Tags Posts tagged with "Friuli"

Friuli

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Listening to Giannola Nonino

A year ago a few of us were lucky enough to share two days with the Nonino family. The Noninos are the most well known grappa producers in Italy, known for a series of innovations in production that succeeded in raising the status of grappa worldwide.

While Benito Nonino distilled the grappa, his wife Giannola developed many of the ideas, and packaging that helped raised Benito’s work to such prominence. Today their three daughters are thoroughly involved in running Nonino, and have gone on to continue the tradition of innovation and quality. After working on it for a decade, the three daughters succeeded at figuring out how to distill honey, for example.

If you don’t already know how grappa is made, you can check out my Behind the Scenes at Nonino piece over at Serious Eats, here

While with the Nonino family, Cathy Huyghe and I asked Giannola to share more of her story. Jeremy Parzen translated. The following is a transcript of her story as translated by Jeremy. She begins by speaking of her family history as the foundation of the work she did for Nonino, as well as for how she raised their children.

Giannola’s Family

Ginola Nonino“It’s really important to start this story by telling the education I received from my parents. My father was very learned, well read. They were children of immigrants.

“My grandfather, at the end of the 19th c. immigrated to Argentina from Italy. He was part of a big wave of immigration to Argentina. My father was born in Argentina, then came back to Italy. At the end of the 19th c. a lot of people went hungry in Friuli. There was a lot of suffering. My grandfather left Cividale all by himself.

“Thanks to the priest from Cividale he met his wife. He went to the priest in Argentina and said, I want to get married. I am in Argentina. I want to marry a nice girl with her head on her shoulders. The priest in Argentina wrote to a priest in Cividale. So thanks to the priest from Cividale, and another in Argentina, all by letter, he found a wife.

“He had gone to Argentina so he would put food on the table. You got off the boat in Argentina and they gave you a plow. They said, you can pick land. You put stakes around the land, and work as much as you want.

“My grandma left Italy without knowing anything about this person. They would meet at the other side of the journey, and when she said goodbye to family she didn’t know if she would ever see them again. This is what hunger and poverty did to people. They were forced to make such decisions.

“My grandfather was successful, and finally able to come back to Friuli with my father. At the time my father was 25 years old. He opened a small factory, made plows, and farming equipment. My father for this reason was a great lover of this land.

“He bought land in Percoto, Italy. At that point, my father had a company with 60 workers. At the same time, my father was a very sensitive person, and well read. He began to study customs, and traditions of Friuli. From the time I was very little we were going out and learning about Friuli tradition. That’s how as a young child I learned about indigenous grape varieties of the area.”

Giannola Nonino helped to preserve, and reestablish farming of indigenous varieties in Friuli. They had been illegal, and her work with farmers, and outreach to politicians helped instigate legal changes that supported the reestablishment of indigenous varieties in the region.

To further this cause she conceived of the Nonino Prize for those growing indigenous grape varieties. Paolo Rapuzzi of Ronchi di Cialla famously won the Nonino Prize for his saving Schioppettino by hunting feral vines in the hills along the Friuli-Slovenia border.

Giannola Nonino“My parents taught us how to behave in the world. We were raised not to just be frivolous girls in the world. Our identity was in our intelligence, and how we conveyed our intelligence. We were determined our projects should be conceived without hurting anyone, and we knew we could overcome any obstacle. Never give up.

“I was not a good mother. I was severe. I would try to give them what they wanted but there were rules, and they needed to follow. They had to be good at school, to study. They had to be obedient, and from when they were very little they would get in the truck with me, and we would look for pomace [to make grappa]. But from third grade, they never went to bed without me checking their homework.

“The first thing to give your children is affection. The most important thing is affection. But then you have to teach them how to respect themselves, and how to respect others. You have to do well in school, and you have to play, and when you grow up you should do a job you really enjoy because if you don’t enjoy it it’s going to weigh on you.

“I know I love my children more than anything in the world but I never lost track that they would respect themselves, and respect others. As a mother you want to give them everything but you have to teach your children that anything they receive takes a lot of energy. Other people have put a lot of energy into whatever it is we have.

“My father is the one that gave the knowledge of our land, and the love of our culture to me. But above all he valued keeping alive all of this knowledge because otherwise the cost is the loss of our identity. Just like what she does.” Giannola points to me referencing an earlier conversation, “sending her daughter back to Alaska where her whole family is from. Otherwise all of these roots would just die in the street.

“In a society like we are living now, in the entire world, this is the foundation of this loss of security our children have, this loss of knowledge.

