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Massimiliano Croci: ‘Refermenting wine is the most spontaneous way to make wine.’

We recently talked about Tenuta Croci, a winery located in Emilia, Italy. Today we have a great friend of ours, Antonio Sicurezza, owner of the natural wines store Wine Attack in Madrid, who will collaborate with us interviewing Massimiliamo Croci.

Buongiorno, Massimiliano, tell us why and how did you begin making wine. Do you have a winemaking tradition in your family?

My family has been a farming family for generations and has always produced wine, primarily for personal consumption and after the Second World War, they started to sell it.

My grandfather Giuseppe, born in 1898, was a farmer in Mignano di Vernasca, a mountainous area, and decided to leave the valley in the hills, so in 1935 he bought a farm in Monterosso di Castell. In the following years, he built the house, the barn, the stable and moved with the family in the 1940s during the war.

My father, Ermanno, born in 1938, he was the only one of nine children (the other emigrated) who remained to run the farm and in the 1970s, because on the hill the only crop that could give some decent money was grapes, he made the change and stopped taking care of the cattle.

I was born when he started bottling with his own label. Although I studied something different for my own interest, dedicating to winemaking was something spontaneous to continue this activity by an innate passion and desire to live in this land.

After a few years since your first harvest, how your work in the vineyard and in the cellar has changed?

Essentially, it has not changed; I have more experience and consciousness so I have to ask less for advice to my father. We have always been organic, not because of beliefs or otherwise, but because this area is dedicated to viticulture, if the vineyards get sick, it only takes a little copper and sulfur, other systemic products are much more expensive and for my father, who had never had a lot of money, the choice was obvious.

Let’s talk about your region: Piacenza, the first city of Emilia coming from Milan and traveling south. If we were in the 1990s talking about a “grunge” scene a little as it was called the Seattle music: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, etc… What was so special about your territory and how did you work naturally your wines related to tradition but also within an important stylistic research?

Piacenza has a long history of viticulture, as well as the remains of Vitis Vinifera in the Paleolithic, since Roman times clearly demonstrates the importance of wine in the agricultural economy of the area, probably because the hills are poor and with the vine they can be cultivated.

In addition, the Via Emilia in Piacenza has always been a crossroads of cultures that over the years have refined the world of winemaking when selling it in the old days. This generated an ancient tradition that has survived to this day, to all those who had or actually have a family-owned vineyard and making wine for personal consumption, with very limited means and therefore respecting the technical employed methods that obviously were natural due to the lack of technology and enology knowledge.

Therefore, it is not our generation the one that invented a new method of winemaking. We are just keeping a modern awareness of what our ancestors have created mixing different influences.

If I have to explain abroad, what is the movement Emilia sur Li, how would I start? What makes this it unique (if it’s really unique)?

For us, refermenting sparkling wine in the bottle when its lees remain at the bottom of the bottle has always been normal and if it would not turn sparkling meant that something bad had been done in winemaking or bottling. Especially for the “home” personal consumption wines.

The reason is that in these lands, washed by sea in the Pliocene era, often times and due to the lack of nitrogen, wines could not complete the fermentation during harvest, going straight to the bottle to keep it after the cold winter had helped decant it, clean it and refine it. The yeasts awake with warm weather and end the fermentation in the bottle. Therefore, it’s not a fashion but the true tradition of sparkling wines.

Croci rhymes (symbolically) with wines refermented in the bottle. Once and for all, can you explain the difference between an Ancestral wine and a Pet Nat? There is a big confusion about it.

For me, Ancestral, Pet Nat, and in the background, also Surli and Sur Li, are just trade names to stand out.

For my grandfather it was just sparkling wine, period. For me they are Charmat wines, which should indicate that they are made in a “machine”.

Fortunately (and unfortunately) these wines are experiencing a kind of fashion and many wineries are improvising producers who bottle this wines referring to them by any means, including bottling during the harvest and still in fermentation.

For me, the refermentation must be spontaneous as tradition says.

Now we need a little culinary fun fact. What do you eat in Piacenza? What did your grandparents eat, for example,? In what context fit wines and food?

As we said, Piacenza is a crossroads of cultures and therefore talking about food, we are midpoint between the austere use of ox in the Piedmont and Emilian pork. In Piacenza, you can find wines matching everything.

My grandparents ate anything that was not selling, for example, they did not eat pork or ham culatello, parts that were sold immediately after the killing. They ate mostly fat spicy parts as lard, bacon, goletta and of course salami. Meals that perfectly match with our wines.

How many times have you heard (more or less as a joke) that your wines were the result of a technical error, as it is bottled with incomplete fermentations?

When I started selling our wines outside of our territory, very often, especially by those which now produce Petillant natural.

The status quo of refermented wines: is it a fashion or they are actually linked to the territory? Do not you think there are too many sparkling wines now? Has the demand increased or producers just… got bored and thought of alternative ways?

We are experiencing a time in which too structured wines have become tiresome and many producers see in refermentations a way to sell young fresh wines so they can pay the bills early instead of waiting long for the ageing.

There is a lot of talk about the refermented wines, but you and many others in Emilia make this way the so-called still wines. Is not a risk that an excessive carbonic characterization of the wines gives a distorted picture of your territory?

For sure, few people in the world know that these wines have always been made this was. Unfortunately, when fashion happens, many will disappear, and we will continue because this is the most spontaneous way to make wine.

Let’s take a look at the situation of natural wines in Italy. Has their quality improved? In addition, what about sales? (We also talk about money, since we are not virgins).

Quality has always been high, we say that demand has increased nowadays; today many winemakers and consultants have specialized and many new wineries enter this market even if they are not located in this area and can offer natural wines with quality, although personally by the very fact of using consultants, I would not call them natural wines. In my opinion, the decisions have to be done in the vineyard and in the cellar by the winegrower.

Will Italy reach a true partnership protocol to try to define the basic criteria to define natural wine?

If anything comes, it will be a protocol that industrial manufacturers will also take advantage of.

By the way, do you like the natural adjective or do you think it is something forced?

