Stefano Bensa, macerating white wines with the skins


We recently talked about some special wines produced by Azienda Agricola La Castellada, an Italian winery located in Oslavia (Gorizia), in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region. We had pending a conversation with Stefano Bensa, one of the owners along his brother Matteo and the house winemaker.

Buongiorno, Stefano, and thank you for your cooperation. We discovered the Orange wines not long ago and after our visit to Primosic we got in touch with the Associazione Produttori Ribolla Di Oslavia, formed by both of you and four other local wineries. How’s your work to promote the Ribolla di Oslavia wine?

The idea of the Oslavia’s group is to promote the Ribolla Gialla wine together, and especially the macerated version of Ribolla Gialla. This is a unique way which was rediscovered in Oslavia in mid 1990s. Together with the group we take place on wine events around Europe and the World and we also organize an event in Oslavia, our village.

You use three different periods of maceration with your white wines: four days, fifteen days and then sixty days. Does this depend on variety? The Ribolla Gialla and the VRH go sixty days. Why this long period?

My concept is to use different vinification way for each variety because I can extract much more personality from each variety. Four days means to do half fermentation with skins and half fermentation without skins. 15 days means to macerate to the end of alcoholic fermentation. 60 days means to complete both alcoholic and malolactic fermentation with skins.

What’s so special here with the RibollaGialla that we don’t find anywhere else?

In Oslavia we plant so vigorous variety just on top of the hills, where the marly soil is very poor and it allow to vines to produce low quantity of ripe bunches. This is very important especially when we like to use macerations.

What’s your preferred way of working the Ribolla in the cellar?

At first we work very hard in the vineyards to obtain a low yield, to expose bunches under the sun to become more sunburned. So we pick up a nice golden color Ribolla Gialla. With long skin contact process we extract everything is present in the berries: the color of the skins, phenols from the skins and all richness of the must.

With the Ribolla Gialla, when do you decide it is time to stop the maceration?

When the wine completes also the malolactic fermentation with skins. Usually to complete this process the wine need at last from 45 to 60 days.

Do you try to push it to its limits in terms of the period of the must in contact with the skins?

No never. It no makes sense. The stronger extraction we have during first 15 days, during the alcoholic fermentation, with higher temperatures.

How do you want your Ribolla to be?

As 2006 and 2007 vintage are now.

Would the Friulano respond well to more than 4 days, or 15 in the case of the Pinot Grigio?

I’m satisfied with this way and I don’t find a reason to change. Especially Friulano with just 4 days long maceration preserve much more them aromas.

How do you determine the wine is ready after maceration?

After this process wines need also a long aging process. Wines become ready when all tannins which were extracted with maceration became softer and also some raw and bitter flavors change into sweeter flavors.

You produce two red wines, both based on the Merlot variety. You use barrels for one year and big casks for two years. What does each container give to the wine?

We produce just one red per year, usually is the Rosso della Castellada (85% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon) and sometimes during more rainy vintages we produce just Merlot, because the Cabernet Sauvignon has difficulties to became ripe. Two years in old barriques and then other two years in larger casks. I prefer to use barriques during first the two years because at that time the wine age with more sediments and wine need more micro oxygenation process. Than with less sediment I prefer to use larger casks because they give less micro oxygenation process.

What’s so special in this area for producing these Merlot wines?

It’s a variety which guarantees us always a good quality and in Oslavia Merlot became with different characteristics than usual.

How do you reflect the terroir in your Merlot?

The terroir allows the Merlot to be much more aggressive and not so maybe elegant how a lot of people can aspect.

What’s your winemaking philosophy?

The winemaking philosophy is based on to produce a wine in much more natural way that’s possible. To do so today, in last 20 years we experimented really a lot and we learned to produce wine without selected yeasts, without filtrations or clarifications. We just use a little of sulfites.

Which variety you like to work more with?

I like all the varieties I work with. Every harvest is exciting to try again to do the best with all varieties. 

And which of your wines give you more gratification?

Maybe the Ribolla Gialla because is the more difficult variety to manage.

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

It depends about my mood or what I’m eating. Sometimes I’m much more disposable for a stronger wine, sometimes for a more elegant wine.

Today is Sunday and now I’m attracted by a Ribolla Gialla!

Grazie mille, Stefano!!

Photos © La Castellada