The Northeast part of Italy, where the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region rests, is part of a wider area known as Istria, which includes parts of Friuli, Slovenia and Croatia. Here the production of wine is almost a religion, where you can find so many great producers with long family traditions, some of them going back to the XIX century.

Such is the case of the Slovenian winemaking family we will talk today about. It was in 1860 when the great-great-grandfather of Marjan Simčič bought a farm in Medana and began vine growing and winemaking. Over the years, the reigns of the family business were passing down from one generation to the next, along with the knowledge and tradition until he took care of the vineyards. The year was 1988 and it took him nine more years to build a new wine cellar, five meters underground, surrounded by olive trees and vineyards in the village of Ceglo. In the next few years, Marjan developed his ancestors’ winemaking tradition until reaching what the winery is today: 20 hectares of land, in the very heart of Goriška -Brda area, vineyards spreading over the Slovenian and Italian border, where the Collio DOC is located. These 20 hectares produce 100,000 bottles a year, which is a big amount among local wineries.

The Brda terroir is very special. In this side of the order, in Brda jargon Opoka means marl of Aeolian sediment very poor in organic structure, whereas very rich with mineral salts. The area offers ideal climatic conditions for winegrowing. With the protection of the Pre-Julian Alps and the Trnovska Plateau in the back and the warm breeze coming from the Adriatic Sea, the soil of Brda is ideal for growing vines.

A major change came when Marjan decide to go natural in the vineyards. The work in the vineyard (cutting, multiple cleaning of vines, picking of grapes), is done exclusively by hand, which results in increased quality of the wines. No chemical compounds nor were additives used anymore. As Marjan says: “We decided several years ago that our vines would be grown using only natural methods, without any chemical fertilizers or insecticides. Experience has taught us that this allows for the preservation of the natural cycle of living organisms in the vineyard and enables the soil and the vines to respond naturally, spontaneously, and to become even more harmonious by overcoming certain problems.”

In 2008 the winery released their top end line of wines, Opoka Cru, marking a milestone in the family. The winery portfolio includes three lines, and we will stop at the Opoka one.

The first line is named Brda Classic. The wines are all single-varietal: Ribolla, Sauvignonasse, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Grigio. They age in steel tanks for one year.

The second line is Cru Selection (Selekcija). The wines are single-varietal: Ribolla Selection, Sauvignon Blanc Selection, Chardonnay Selection and Pinot Noir Selection. Thenwe have the two blends: Teodor White Selection and Teodor Red Selection. Finally, a Passito wine: Leonardo. These are complex wines made exclusively from the best grapes and matured slowly for a period between two and four years in casks and wooden barrels of different sizes. None of these wines undergo filtration.

The Cru Selection white wines undergo maceration with the skins for a few days: four days for the Sauvignon Blanc and the Chardonnay and six days for the Ribolla. The grapes of the Teodor White Selection undergo two days of maceration with the skins for the Sauvignonasse and the Pinot Grigio and six days for the Ribolla.

Then we arrive to the top end line: Opoka Cru, the most prestigious line of wines, with the signature of Marjan Simčič. Here we have three single-varietal white wines and a single-varietal red. Opoka Cru Sauvignon Blanc and Opoka Cru Chardonnay undergo a skin-maceration period of four days in 4,000-liter troncoconical oak tanks.

Opoka Cru Ribolla is a very special wine as it cannot be otherwise with this variety. Marjan uses concrete eggs for the Rebula Opoka grapes. First for the long maceration, which lasts for two weeks. The alcohol fermentation is done in contact with the skins. Then, after soft pressing the Ribolla Opoka wine spends one year in concrete egg barrels and another year in 500l oak barrels. The concrete eggs enable better micro-oxygenation and allow the tanins to mature faster.

The Opoka Cru Merlot ages for 48 months in oak.

The Opoka Cru line is the special feature of the cellar. They are the best of the best. They are produced only with the most exceptional harvests, in extremely small quantities and without filtration. They are released into the market after seven months of bottle.

“I produce unique natural wines with recognizable character of our terroir and I believe in traditional winemaking methods. All our wines are made exclusively from our own grapes, which are organically – farmed and hand –picked.” Marjan Simčič

Soon we will talk to Marjan Simčič about his wines and his winemaking philosophy.

Photos (c) Marjan Simčič