Roberto Felluga, the Lion and the Eagle in Collio

Marco e Roberto Felluga

Originally published in 09/02/2017.

We recently run a feature on Marco Felluga, a winemaking family in Friuli Venezia Giulia. Felluga is a family with a long tradition in the business, with the fifth generation managing the two estates they have. Roberto Felluga is the manager and winemaker in both estates: Tenuta Marco Felluga, located in Gradisca d’Isonzo, Gorizia, and eight kilometers down the road is Russiz Superiore, in Capriva Del Friuli, Gorizia.

Buongiorno, Roberto and thank you for your cooperation. You run the two estates owed by the family. What do you look for in each of them?

My father Marco has bequeathed me two important companies, Marco Felluga, founded in 1956 in Gradisca d’Isonzo, and Russiz Superiore, purchased in 1967 in Capriva del Friuli. He began his training at the prestigious Oenological School of Conegliano and it is thanks to him that the path of innovation, absolute quality and research started, the same path that still today I continue to follow with passion. I believe it is essential to be able to maintain a balance between tradition and the knowledge inherited from the previous four generations and new techniques that are being developed in recent years: with my employees I usually face many challenges and goals for both wineries during the year. The attention that we put into every stage of processing, from the cultivation of the vines to the type of vinification of the grapes, comes from the great respect we have for the Collio, a unique and unrepeatable territory.

Marco Felluga is known as The Lion and Russiz Superiore as The Eagle. Where do these names come from?

The symbols that you now find on the labels represent our origins and they bear witness of the great link with the territory in which the two companies have their headquarters. They are the historical and cultural heritage of these lands: Marco Felluga is identified with the Lion of St. Mark because Gradisca d’Isonzo – the fortified town of Collio, surrounded by walls designed by Leonardo da Vinci, home of the winery – was once under the influence of the Venetian Republic, whose image is still prevalent today with the same design, while Russiz Superiore shows the emblem of Prince Torre-Tasso, one of the first lords of the lands of Capriva del Friuli, who came in Friuli in 1273. The two-headed eagle, therefore, brings back memories of the Habsburg influences that have affected this area, touched by long and numerous border wars. This explains the origin of the Lion and the Eagle of Collio.

Here in Collio you have a special location, between the Adriatic Sea and the PreJulian Alps. How does this affects to your vineyards?

It does! And very much! The Collio is in a special position in the heart of Friuli: the wine area extends across the Northern part of the province of Gorizia, in a territory of about 1500 hectares of vineyards on the hills. Protected by the Consorzio Collio, founded in 1964, is one of the oldest Italian DOC area, the further North denomination with Mediterranean climate: thanks to the proximity of the Adriatic Sea, in fact, (we are 30 km from the coast) and to the protection of the mountains, the Pre-Julian Alps, the climate is ideal for the viticulture, with significant temperature variations, both in summer and during harvesting. Every hill has its own microclimate and soils are known as “flysch”.

The soil in this area is called Ponca. Which are its characteristics?

The “flysch”, or “Ponca” in Friulian language, is characterized by an alternation of marl (calcareous silts and clays) and sandstones (cemented sands) that originated about 100 million years ago from the phenomenon of erosion during the Eocene era: stratification with a waterproof surface that allows the water flow and is responsible for very sweet morphology of the land.

How’s your winemaking philosophy?

The same inherited from my father: with foresight and patience he defined a philosophy based on extreme quality and development of the different varieties. After a long and mass selection, what I try to do, helped by favorable soil and climate, is to keep the fruit, salinity and acidity – characteristics of this territory – and transferring them from grapes to wine. A job in which honesty and protection are not words, but a way of life, a wealth that I still want to respect, protect and govern.

Do you have a different winemaking approach to each estate?

Marco Felluga is headquartered in Gradisca d’Isonzo and owns 100 hectares, between ownership, management and rental, which are located in Farra, San Floriano, Oslavia and Cormòns. Instead, Russiz Superiore has 100 hectares merged in Capriva del Friuli, 50 of which are vineyards. Both companies are together by the same values and the same family ownership, which seeks to enhance the features of each vineyard and microclimate. In the production process, the whites of Marco Felluga monovines ferment in stainless steel tanks, with the exception of Collio Bianco Molamatta and Collio Pinot Grigio Mongris Riserva. For Russiz Superiore whites about 85% of the wine is aged in stainless, whereas the remaining 15% stay in wood, even for the single-variety.

You employ oak barrels just for small percentages of the white wines.

The use of wood, in the Marco Felluga and Russiz Superiore productions is intended only as a complement of the characteristics of the wines, not for the production of white or red aged in oaks. The idea of refining the Russiz Superiore’s white wines to about 15% – a percentage that varies each year depending on the type and vintage – aims to give to the wine complexity and different structures. The scents and the natural aromas of the wines have to prevail and be exalted over the wood sensations.

