus we disregarded the fistfight as a way of solving our differences. Maybe some other time, not this one. Jean took us inside, to the area of the winery where the wine cases are ready to be shipped away. There was a bit or activity as workers were around. We could see bottles of different wines here and there, also wines by other producers. Therefore, we started talking about wine, winemaking and the Kartuli Method. At the same time, Jean was serving glasses of wine. We were enjoying all of them, as once we have discovered this style of making white wine with skin maceration. His wines are completely natural, coming from organic vineyards and no use of chemical compounds, only autochthonous yeasts and no added Sulphur nor filtration. His wines are very clear, no trace of sediments and for us, very fine and elegant. We tasted almost all of them. We talked about the cellar and he explained about the big barrels and the buried amphorae in the underground cellar. We asked to go see them but he asked us to be easy, to enjoy the wine and to take our time. Two hours after our arrival, still in animated conversation, Katja brought some prosciutto and other food that we enjoyed. As with the wine, it was all produced in their farm, completely natural.
Talking about the Kartuli Method, Jean offered two samples of Georgian wines, a Kratsiteli and a Saperavi. They were good, but his wines were much better. One hour later, three hours after our arrival, we asked again to see the cellar, and he gave us the same answer: wine and be easy. I’m from Bilbao, 1,80 and 93 kilos but Jean is a bit taller and a bit heavier, so who I am to go against his will? We had to go but still he offered two more wines: a Sauvignon Vert that was so good and the Pinot Noir he is now producing. Absolutely amazing wine.
Jean promised us that next time we will visit the cellar and see the amphorae. Well, it seems that we need to return to visit Jean. After all, he knows how to manage the situation and we cannot be without seeing all that he does in his cellar.
Here ends Part One of the visit to Jean Michel Morel and Kabaj Winery. Soon, an interview with him and Part Two of our visit.