I do not dislike it, but of course in some cases or situations it may be somewhat forced. Let’s keep in mind the term natural is now used everywhere and legally outside the world of wine, even in soaps. However, I prefer the term spontaneous.

And what do you think the wine buyer has understood about all this in the last ten years?

Some people know, read, understand and make conscious decisions, but unfortunately only drink what is fashionable.

Back to the vineyards and the wine born there. How do you work in them?

Like my grandfather and my father did: copper, sulfur and fertilizer when needed.

What is the most difficult wine to make of your portfolio?

Obviously the Ice Wine, due to weather conditions, but all the still wines are complicated because for them not to referment in the bottle, we have to wait until it finishes in the tanks, and sometimes in large masses refermentations do not want to finish.

We talked about two grape varieties unknown to the public, or almost: red Bonarda and white Ortrugo. Could you explain the main features of these grapes?

The Croatina, called Bonarda in Piacenza and Pavia, is a high-yielding red grape, is has an open cluster that matures late. In our lands, it shows a vivid color (antocians), with hints of berries and a tannic structure, so our elders have understood that the right combination for it is the Barbera, very acid and less tannic, so they found ways to balance both grapes.

The Ortrugo is an indigenous grape variety found only in Piacenza, a very compact green grape. The name derives from a dialectic expression meaning “the other grape”; virtually nameless. Until the 1970s, it was only used in blends with our Malvasia di Candia Aromatica. It gives a very dry, fresh, good acidity, with notes of freshly harvested cereal or wheat.

Remember one thing: our wines are made with traditional maceration on the skins. Orange Wine is a modern concept that came from abroad to distinguish our wines to the clarified ones, but here for my grandfather and my father, maceration was the only way to produce wine. The intense color was normal and the wines were simply called white wines. They were very white wines not to be normal wines.

Massimiliano, how do you see Italian natural wine abroad?

I would say that the most attentive consumers understand our rural spontaneity in the production of wines

As a winelover, what kind of wines do you drink and what are you passionate about?

Firstly, in our family we drink our wine every day, some 700 bottles a year. Then I drink everything, it depends on the mood and the season, but always natural wines, of course. However, when I need a wine to comfort me, I always end up drinking a wine from Piacenza as La Stoppa, a Denavolo, the Poggio or Casè.

Now the opposite question: Let’s be bad for once. Will you tell me some world wine area that you consider it is awful?

Australia. Fortunately, some little young producer is trying to reverse this trend.

What do you know about alternative wine in Spain?

I’ve drank a lot, some things I like, some others less, but I do not know enough to talk about it.

We finish with classic apocalyptic question: tell me five wines you would bring to a deserted island in the event of a planned trip without return.

I’m a simple guy who likes to drink and then enjoy. If we exclude my Gutturnio and my Campedello:

Macchiona de La Stoppa

Malvasia di Camillo Donati

Lambrusco di Vittorio Graziano

Camporenzo de Monte dell’Ora

Verdicchio La Oche de Fattoria San Lorenzo

A really heartfelt thanks will never be enough to thank you.

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Laventura Wines, an Orange Wine born in Rioja

Bryan McRobert is a guy from South Africa who makes wines in Rioja. As the first line of an article is not a bad phrase. Especially because it seems to be a bit strange that a winemaker from that country comes up all the way here to do more wine. Nevertheless, Bryan has come and he is making very good wines.

Bryan was born in Cape Town and grew up on a farm located 50 km north in the Swartland region. It was there where he learned to cultivate the vineyards and elaborate his first wines, while studying Viticulture and Enology at the University of Stellembosch. There he has his own winery, Bryan MacRobert Wines CC, where he produces two wines: Tobias and Abbotsdale.

In 2013, he settled in Spain with Laventura Wines, located in a warehouse in Logroño from which he operates, though he has plots throughout the region: Rioja Alavesa, Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja. The vineyards are cultivated under organic methods. Sustainable production is fundamental for the concept of Bryan MacRobert wines. At first glance, it may seem that he is just another Rioja producer, yet if you take a closer look, you will realize that he doing very interesting stuff. When Bryan arrived in Rioja few years ago, he discovered that the Tempranillo was a very interesting grape with a huge winemaking potential so he decided to start experimenting with the Spanish variety.

Now you as faithful reader will be wondering why we are talking in Orange Wines about a South African winemaker working in Rioja. That is easy to answer. In his wine portfolio there is an Orange Wine made with Malvasia. Is it not perfect?

Before talking about this wine, we will first go over the other wines that he is making, which as we mentioned at the beginning, are very worthwhile.

The other white wine making is Laventura Viura, which includes a 10% of other white varieties. This is a wine made with grapes coming from old vines from organic viticulture whose natural fermentation takes place in 600-liter barrels for one year. A very pleasant wine both in the nose and in the mouth.

Bryan makes three red wines. The Laventura Lanave is his entry-level wine, a blend of Tempranillo and Garnacha. One year of aging in stainless steel tanks for the vintage 2014 and one year of barrel for the 2015. Laventura Tempranillo is his second red wine, with 80% of that grape grown in the Rioja Alavesa, plus 10% Garnacha coming from Rioja Alta and another 10% of Garnacha coming from Rioja Baja. Its aging is carried out in 500-liter barrels. It is a cool wine to drink. A pleasant wine that makes you ask for more.

Our favorite red is Laventura Garnacha. A very fine wine that gives you a lot of pleasure when you taste it. The 2015 spent a year in 600-liter barrels.

Finally, the Orange Wine, our favorite of them all. Laventura Malvasia. The grapes come from a small plot located at the feet of the Sierra de Cantabria. The must macerates on the skins for three weeks before being moved to a concrete egg where it ages for a year. It is a very fine and elegant wine, one of the finest Spanish orange wines we have ever tasted. The nose is very soft and captivating and the mouth offers a combination of flavors that makes you keep drinking more and more. Their wine is a limited production because it Bryan only makes around the 1.000 bottles in the vintage 2015.