“That is my advice. Convey to your children that knowledge of your land, and your people. It is without this knowledge we cannot live like real people. It is without this that we fight and we kill each other. It is with this knowledge we live as real people.

” I believe my father, as the son of an immigrant who became an immigrant himself is someone who, the values are even stronger in him.

“What I give to my children, and what my grandparents give to me, the knowledge of family, is the most valuable thing we can have.

Growing Nonino Grappa

DSC_0424“First I fell in love with my husband, Benito, then I fell in love with his job. I call it the art of distillery. I hope you have felt the same emotion I felt the first time I watched distillation happening. From that moment I wanted to learn how to distill. It is a magical thing to take the grape, and turn it into a crystalline distillate of the grape.

“The first of December 1973 we made the first monovarietal distillate of Picolit. At noon sharp on that first of December 1973 as the first drops of the grappa came, I drew them to my nose, and I knew our experiment had succeeded.”

Nonino was the first in history to make monovarietal grappa. Winemaking in the region previously made mixed white wine, and mixed red wine without separating grape types. Because grappa is made with the grape pommace, after the wine is pressed from the skins, the material available depended on the style of winemaking already established.

Making a single varietal grappa in order to celebrate the varieties indigenous to the region was Giannola’s idea. She worked with farmer’s wives through the region, offering to pay them in addition to paying the husbands for the grapes in order to secure pommace separated by grape type. 

Prior to Nonino’s innovations with monovarietal grappa, grappa was seen only as a worker’s distillate, not as a drink for finer tables. Giannola also worked to change that attitude.

“It occurred to me at that time that consumers that had a snobby attitude about grappa, they needed to taste this grappa. If we sold it as a normal grappa, they would have refused to taste it. At that time we did not even talk about marketing or talk about packaging. I realized if I put it into a refined container that would make the consumer curious. Then they would taste it, and fall in love with it.

“So we put the grappa in the old medicinal style bottles, and had the label that described which grape variety and its qualities, and the bottles were individually numbered as well, and it was like the bottle had an ID card as well that came with it. All of these qualities together gave our grappa the right to be considered top quality. The packaging was just a means to an end, teaching the public about the quality of our grappa.

“In 1975 we created the Nonino Prize in order to save indigenous grape varieties of Friuli. It was forbidden at that time to grow them. From 1975 to 8 we worked to save, rescue those varieties. Then the law changed, and it became a literary prize. The literary prize started as a way to document realities of farm life in Friuli. Industrial culture may die, but the death of rural farming culture would also be the death of all humanity.”

The Nonino familythe Nonino Family, from left: Giannola, Cristina, Antonella, Elisabeta, Benito Nonino

“My daughters were with me even during the night. My daughters were born in the pommace. All we did was talk about grappa grappa grappa. They fell in love with work.

“Benito and I traveled through the best places for wine in Europe. We decided to make an artisanal distillery for our daughters so whenever the need arose, our daughters would know how to distill because they did it with their own hands. That is when we invented the UE grape distillate, a distillate from skin, and juice, and pulp, and grapes. The UE has the elegance of wine, the aromas and characters and flavors of skins.”

Grappa is made with grape pommace, that is after the wine has been pressed off the skins, what is left is distilled into grappa. The Noninos were the first to distill the entire grape in what they call their UE.

“In 2000, our daughters, so that they would not be outdone by their parents created honey distillate, Gioiello, which was extremely difficult. It was a huge victory for them to prove to themselves that they could achieve the same greatness as their parents.

“As a woman, I always had to battle because I was so determined, and I knew the high quality of grappa my husband produced. I decided we were going to make my husband the greatest distillate in the world. So, in the mid-1960s I started a battle to transform grappa from Cinderella to a quality distillate. I did it thanks to my determination, and especially because my husband is the best distiller in the world.

“He has such intimate knowledge of the raw material, and created a special still to preserve the aromas and flavors, and he is never entirely satisfied, always to make it better and better. I believe one of the qualities that helped us transform, the number one thing we were hoping to achieve was never perfect but the attainment of absolute quality of the best grappa.

“My first trip to New York, I did not speak English, and had no translator but wanted to tell my story. So in front of a mirror I memorized the story in English, and I understood the expression I had to make. I practiced again and again, and it was a great success.

“These were the grapes my father taught me to love. I had to preserve them, or I would have betrayed the values my father taught me to love. Twenty years later, our daughters, we have given them the value of our land, and they have become even more rigorous.

“My story is a story of passion. If I was born again, I would do it the same again.”

