Few things give you more satisfaction than discovering people who are passionate about their job. Wine producers, for instance, who investigate and go long distances to make things the best way they can. They use different methods, they study the terroir, the grape varieties and the aging procedures to make wine the way they envision it. They gain the respect of their peers and also of us wine lovers who discover them and enjoy so much with their creations.

Joško Gravner is one of these wine producers. He is the owner of Azienda Agricola Gravner, a winery located in Oslavia, (Gorizia) in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italia. Joško Gravner is the man everyone talks about when the topic of the conversation is wine undergoing longer periods of aging than what other winemakers do.

The winery was established in 1901 by his ancestors. Joško took over the family business in the 1980s. In his beginnings he followed the modern vinification techniques, using steel tanks and French oak barrels, opposing the traditional ways his father employed. In 1996 two hailstorms destroyed his vineyards and all but a small quantity of Ribolla Gialla vines, so with the harvest almost gone he decided to try to macerate the grapes he could save. The experiment turned out well so with the following harvest all varieties were macerated in large wooden vats with no temperature control for a period of time between one and two weeks.

In 2000 Gravner traveled to the Caucasus area, to the Kakheti region where, following a traditional production method, wine macerates in large terracotta amphorae buried underground. He then realized that the authentic way of elaborating wine was the traditional one they used here and not the more commonly one found in the New World. He saw the way wine tasted here was his calling. So he took amphorae with him to Italy and changed completely his cellar in order to produce all his wines with the use of terracotta. He thought that if terracotta was the right way, it would be the right way for all his wines, not only for part of them. Nowadays he has 46 buried amphorae in his cellar.

The experiment he started in 1996 took another step with this use of these terracotta amphorae in 2001 and the extended periods of maceration. And with this, he started developing Orange wines, or as he prefers to call them, Amber wines. But opposing to what other producers were doing, with maceration periods of around one-two months and aging in oak for one year, he took it to the extreme. Firstly he was using Pinot Grigio, coming from the Njiva Vineyard. After harvest and fermentation, the grapes were macerated with their skins in the terracotta amphorae and buried for one year. Then the wine was aged in oak barrels for six years. Yes, six years of oak for a white wine. Three more years in the bottle and the wine was ready to be commercialized. Of this Pinot Grigio, the last vintage in the market is the 2006. To this one will follow the 2007, 2009 and 2011 vintages as Gravner decided to discontinue the production of Pinot Grigio to focus on Ribolla Gialla and Pignolo.

Joško believes in the moon cycle of life and its influence in the wines he produces. Therefore, the wine is always bottled under a waning moon. He also believes Nature takes care of the wine, so he doesn’t do anything to change or alter it. He doesn’t use chemicals or add extra yeasts, he doesn’t control the temperature of the wine while the fermentation takes place and he doesn’t filter, fine or clarify the wine.

The Gravner family owns three vineyards with a total area of 18 hectares: One in Italy: Runk, in Oslavia, and two more in Slovenia: Hum and Dedno. Ribolla Gialla and Pignolo are planted in 15 of those 18 hectares while the remaining 3 hectares are international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. It has to be mentioned that in the vineyards, Gravner set up a pond, so plants, insects and other animals could enjoy again their living environment so much needed for the vines to grow.

Gravner produces 6 wines:

Ribolla, with the traditional local variety, which has undergone a long maceration process in Georgian amphorae buried underground with wild yeasts and no temperature control. After pressing the wine, it was poured back into amphorae for at least five more months before it started ageing in large oak barrels, where it was left for six more years. The last vintage in the market is 2008.

Bianco Breg, a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio and Riesling Italico which are fermented separately and aged together. The elaboration process is the same one as of the Ribolla’s. The last vintage in the market is 2008.

Rujno is truly a special red wine. A Merlot wine, produced only in the best years. The must is fermented on the skins in open oak vats for five weeks with wild yeasts and no temperature control. Then the wine is aged in oak barrels for seven years and subsequently in bottle for another seven years. As you can see, it has an aging period of 14 years. The last vintage in the market is 2001.

8.9.10 is Joško Gravner’s new wine. Produced with a selection of individual bunches of Ribolla grapes fully covered in noble rot. This wine is made with the best grapes harvested during three different years, precisely on 23 November 2008, 12 November 2009 and 15 November 2010. Hence the name 8.9.10. While fermenting in amphorae buried underground, it underwent a long maceration along with the skins. After this, it aged in small oak barrels.

Rosso Gravner is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. The must is fermented on the skins in open oak vats for 21 days with wild yeasts and no temperature control. Aged in oak barrels for four years. The last vintage in the market is 2004.

Rosso Breg is produced with Pignolo grapes and the fermentation on the skins in wooden vats was done until 2005 and in amphorae buried underground since 2006, with wild yeasts and no temperature control. The wine was aged in oak barrels for five years and in bottle for at least five years. The last vintage in the market is 2004.

Joško Gravner is an amazing wine producer who believes in the traditional way of elaborating wine with long periods of skin maceration and years of ageing in oak and bottle before releasing the wines to the market. His is a truly special philosophy and his wines are highly appreciated and sough after.

We will talk soon to Joško about his wines and winemaking philosophy.

You can watch the following videos of Joško Gravner here:

The Man: Amphora

The Cellar

The Land

Photos © by Azienda Agricola Gravner