Laventura Wines is member of the Rioja’n’Roll group along with other wineries in Rioja: Valgañón Alegre, Sierra de Toloño, Oliviere Riviere, Artuke, Barbarot and Exopto. The goal of this group is to make wines showing the character and soul of the winemakers without being limited to traditional classification of Rioja wines.

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


Harvest times

The closest I have been to a harvest was crossing La Rioja by the highway some year in September. It is one of those things that was spinning somewhere deep in my mind but never came true. Not long ago we published an article on an Orange Wine Pepe Moquillaza is doing in Peru and one day he told me that his partner Matías Michelini, the Mi in MiMo, was coming to Spain to do produce some wine in Galicia, so I said, “Why not?”

Matías is one of the best winemakers in Argentina. He owns a winery with his brothers called Super Uco and he also makes wine in Chile and Peru with Pepe. He has a line of Orange wines called Vía Revolucionaria using varieties Bonarda and Torrontés among others, which we will talk about in the future. This year he decided to make wine in Galicia with his Spanish partner Sergio Cortés. The chosen place was the area of Ribeiro, where in this first harvest he will make five wines: two of them will be oaked young and three of them aged. The two young ones are a blend of Treixadura and Godello and on the other hand, a Garnacha Tintorera. These wines are to be bottled around April 2018. The grapes stayed overnight in a steel tank before pressing, then the must went to used oak barrels.

In addition, Matías will make three single-varietal wines with an ageing of about 18 months, bottling time around April 2019. The wines will be a Treixadura, a Godello and a Garnacha Tintorera. Same as before, overnight maceration, press, fermentation in oak barrels.

Talking to Matías before his trip we agreed to exchange some wine, and as it could not be otherwise, I took some Spanish Orange Wines. Those elected were Tenta2 of Ismael Gozalo (MicroBio Wines) and an Orange wine Juan Piqueras of Bodegas Pigar from Utiel-Requena (Valencia) produced last year as an experiment using Tardana and Moscatel. Matias really liked both wines and one day he told me: ‘let’s do an orange wine too.’ My eyes were like those of Marty Feldman, especially when he said later: ‘and we will buy two amphorae to age it. I said he will do five wines but as you c can see, it will be six wines. So the sixth wine this year is an Orange wine produced with Treixadura and Godello aged in amphorae. Simply amazing.

That was the plan, of course, but before starting producing wine, harvest had to be done. After making a preliminary inspection of the vineyards on the previous day, we got up the pruning shears and we off we went.

It is truly romantic contemplating a vineyard full of bunches of ripe grapes ready to be harvested and thinking how good this wine I will work on will be. But when you already have a couple of vines harvested under your belt, the romanticism vanishes away. The hand labor is cool, of course, after all it’s related to winemaking, but hey, sometimes it seems that grapes never end. We began harvesting the Treixadura, in a vineyard that was next to the river Miño in a slight slope. Large clusters filled 15-kilo baskets with some ease and according to habit we left the baskets under the vines for the tractor to pick them up. Evidently, all the vintage was done by hand. We were three of us plus one of the sons of Matías, Estefano.

Then more people joined. When we had already made a few rows between all of them we were told that the tractor would take time to pick up the boxes, so we had to make the decision of what to do. Take the grapes to the cellar. The boxes were in the vineyard, the van on the road, uphill. And there were four of us. Romanticism completely finished. The boxes had to be brought by hand from the vineyard to the road. There were about 36 boxes in the van, so several trips had to be made. Of course, this was not load the van and hope to return. It was in the van to go to the winery, download the grape, although the grapes, put the grapes in the despalilladora, load the boxes into the van, back to the vineyard, keep cutting grapes. So until we finished the vineyard. Among those were done right, but the tractor just made a trip, the rest was in furgo at hand. Shortly after lunch we finished with the Treixadura. If memory serves me out 2. 400 kilos that were already in the warehouse. Now he touched the vineyard of Godello, which was situated inland. The vineyard was smaller, but had a negative side. The cluster of Godello was much smaller than the one of Treixadura, so it was necessary to harvest more plant to fill a box, reason why it was necessary to move the box with the you go more than in the morning. You could have half a row, but the box was still in the middle. This vineyard had narrower streets than the morning, so tractor nothing. All to monkey again. Charge the van and the cellar, download grapes, weigh grapes, despalillar grapes.And of course, once finished, had to clean the boxes to not have problems the next day. And all the used area of the warehouse, of course. Of the Godello there were in total about 1,200 kilos. We did not collect all the grapes, of course, that although I am the center of Bilbao, they do not. We have help, because if not, we would still be recovering. I already did a calculation of what I sold, and it did not look bad, but just in case I will not comment. We finished past 9pm.

Once all the grapes in their deposits, we catap the wort. Both were very good, with the Treixadura giving about 12 degrees and the Godello something above 14 and with a very good acidity. Maceration pre-pressed pellet of about 18 hours, since the pressing was made the next day in the early afternoon. Once pressed, the wort was passed to used barrels. The wine that will be the young man was already mixed in the barrel.

The Garnacha was harvested a few days later, since in the vineyard still it was around 10 degrees. I had to go back to my daily chores so I did not stay.

Now wait until April to bottle the two young wines and see how the orange wine evolves. Moment no forecast how long it will be macerated with the skins or how long barrel. That will be seen.

We just can’t wait enough.

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Elisabetta Foradori: “After the first vinification in an amphora my perception and vision of winemaking changed completely.”

Recently we talked about Azienda Agricola Foradori, a winery located under the Dolomiti Mountains, where Elisabetta Foradori is producing some special wines. Today we talk to her about her wines and winemaking philosophy.

Buongiorno, Elisabetta, and thank you so much for your collaboration. What’s so special about the Trento area for making wine? 

We are in the Alps, in the Dolomites area. The Dolomite is a very special rock, very rich in limestone and magnesium. The elements that are brought into the wines give them a very specific character. The mountains are very close to the vineyards and are a big climate element. Local varieties are printing the genetic. A huge diversity of biotype made through the massal selection is improving the expression of the genius loci. The practice of biodynamic agriculture allowed the plant to be in balance and in good health.