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

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RIP Paolo Rapuzzi

My good friend Jeremy Parzen was kind enough to let me know this morning that Paolo Rapuzzi passed on. His blog post about Paolo is here. In April 2012, several of us spent lunch and part of an afternoon with Paolo, his wife Dina, and their two sons. Paolo showered us with stories of them beginning Ronchi di Cialla, one of my favorite wineries of Italy. Then we walked the vineyards with their son Ivan, who runs things now with his brother.

Paolo and Dina together rescued indigenous Friulian varieties, some of which had been thought extinct. Most particularly, they re-discovered Schioppettino from feral vines in the hillsides along the Slovenian border. The primary clone of Schioppettino, taken from their vineyard, is named Rapuzzi in their honor. Many of the local varieties at the time were going extinct through the region largely because of the ongoing impact of wars, and the governments exclusion of them for economic regions. I could go on and on about what meeting them, and their work means to me. (If you ask my friends, I occasionally do that with them in person.) Instead, I’m going to repost Paolo’s story told to us by him during our visit that April.

originally posted April 11, 2012

Lunch at Ronchi di Cialla: Meeting the Man with whom it Began

Paolo Rapuzzi standing on Ronchi di CiallaPaolo Rapuzzi, the founder and owner of Ronchi di Cialla

“The story of the winery is very simple. I am Friulian. So, when it came time to plant, we planted the grapes of the region. The ancient varieties.

“I had been working for a very big company. But we [he and his wife] spoke. We asked, should we die as typewriter sales people? Should we live in a system we don’t like? We didn’t like having someone bossing us around. The only person that can work without a boss is a farmer. So, on January 30, 1970 we started. They talked us into buying this land.

“I am not a farmer by history of profession, and we had no land. We began looking. They talked us into buying this land. It had been abandoned for 25 years, since the end of World War II. This is only 2 kilometers from the [Slovenian] border, so life in this area was very hard during the war. When it was over the family packed up and left. The house and vineyard had been abandoned for 25 years. Inside the house was grass waist deep and badgers were living in it. But we liked it a lot because there were olive trees here. Even it was abandoned we knew it was the right place to begin our new life.

A consummate story teller, Paolo Rapuzzi“My two sons had been born already. Luckily they decided to follow my footsteps. They handle the estate now and studied farming at university and handle both the grape growing and wine making.

“When I started I had no experience. So, I had no preconceived notions in what I was doing. That is what most helped me do what I ended up doing [on the farm and with wine making]. I never studied wine making and have never had an oenologist. We wanted to make wine from here, from Cialla. Some do not agree, but the grape already has everything it needs to make wine. So, the less we try to force grapes, the more its product represents wine from the area. We are meticulously involved in the entire process from growing to wine but it is very much about what we do not do than what we do. Nature has everything it needs to make wine.

“We planted in 1970. From the beginning it has been indigenous grape varieties, native yeast, no chemical farming, low intervention wine making.”

Paolo and Ivan RapuzziPaolo and Dina’s son Ivan adds a comment: “We make truly long lived wines. All of our wines–the whites, the reds, the sweet wines–all of them age very well. That is an indication that it is from the zone. It is the land itself that makes these wines.”

Paolo continues: “When phylloxera came the farmers made a mistake. Not everyone agrees with me. They began planting foreign grape varieties. We lost over 150 indigenous grape varieties. It is an indication of how viticulture changes. Today we are getting it back. More people are dedicated to the indigenous varieties.”

Ivan comments: “Friuli is one of the places in Europe with the greatest bio-diversity. It is the intersection of the Alps, the Adriatic from the Mediterranean, and the Balkans. The Northern and Eastern Alps too come together here so you are at a real crux of the Mediterranean, with the Northern and Eastern Alps.”

Later Paolo tells a story: “In the beginning we were infested with red spiders. It was a problem. We went to a phyto-pathologist for advice. He told us, don’t do anything. If you leave the spiders another type of spider will come along and compete. So, we left the red spiders. It was a big risk. But yellow spiders came and killed the red spiders. When you use pesticides you do not just kill what you are targeting. You kill everything. But nature will balance itself if you do not do this.”

Outside Ivan walks us through the vineyards and tells us more about their low intervention views. “In Cialla, proximity to Forest is the most important. The same predators that attack vitis vinifera [grape vines] attack other species in the forest. But in the forest they have natural enemies. Nature keeps a balance. So, in being close to the forest we do not have to intervene because the same balance that is in the forest is maintained in the vineyard too.”

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Thank you to Jeremy Parzan for translating Paolo’s story to us as he spoke.

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Paolo Rapuzzi, thank you for all you have done. Rest in peace.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

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Visiting Nonino, Tasting Grappa and Amaro

As some of you know, I was on a recent press trip to Italy. Part of the activity was spending a day with the Nonino family exploring their distillery and vineyards, as well as tasting through their impressive collection of grappa and amaro.