What are the characteristics or identity you want each estate to reflect?

The wine in all its expressions is unique. Always. The selections of Marco Felluga and Russiz Superiore have bouquet that come from the great attention we put on the most important elements that determinate the expression of a wine: fruit, minerality, flavor and complexity. Every time we try to maximize the potential of our land, described as “the most popular Italian region for white wines”, offering selections characterized by remarkable complexity and intensity, without neglecting the elegance, fundamental element, in my opinion, for the pleasantness of a wine.

You like to work with small yields per vine.

Very much. Over the years, we have experimented different techniques, reaching up to 8,000 plants per hectare. To date, the density is about 6,000 plants per hectare: we have noticed that, according to the quality standards that we set for ourselves, this density allows us to maintain a good balance between leaf surface and fruit.

How does the Pinot Grigio work in both estates?

The Pinot Grigio is one of the most important grape varieties grown in the Collio since 1800, and is now one of the white varieties most widespread in the region and in the world. The name Mongris, from Marco Felluga line, is a contraction of the words “single variety” and “Pinot Gris” (“Gris” in Friulian language). Furthermore, we produce the Collio Russiz Superiore Pinot Grigio, where about 15% of the wine is aged in wood, and the Marco Felluga Mongris Riserva, which ferments 100% in wood and remains even two years on yeasts.

You produce single-varietal wines with both red and white varietals and then blends. Which varieties work better on their own and which better in blends?

Among the productions of Marco Felluga and Russiz Superiore there are 19 wines DOC Collio: switching from Ribolla to Friulano, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Grigio, from Chardonnay to Sauvignon and then get to Refosco Dal Peduncolo Rosso, Ronco dei Moreri to Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Not all varieties are vinified by both wineries: as time and experience passed by, we noticed that some varieties express in the best way the fruit through a steel vinification, while in others, the further passage in wood would make the complexity more evident. The same reasoning for the research and in assemblies of the grapes: the Marco Felluga Collio Bianco Molamatta, for example, is composed of Pinot Blanc – fermented in small oak barrels – Friulano and Ribolla Gialla, while the Russiz Superiore Collio Rosso Riserva degli Orzoni includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

Does each estate have a representative variety? Which red and white wines offer the best character of each estate?

The (Mongris) Marco Felluga Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon for Russiz Superiore, are two of the most studied varieties in our cellars. For each of these varieties we produce every year the Marco Felluga Collio Pinot Grigio Mongris white label – completely vinified in stainless steel, the Russiz Superiore Collio Pinot Grigio who has about 15% of oak aging, and Marco Felluga Collio Pinot Grigio Mongris Riserva black label, which instead is aged in wood and is left to rest for about two years on the lees. The same research is conducted on Sauvignon, leading us to make wine in stainless Sauvignon Collio by Marco Felluga with white label, Sauvignon Russiz Superiore Collio with 15% of wood and finally the Collio Sauvignon Reserve Russiz Superiore that besides aged in wood, it remains three years on the lees.

How do you manage the white wines to age so well? We heard of tasting a 1980s one that was superb.

We try to enhance what nature has to offer, looking to interpret the different vintages with care, patience, professionalism and experience. In particular, the Russiz Superiore’s wines are characterized by a particular complexity, a structure and an elegance that allows them to be appreciated even after several years. In the historic cellar in Capriva del Friuli are still preserved the old vintages: special bottles that are opened during special tastings or verticals, which we share with friends or our staff to understand the evolution and to continue exciting us.

How are the white Riserva wines you produce?

All the white wines are suitable to be drunk relatively young, but can be aged for several years to find the mineral complexity and very interesting ripe fruit. This is the last major project I’ve developed a few years ago, and that led me to the production of three white wines Reserves: the Marco Felluga Collio Pinot Grigio Mongris Riserva, the Russiz Superiore Collio Sauvignon Riserva and Russiz Superiore Collio Pinot Bianco Riserva, already very appreciated.

Which wines are those giving you the biggest satisfaction?

Each wine is a part of us, of our history and of our passions. It is true, however, that the blends are an exclusive production of each company. For this reason, we can mention for Marco Felluga Collio Bianco Molamatta and Collio Rosso Carantan: the first gathers the grapes Pinot Blanc – fermented in small oak barrels – Friulano and Ribolla Gialla, in the second, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon that after aging for 18-20 months in oak, rests for a year. Among the Russiz Superiore flagships we find the most awarded Col Disôre, a blend of Pinot Bianco, Friulano, Ribolla Gialla and Sauvignon and Rosso Riserva degli Orzoni, composed of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

Which wines do you drink when you are not working?

The choice of wines as good as the pairings and the culinary offerings is based on the flavors, tastes and emotions that I choose from time to time the wine.

Grazie mille, Roberto!