How was the change in this area from growing bulk wines to quality wines as you are doing recently?

It was made systematically during 30 years of work. The most important work was the massal selection of Teroldego after that the introduction in 2002 of the biodynamics preparation. Thorough this to step we can grow very energetic and connected grapes. We trust our grapes and we can be beside them during the cellar work. Some incredible things happened, a world of spectacular transformations into another view of winemaking. In 2013, my son Emilio is in charge of this experience and putting his energy and knowledge into it.

Why did you decide to use terracotta amphorae for macerating your wines?

It was 2008 and I was trying to find the best vessel for a long skin contact for the Nosiola variety. Rudolf Steiner spoke very often of the power of the clay: connection of diversity, connection of the soil and cosmos influence. A friend of mine, Giusto Occhipinti who was just starting to use tinajas, introduced me to Mr. Juan Padilla, the Spanish tinajas producer. After the first vinification in one of them my perception and vision of winemaking changed completely.

You talk about the Four Elements: Earth, Water, Fire and Air. What is their influence in your wines?

 These four elements are part of life and they are related to the different part of the plant. We work on this through the Maria Thun calendar, which help us on the daily work to be connected to the different parts of the plant: roots–earth + fruit- fire/earth + leaves-water + flower–light/air. They are even related to the clay and the tinajas: the clay is the earth, which needs the Air/light to come out of the darkness of the deep world. The clay needs the water to be used and the fire to be made.

Teroldego and Nosiola are autochthonous varieties. What kind of character they do have?

Teroldego is related to the River Noce, to alluvial soil, to the Campo Rotaliano which is a flat area surrounded by steep mountain. It doesn’t like too much earth and loves light soil. These are the best condition for this variety and the climate conditions of the Campo Rotaliano.

Nosiola likes clay red soil with limestone, likes the altitude, the hills and a lot of light. It needs to be in very poor soils and wants to see the mountains from far away.

Both are great expression of the Trentino area.

Why did you decide to macerate the white wines with the grape skins?

Because the deep message of the fruit is in the skin, which is the vessel and the protection of the grapes and is in the outside, deeply related to the message of the outside world. Without both elements of the fruit (inside and outside) you lose the balance and the total information that you want to bring into the wine.

How do you determine the length of time the white wine is in contact with the skins?

Emilio and me are very close to all the processes and are standing observing the nature. This is possible for the plants and for the magical process that is the fermentation. We work in a very instinctive way.

 Your red wines Morei and Sgarzon are both made with Teroldego and spend eight months macerating on the skins in amphora. What is the difference between them?

Morei and Sgarzon are two expression of the same variety: the roots of Morei are in the stony soil of the old riverbed of Noce. The Sgarzon roots are in the sandy soil. The expression of the vineyard is completely different and so are the wines.

Then your white wines. Fontanasanta Manzoni Bianco ferments on the skins in cement tanks and then it ages for 12 months in acacia casks. Why did you choose cement tanks and acacia casks?

Cement because of the respect of the character of the grapes during the fermentation. Acacia because is a local plant and a traditional wood for aging white wines.

Fuoripista Pinot Grigio and Fontanasanta Nosiola also macerate eight months on the skins in amphora. How each variety responds to this long maceration?

Both responds in the same way: pure expression of the character of the terroir, balance and vitality. This is not only an effort of the clay. The vitality of the fruit comes from the vitality of the soil and the plants. The clay allowed a multiplication of the character.

Which of your wines reacts better to the vinification method you employ?

Each wine is able to find itself in the fermentation. Even into the oak or cement tank, we follow the same philosophy: work on maceration (with part of all bunches) and not on forced extraction.

What kind of wines do you like to drink when you are not working?

I like wines which are connecting me to the light.

Grazie mille, Elisabetta!!

Mas Martinet, biodynamic farming in the winery and in life

The first thing that strikes you when you listen Sara Pérez talking is the passion she conveys. The movement of her hands, her intonation, the light in her eyes… Her eyes spark with the conversation. She talks about wine, her wines, as living entities, not as a fermented grape juice product. Her tone is not high, she doesn’t need it, for the way she talks is enough for you to get absorbed into it. And the best thing is when you realize she is not pretending. Her wine philosophy is her life philosophy.

In our daily life, we talk a lot about some activities that we consider more than just a past time. We call them a way of life. Owning a Harley-Davidson is a way of life, hard rock is a way of life, playing American football is a way of life… but more often than not, when we say this we mean we have a big passion occupying a part of our lives. For Sara, winemaking is not a job, is not a passion, it is a true way of living. You might think Sara works her vineyards and her wines organically because it might be a trend, or she practices biodynamic methods because it is a label that gives you a special aura when making wine. But the truth is that whatever it is what Sara does, it is not a jacket she puts on when she arrives in the cellar, let’s say at 8 am and she removes it at 5 pm when she leaves. For Sara, that philosophy continues at home, continues in her family, continues wherever she goes, as biodynamic practice is something she not only takes to work but rather during her whole day, as if being part of herself. Biodynamics says that in a farm the animals, the vineyards, the humans, form a holistic entity, all being part of it.

The father of the Natural Agriculture, Japanese Masanobu Fukuoka*, had a maxim that I think reflects quite well what I want to say about Sara: “The aim or end of agriculture is not producing food, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.”

I remember when I played football (I hope my faithful reader will indulge my brief biographic break), before every game I looked to myself in the mirror of the locker room, when a mirror was available. If I felt the shoulder pads, the protective gear, the uniform were becoming part of me I knew I would play well. But if the pants were not properly fitting, the pads did not fit well or there was a minor discomfort, the sensations were not the same. Sara uses demijohns for ageing wines, and she has a lot of them. As you know, demijohns are glass containers big in the base and mid part and narrow in the neck area. This glass is very fragile. If you crack one and try to open it, you run the risk of making it burst and losing all the wine, and usually each of them contains 64 liters. Usually demijohns come protected by a plastic basket covering them from the bottom to halfway. Sara did not like to go down to the cellar and see the demijohns in baskets, so she had all the baskets removed. She says that if she does not like what she sees when going down to the cellar, she prefers not to go down to work at all because she feels uncomfortable. Therefore, she takes the risk of losing some demijohns and the wine inside, which occasionally happens, for being able to work at ease, comfortable. I do not think it can be considered something trivial, quite the opposite. To me this reflects the fact that one of the characteristics of biodynamic culture is the integration of all elements of a farm or a winery in a single entity. Sometimes this means you can see sheep, chickens and even cows grazing on the streets of a vineyard. And I think that in order to work with wine, as we are talking in this case, it has to be something more than just a liquid with which one works. And that’s what she does.