I just wrote up the visit with a behind the scenes slide show over at Serious Eats.

Nonino at Serious Eats

Check it out here: http://drinks.seriouseats.com/2013/10/behind-the-scenes-nonino-grappa-distillery-how-grappa-is-made-grapes-friuli-italy-amaro.html

Cheers!

 

Thank you to Eric Asimov for recommending this article in The New York Times Diner’s Journal “What We’re Reading”, February 19, 2013.

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Circling George Vare: One Way White Maceration Ferments Came into California

George Vare, an investor with decades of experience in Napa wine, celebrates the work of experimental winemakers. For Vare, the passion of young people trying new approaches exemplifies the future of the California wine industry.

Operating outside the mainstream appears as a theme in Vare’s own history with the industry. In early 1995, Vare and Michael Moone decided to step outside the Cabernet and Chardonnay focus of 1980s and 90s Napa Valley and established a new company, Luna Vineyards. Vare had worked for decades already at scouting and expanding the commercial success of now historic Napa wine labels, including Geyser Peak Winery, Beringer Wine Estates, and others. In 1995, however, after considering the pulse of Napa wine, Moone and Vare realized there was room for taking their business in a different direction.

George Vare in his Ribolla Gialla vineyard

George Vare in his Ribolla Gialla, Friulano vineyard

Though Italian immigrants had helped establish the original wine industry through the valley, by the end of the last century, little interest in Italian varieties could be found rooted in the area. Together, Moone and Vare decided to take advantage of that missing piece by making Sangiovese and Pinot Grigio.

The original goals of Luna were to make Italian varietals to rival old world quality. Early vintages were described as carrying “old world austerity and terroir, bolstered by new world fullness and verve” (Boca Raton News 16 March 2003).

In March 1995, Vare and Moone’s Luna purchased a Chardonnay vineyard at what were then the Southern reaches of the Silverado trail. What is remarkable about the story is that soon after buying the 82 acre vineyard they replanted most of the site to Pinot Grigio, establishing 44-acres of the variety by 2000, and increasing from there. At the time, the idea of pulling out Napa Valley Chardonnay and replacing it with Pinot Grigio, was surely crazy. So, the group renamed themselves the Luna-tics. Where Oregon had begun the Pinot Gris experiment as early as the mid-60s, Luna stood as one of the leaders of the grape in California. In this way, the intention to do things differently defined the beginnings of Luna. As John Kongsgaard once explained, the self-named Luna-tics even used to play classical music to the vines.

John Kongsgaard Starts the University

After 20 years of success in the Napa Valley wine industry, Kongsgaard was brought in to Luna in 1996 to establish the house’s winemaking style. Konsgaard had started his career making wines in 1980, side-by-side with Doug Nalle at the now defunct Belvedere Winery. By the mid-1990s, however, Kongsgaard had proven himself as an influential winemaker through his 13-years of work with Newton Vineyards.

In 1997, Kongsgaard and Vare began making regular trips to Italy, originally searching for “the holy grail of Pinot Grigio.” As Vare explained, they searched first in Alsace, and though they liked those wines, the climate didn’t suit Napa. Alto Adige also proved too cold. Finally Friuli gave a closer parallel, and a wealth of influence through small scale and experimental winemakers of the region.

Kongsgaard worked with Christopher Vandendriessche, of White Rock, as assistant winemaker initially. Together they helped establish what Abe Schoener calls a university environment in Luna’s winery. Schoerner had begun working with the team at the end of the 1990s, gathering data on their vineyard sites, but also learning from Kongsgaard as Schoener’s mentor. Schoener makes clear too that Vare supported and encouraged the winery’s university methodology.

By allowing interns to make their own barrels of wine, while also doing their work for Luna, the facility trained a number of young wine enthusiasts that would go on to influence the area’s wine industry. But the approach also effectively expanded the experimentation witnessed by the mentors as well. Kongsgaard has stated that he fine-tuned some techniques he’d go on to use for his own label through the early investigatory period of Luna.

Schoener explains, Kongsgaard had a talent for standing back to let his mentees explore their interests in wine, while being there to facilitate a successful project at the same time. Vandendriessche operates with a similar approach in his work today at White Rock as well. The site served as Schoener’s first winery in establishing Scholium Project, and today facilitates the work of other new winemakers getting ready to release their work.