Something special happens when you taste Sara’s wines. Sometimes you remain listening to her oblivious to still having the glass in your hands. Because she does not explain to you the wine from a systematic wine tasting approach of color-nose-palate standpoint but rather it is about the soul of the wine, its spirit, its development as living entities, the passing from a small child to a full grown adult. She explains the personality of her wines, how they are, how they grow and how she is expecting them to develop.

Sara likes to experiment with her wines to see how they evolve: different containers: steel tanks, oak barrels, clay amphora, glass demijohns… She employs different periods of ageing, red wine macerations of only one week… then she writes all of this down and ten years later, she opens the bottles and analyzes how the wine evolved. I was imagining her in a big old table under a gaslamp light, using a goose feather for writing in the pages of a large parchment book where you can see notes of experiments she performed on the old vintages she worked on.

We tasted a few samples of her wines. I really enjoyed seeing the difference between her beautiful Clos Martinet 2015 aged in oak barrel, in amphora and demijohn. Sara explained the difference in how the wines reacted to the vessel. Again, you might think she was talking about her children: This is going to be braver; this one is going to be more tamed… and again, her eyes, voice, and hands were showing her passion.

We also had the opportunity to see three demijohns with an orange wine made with Macabeo (or was it Xarel.lo?). And shortly before we left, something very special. A centenary Garnacha rancio wine that was ageing in old oak barrels, the biggest one had engraved the manufacturing year: 1885. A rancio is a wine that is aged in oak for a number of years and its alcohol volume is increased. Then, as you take wine out of the barrel, you can add more. This way the barrel contains wine from different vintages.

Leading to my visit, we were making plans for when we got together. We would talk about wine, we would talk about life, we would enjoy wine and we would dream. We tasted a lot, we talked a lot, we enjoyed a lot, we dreamed a lot.

And I keep remembering how Sara talked about her wines. And the inflection of her voice., And her hands. And the sparks in her eyes.

*Masanobu Fukuoka (Japan, 1913-2008), developed a agriculture philosophy that he named Natural Agriculture, also known as Fukuoka Method. It is a system based on doing nothing and recognizing the complexity of living entities being part of an ecosystem.

The five principles of natural agriculture are:

  • When laboring the soil, using any tool is unnecessary, as well as the use of any machinery.

  • Fabricated fertilizers are unnecessary, as well as the process of manufacturing compost.

  • Do not plow grass or herbs, either by plowing or herbicides. Just a small and minimum cleansing of the grass with the lesser perturbation possible.

  • Using pesticides or herbicides is unnecessary.

  • Pruning of vines or trees is unnecessary.

Photo Sara Pérez (c) Josep Oliva

Stefano Novello and the things that matter in life

Stefano Novello is one of those persons who make you realize it is not about flashing a lot of wine bottles or old vintages or expensive wines when you visit them but rather they make you feel at home, treating you like an old friend and sharing with you their most important possession: time. They just welcome you to their home, not only the winery but to their own living room. And you realize what it is important in life, when people like Stefano and his wife Laura treat you like old friends.

Our visit started close to midday after searching in Prepotto, Udine, the Azienda Agricola Ronco Severo. This visit was not going to be like a standard visit that includes vineyard tour and cellar visit. This was much more than that. In Stefano’s living room we found his family along with three more friends enjoying a glass of his excellent Ronco Severo Pinot Grigio 2015. Stefano was giving all of us a lot of explanations about the wines, but mostly it was a friendly conversation about everything. Then it came the Ronco Severo Ribolla Gialla 2015, which obviously was superb. We love the Ribolla in all its forms: dry, young, macerated, sparkling… and this one was macerated and excellent. Ronco Severo Friulano 2015 was next, and it was like starting to cry. Such a wonderful wine with an incredible mouth showing all its balanced maceration and the period on its lees. From the family cellar Stefano brought a bottle of an old Ronco Severo Chardonnay. Maybe 2007? Amazing as well, with a nice and elegant structure.

Along with some prosciutto and cheese (who said cheese was to trick you when drinking wine?) the red wine show started. This area is known by its local variety Schioppettino di Prepotto and the 2013 one Stefano opened was incredible. A luscious wine we had been advised to taste and it was amazing. We are sorry to use so many times “wonderful,” “amazing,” “incredible,” but this is what comes to mind enjoying Stefano’s wines.

The Schioppettino gave way to a special part of the visit: the Merlot. Ronco Severo is known by the high quality of its Artiùl wine, a 100% Merlot. Stefano brought a bottle of the Artiùl 2013, the last one in the market, and it was unbelievable good. We love the Merlot grape and this wine was so great. Powerful yet elegant, with a well-balanced nose and mouth. We were talking about these wines being especially elegant, meaning that even if they can be powerful, their main quality is that they are very well balanced and elegant. As we said, it is very easy to make a powerful wine but it is not that easy to make an elegant wine. Then to prove his point, Stefano went to the cellar with a decanter and brought a sample of his Artiùl 2015. The wine was a bit raw, a bit tannic, but it showed which kind of wine it was going to be in two more years. And then Stefano went to pick up a sample of Artiùl 2016, by the way, both vintages still in the barriques. This one was more potent than the previous one, showing more tannic balance and still green but at the same time it showed that it would be as great as the 2013. Or as great as a bottle Stefano brought later on: Artiùl 2001. Family reserve wine. Absolutely amazing wine, with a young nose full of pepper and black fruit and a body in mouth still on top. The structure was just great.

It was time for us to part ways momentarily with Stefano’s family and friends, but we set up an appointment for two vertical tastings of Merlot and Friulano including a rather good meal. All is set.

It was an amazing time. As we said before, this was much more than just a simple winery visit. It was way more than that. It was sharing a wonderful time with wonderful people, enjoying a common passion about wine and building a great friendship. This is what matters in life.

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Tenuta Croci, traditional sparkling wines in Emilia

Massimiliano Croci is the third-generation member of his family managing Tenuta Vitivinicola Croci in Emilia, Italia. After his grandfather Giuseppe and father Ermanno, he is now doing some of the most sought-after wines in his country and beyond its borders. One special feature of his wines is that they are made the traditional way, and in Emilia this traditional way is sparkling wines which are refermented in the bottle. For many people this seems to be just a fashion or a way to adjust to the current market tendencies, but far from that, Massimiliano is doing wines the way his ancestors did wine back in the day. Moreover, of course, his wines are natural. No chemicals used, no sulphites added, no wine levels control, his wines are the way they grow themselves. Again, the traditional way.

The estate, located in Piacenza province, dates back to 1935 when his grandfather bought it and it was in the 1970s when his father decided to move from cattle management to grape farming as this was the only way to make decent money for living in the region. Now the cellar has grown and established itself as one of the best wineries in Italy for sparkling and frizzante wines, always using autochthonous grape varieties.

Tenuta Croci is also one of the few wineries in Italy producing an Ice Wine, a typical wine from Canada and Austria whose grapes are left in the vineyard to shrunk and dehydrate while the sugar levels raise and then they are harvested between November and January when the temperature is around five degrees below zero. This wine, Emozione di Ghiaccio, is produced using typical local varieties Malvasia di Candia Aromatica 70% and Moscato Bianco 30%. The wine stays in small oak botti for two years.

Tenuta Croci’s vineyards are trained with the Guyot system and the soil is marked by clay and sand with its origins dated on the Pliocene Period. All labors at the vineyards located in Monterosso – Castell’Arquato, and at the cellar are hand-done.

Massimiliano Croci produces two sparkling wines: Alfiere, for which he uses the local Ortrugo variety. Alfiere Rosé is a blend of Barbera 48%, Bonarda (aka Croatina) 48%, and Malvasia Nera 4%. Both Alfiere wines stay in the lees for eighteen months.

Gutturnio Sur Lie is a Gutturnio D.O.C. Colli Piacentini frizzante wine refermented in the bottle. It is a blend of Barbera 60% and Bonarda 40%. This wine stays in a tank for eight months then it goes to the bottle where it stays at least ten more months.

The two still red wines of the Tenuta are Coronino, a Vino da tavola Rosso elaborated with a blend of Merlot 60% and Sangiovese 40%. This wine stays in a tank for eight months then it goes to oak barrels for sixteen more months. San Bartolomeo, whose name comes from the old denomination of Monterosso, is a Gutturnio D.O.C. Colli Piacentini blend of Barbera 60% and Bonarda 40%. Eight months in tank, then oak barrels for eighteen more months.

Tenuta Croci also produces three Orange Wines. As with the sparkling wines, Massimiliano produces them because this was the way white wine was traditionally made in this area. Lubigo Sur Lie is a single-varietal Ortrugo refermented in the bottle frizzante wine. Twelve days of maceration on the skins, then eight months in a tank and ten more months in the bottle. Monterosso Val d’Arda Sur Lie is a D.O.C. Colli Piacentini blend of Malvasia di Candia Aromatica 60%, Ortrugo 35% and Marsanne 5%. Maceration on the skins for seven to eleven days. This wine stays in a tank for eight months then it goes to the bottle where it stays at least ten more months. Finally, Val Tolla is a single varietal of Malvasia di Candia Aromatica. Its maceration period goes to around thirty days. Ten months in tank and twelve months in the bottle.

Wine production and agriculture are all key elements of the territory’s identity. Precisely for the fundamental role that farming plays, Tenuta Vitivinicola Croci, especially if driven by a young man as Massimiliano is, must be able to make wines with dynamism, transparency, quality and genuineness.

Soon we will talk to Massimiliano about his winemaking roots and philosophy. For the interview, we will count with the help of our common friend Antonio Sicurezza, owner of the Wine Attack wine shop in Madrid.

Photos (c) Tenuta Croci

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Bodegas Pigar, amazing discovery in Utiel-Requena

Some say that in Utiel-Requena, near the city of Valencia, they don’t make good wine. In addition, some others say that in Campo Arcís, a small village inn the area, they only produce bulk wines, but hey, as everything in life you have to try before making such statements. I had not tasted anything so far from this part of Spain, although traveling between Madrid and Valencia you cross this area and there are signposts of wineries and vineyards everywhere. Coincidences of life, and the things that the wine uniteth no one separateth, I recently made a visit to the area. The one-to-blame for this is Juan Piqueras, owner and winemaker of family-owned Bodegas Pigar, located in the aforementioned small village. I had been talking to Juan about these things related to the ageing of the wines that are so special to me, the amphorae, and in the summer arisen the possibility of meeting each other. Campo Arcís, here we go.

Usually, a visit to a winery usually starts in the vineyards, then you go to the cellar and finally you taste some wine. Here it was completely different. And it was very good indeed. Juan had previously told me: “When you get here, we’re going to have breakfast.” And we had set the appointment at noon! But hey, who am I to go against Juan’s will? So as soon as I arrived, we grabbed some nourishment and off we went to start with the cultural part of the visit. We went to Las Pilillas, an archeologic site in the outskirts of the village next to the mountains where recently a group of Tartessian field cellars dating back from the VII century BC has been discovered and excavated. In the attached photos you can see the small bed for putting the grapes to be pressed and the sockets through where the noble liquid flew into a small pool. The slopes of the mountain were full of several field cellars like this, so you could imagine what the harvest would have been 28 centuries ago. That’s not just a few years. I am Humanistic, not a numbers person but I think that’s a lot.

After acquiring some food for the brains, it was time for some food for the body, as nothing makes you hungrier than sports and culture. The Bollo Típico de Requena, a local cake not for those with high cholesterol levels and for the faint of heart. How could we say no? And it was not just tasty but also very good, partly sweet partly salty, and we paired it with the young Bobal 2016 Juan produces. Oh, pleasures of life: an ancient field cellar, a local Bollo and a young fresh wine, all combined in the arms of Mother Nature. The wine, as Juan said, had to be sipped straight from the bottle, as glasses are to taste wine in the cellar, not in the field. Enjoying life in its purest form.

From there we went to visit some of the family vineyards. The family tradition, both from the paternal and maternal side of the family, has always been to cultivate the vines for selling the grapes to the local wine cooperative and to keep a bunch of grapes every year for the family and friends wine consumption. Nowadays they own around 24 hectares distributed in the area. Out of them, they work three small plots for the wines they elaborate. These are the plots producing the better quality grapes and they strive for that, not for grapes grown in bulk as we could see in neighboring plots.

Juan started working in the enology team of Bodegas Manuel Manzaneque where he has sharpen his teeth from 2008 until 2016, when he decided to focus on Bodegas Pigar. In those plots we mentioned, Juan has planted Bobal, Syrah, Chardonnay, Tardana and some other varieties in smaller proportion. In his third harvest, Juan is taking baby steps with his project in the right direction, without rushing too much to get there before he is due and growing steadfastly. In 2016, he released three labels for barely 3,000 bottles with three single-varietal wines: Bobal, Syrah and Chardonnay. In 2017 the total will raise up to 6,000 bottles. The Chardonnay ages six months on its lees and it is amazing, one of the Spanish Chardonnays I have most enjoyed. The Bobal is a wine with a young and powerful character, yet very rich and fresh. And the Syrah hooked me from the very first sip. Really fruity and a sensational mouth. Fantastic wine.

But Juan already knew what to do to make me drool and lose my will. He only needed two words: Orange Wine. In 2016, Juan produced along with his father an experiment of 90 bottles employing 90% of Tardana and 10% of Moscatel. Maceration was on the skins and ageing was in amphorae. What else can I ask for? We opened a bottle of 0.75 liters (he also has a few bottles of half liter). At first, it is a wine that shows itself a bit shy, since the Tardana is a little aromatic variety that in this area was cultivated in small amounts for that reason. However, when this wine has been open for some time, it begins to grow. The Moscatel rises in the glass. The maceration has not made this a tiresome wine. On the contrary, it is a quite fine and delightful wine. Two days after its opening, it was a joy to finish what was left in the bottle, which was not too much, unfortunately. It’s a wine with a great evolution. And it was the first time they produced it.

In this 2017 vintage Juan will add new things to its portfolio, which are look too promising: a Royal-Bobal sparkling wine following the ancestral method of elaboration, another orange wine produced in tinaja and experiments that Juan’s creative mind goes around trying, which in my opinion, that’s what winemaking is about: experiment, trying new things, learn from experience and then being able to succeed with it. I’m sure by the time these lines are transformed into tiny pieces of digital information Juan will already have done something new.

Before digressing, we were talking about the vineyards. The typical soil here is clay, sandstone and stony. They are looking for low but quality yields, and they are trying to incorporate some abandoned plots that still can produce good wines. As it as happens elsewhere, there are landowners who prefer to own a dead vineyard rather than selling it or leasing it to others. The fieldwork is done looking for expressing the terroir and the variety. They don’t irrigate and that’s something important if you keep in mind the annual rainfall in this area is very low. Juan is an advocate for natural management, no using of chemicals or pesticides, no filtering or clarifications.

The cellar is located in the family house in the center of the village. We proceeded to taste the wines, but I have already talked about them. The truth is I liked them all very much. I could write tasting notes of all of them, express with poetic words the feelings and sensations and pleasures they created in me, but I think that would only cause queues to form at Juan’s door to buy his wines. And I’m sorry but I want them for me so I will not say anything about them. I will only say that the production is very small and it sells out pretty fast. I already have an appointment to enjoy that orange wine 2017, the ancestral and some others. You have to go before the wine vanishes in the wind. And if you have the opportunity to taste them and you like them, remember that you heard about them first here in Orange Wines.

Soon we will talk with Juan Piqueras about his wines and his winemaking philosophy.

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Giorgio Clai, back to his winemaking roots in Croatia

Recently we spoke about a winery located in the Croatian part of Istria, Clai Wines. We will talk today with its owner and winemaker Giorgio Clai.

Good morning Giorgio and thank you very much for your collaboration. You grew up in Croatia but professionally you lived later in Italy in a restaurant business. Why did you leave that life for going back home and starting making wine?

It was love for this job. I was always making wine as a hobby so I decided to come back and do what fascinates me.

What is so special in this part of Croatia for doing the kind of wines you do?

Above all, 50 meters from Heaven you have as many choices as you want but the location is so beautiful that you can use any philosophy you want, as mush natural as possible as it is what interests me the most.

Tell us about the Malvasia Istriana, please.

The Malvazija is the most famous autochthonous variety that can be used in any philosophy and in any type of winemaking (fresh, aged, sparkling and Sv. Jakov). It is a variety with a big future.

We are big fans of Malvasia, especially when it is macerated on its skins, Why did you decide to use this vinification method?

Because it is the only way that I know but still if we look at this part of Istria and Northeast of Italy and Slovenia, everybody are macerating. It is our tradition.

How does this variety respond to long periods of maceration?

You should try Sv. Jakov, because it has no fixed rules for vinification, it can macerate for 4 months. I think there is no problem, it is almost recommended.

How do you like your Malvasia to be?

The best in the world.

If we could taste various vintages of your Malvasia, which differences would be in the way you have worked with it?

There is no difference in the way of making it. We are not making wine, we cherish it. But each vintage will show the conditions of the year, if it was easy or difficult and this is why we are writing the year of the harvest on the label.

We have tasted your Malvazija 2012 and it was really a wonderful wine. Which vintage are you more proud of?

It is always the last one because I think we miss 300-400 hundred years of experience. I think I learn something new every year.

2002 was your first vintage with your winery. Which things are you doing differently now after these years?

By some varieties, we have prolonged maceration periods because of high sugar levels. I think this was the only way to transform all the sugar. We must keep in mind that we are starting fermentation with spontaneous yeasts, which is the most important aspect. But as I already said, I learn something new every year.

Do your wines reflect your personality, your character?


Organic, natural, biodynamic agriculture… Which method are you more comfortable working with?

It is very difficult to answer because we are following all three ways because we believe that all connects in one system, on some way this is all the same. The most important thing is purism.

What’s the reason for using a Pied de Cuve?

I use it if I think that particular vintage needs it. The reasons would be high sugar, all difficult conditions for fermentation.

What kind of wine do you like to drink when you are not working?


Thank you very much, Giorgio!!

Foto (c) Clai Wines

A personal view on Joško Gravner by Simon Woolf


Our adventure about Orange wines started last year with a glass of the wonderful Andreas Tscheppe’s Hirschkäffer 2014. Since then we have been doing a lot of research, study and of course, tastings. We have been very passionate about this style of wine and about the great people producing it and somehow involved with it. In the early days, we discovered a website which rapidly became our main source of knowledge and reference: The Morning Claret is run by Simon Woolf, who is even more passionate about Orange wines. Simon is columnist for Decanter Magazine and also serves as juror in wine tournaments across Europe. He is a reference for us and we can say now that www.themorningclaret.com and www.orangewines.es have become the main European websites about orange wines, if we are allowed to compare ourselves to him. In 2018 Simon will release the first-ever book on Orange wine history, Amber Revolution.

Simon Woolf

Simon recently visited Joško Gravner, the Godfather of Orange Wines in Friuli. Today we are proudly presenting his thoughts on his visit. Please welcome Simon Woolf, from The Morning Claret:

Looking behind the scenes at a winery is always enlightening. Wineries are places of work – farms by any other name – yet many also double as tourist attractions, or at least see a constant flow of visitors: wine lovers, journalists and wine buyers.

There are those wineries where the well appointed tasting room is something close to a facade – a holding pen for visitors so they don’t need to see the chaos that lies beyond its polished wood doors. And then there are estates like Joško Gravner’s in Friuli Collio.

Every square centimetre of the Gravner’s property appears to be immaculate – not showy, or overdone, but beautifully kept and completely clear of clutter. This even holds true if you stray from the winery’s public areas into the family house.

There’s a considered, yet minimalist approach to everything, from the architecture to labelling and of course the wines. Gravner has spent the last two decades perfecting his stripped down, ultra traditional methods. The operation has the feeling of calm, of a well-oiled machine. But it wasn’t always so straightforward.

Abandoning all of the modern technology he’d bought during the 1980s, Gravner’s first commercial vintage of his now famous skin macerated style was 1997. These wines, with their deep amber/russet hues and profound autumnal aromas and complex flavours were nothing less than a shock to their public when they were released onto the market at the end of the 1990s.

Gambero Rosso published a famous article titled “Josko Gravner has gone crazy – please come back Joško” – a reference to how well loved this pivotal winemaker was for his barrique aged white wines in the 1980s and 90s. The article stated in no uncertain times that the new Gravner wines were a disaster – faulty, oxidised, undrinkable.

The coup de grace? Gambero Rosso had not been sent any samples of the wines, and had not tasted them. Gravner admits that he shed tears over the incident. And there was worse to come. The article had been published just as the new vintage was being shipped to customers all over Italy.

Partly due to the bad press, more than half the winery’s customers returned their shipments without even trying the wines.

It’s hard to imagine now just how vehemently the wine world turned against Gravner during this period. But Joško, a man for whom the word “uncompromising” could have been invented, didn’t balk.

Not only was the new direction for his wines maintained, there was more to come. Gravner finally took delivery of the first batch of Georgian qvevris (amphora-like vessels) in 2001, gradually converting his entire production to qvevri by 2005.

Then in 2012, after many years of planning, Gravner grubbed up the last of his vineyards still planted with international varieties. Now, the estate has only the area’s indigenous Ribolla Gialla and the noble red Pignolo – plus a few token rows of the Georgian Rkatsiteli grape (“It’s a homage to Georgia”, says Joško.)

Gravner’s inability to compromise has cost him a few friendships. The close working relationship with near neighbour Stanko Radikon (who died in 2016) broke down around 1995, although the two reportedly met for the last time just a few weeks before Stanko died.

He refuses to work with six other wineries in Oslavia who founded the “Ribolla di Oslavia” association to promote their local grape, as in his eyes their continued new planting of international varieties makes no sense if Ribolla is acknowledged to be the best.

A 20 year working partnership with superstar pruning consultants Marco Simonet and Pierpaolo Sirch has also finally run its course. Gravner’s latest project involves new plantings of his own American rootstocks next to ungrafted Ribolla Gialla vines – the two will be conjoined in a couple of years time. “It all starts with the roots” he says “and ultimately pruning can’t help you if the roots aren’t any good”.

Gravner is now 65, but looking forward to many more years of perfecting his craft. He’s increasingly aided in the cellar and the vineyards by his younger daughter Jana, while elder daughter Mateja is the estate’s sales, marketing and communication engine – and public face. Photos of Gravner’s son Miha, who died tragically in a motorbike accident in 2009, are prolific in the house and the winery.

“I’ve made a special agreement”, he smiles, looking heavenward, when I ask what the future holds, “I’m going to live until I’m 100”. He does however add slightly grimly “but just in case it doesn’t work out, I’ve also reserved a burial plot”.

Simon Woolf’s forthcoming book “Amber Revolution” tells the full story of Gravner’s journey and much more about orange wine in Friuli, Slovenia, Georgia and beyond. It can be pre-ordered now on kickstarter.

Photos (c) by Simon Woolf

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