Learning from Radikon and Gravner

After Vandendriessche chose to move his attention to the White Rock facility, Kelly Wheat was brought in as the new assistant winemaker to Kongsgaard. Wheat began traveling to Friuli with Kongsgaard and Vare, who had already established strong relationships with the winemakers through Friuli and Slovenia. Wheat benefited, then, from the friendships already started with the likes of Stanko and Sasa Radikon, Josko Gravner, and others.

Radikon had begun experimenting with making his wines with extended skin contact in 1994, utilizing open top wood fermenters. Stanko Radikon’s father had talked about techniques used in Oslajve prior to the onset of more contemporary pressed wine techniques. Eventually Stanko decided to invest in using them.

Previously, Radikon explained, wines were made using all of the fruit, rather than removing the skins. The result was to develop wines with greater texture, aroma, and flavor, that also kept longer after being made. The skin contact style of winemaking, then, was historically situated–a normal approach for the technology of the time–but it was also economical–it made the wine last.

Drawing on Georgian winemaking history, Gravner began using extended maceration fermentation in clay anphora in 1996. He had helped introduce the focus and freshness of temperature controlled stainless steel vats to Friuli, thus introducing the winemaking changes associated with newer technologies. But after a friend brought Gravner a kveri (Georgian anphora), the winemaker experimented with the winemaking techniques of that region, known to be thousands of years old.

With both Radikon and Gravner there was an adjustment period while moving to the historical-but-new-to-them techniques. Each winemaker had developed expertise with their previous styles, and were known for making quality, terroir-driven wines. In shifting to the use of extended maceration, however, they also needed time getting to know the effects of the approach. In 2001, Gravner released his first fully anfora based portfolio (though bottlings as early as 1998 are still available for purchase in the United State). In establishing friendships with both Radikon and Gravner, the Luna-tics were able to learn new techniques both through direct witness at the Italian wineries, and through on going consultations had by phone.

Kongsgaard and Vare had befriended Radikon as early as their first trip to the region, meeting Gravner a few trips later. On one visit with Gravner, a barrel with a plexiglass side stood in the corner. Grapes were inside aging not only on lees, but skins, with the wine in such a state for over a year. The Americans were able to taste the wine from the experiment and were pleased at the result, not having heard of such an approach previously. As Vare described it, the wine had a nice weight and texture, without any bitterness.

Showing Skins: the practice moves to California

After returning from a visit with these winemakers in Friuli in 2000, Wheat decided to try the techniques himself and make extended skin contact lots for some of the white wines at Luna.

In 2000, Wheat began making a Pinot Grigio blend that sent 40% of the grapes straight to press before fermentation, while the rest were put through a crusher to allow more aromatic and textural contribution from skins.The technique loosely resembles the impact of older technology that broke up grapes more than simply pressing them, causing more skin and stem influence (and thus both more aromatics and more body) on the juice.

Wheat experimented further however, making small lots of white wine left to ferment like a red. Inspired by his time in Friuli, Wheat located some Friulano in 2001, sourced from the Hollister area (and grown in limestone) and fermented to dryness on skins, working similarly as well with Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay grown in or closer to Napa. The most successful of these, Schoener believes, was the Fruilano.

Having worked with Luna in various capacities for several years, Schoener became winemaker there after Wheat’s departure in 2002. Witnessing Wheat’s trials with skin contact, Schoener encouraged the Luna label to make some skin contact bottlings. Having become more mainstream by that point (Vare was also no longer acting president), the board was resistant to investing in wines without more proven market success. Schoener stayed in the role at Luna long enough to help winemaker Mike Drash take up the reins in 2003, only ever intending to secure a smooth transition from Wheat to the new person. After Schoener dove into his Scholium Project, beginning to make a skin contact Sauvignon Blanc, the now oft mentioned Prince in his Caves, in 2006.

Luna would not be bottling skin-contact only white wines. However, drawing on Wheat’s experience with the approach, Drash continued making what Luna called their Freakout White blend. The wine included extended maceration of Sauvignon Blanc, as well as Friulano left to ferment to dryness on skins.

Looking for Texture: Pax Mahle experiments

Over in Sonoma County, independently of the work being done with the Luna-tics, Pax Mahle had started Pax Wine Cellars in 2000. The label had a central focus on Syrah, but made Rhone whites as well. Working against the norm at the time, Mahle was committed to making low alcohol white wines, without the influence of new oak. One of the downsides of whites made in this approach, however, is a textural change in the wine’s mouthfeel–they become lighter, with less weight, and to some people, less interest. Searching for a way to offer more textural interest without reliance on new wood, while keeping alcohol levels low, Mahle began experimenting with skin contact lots in 2003. Just like the adjustment period between a new technique and quality wine necessary for Radikon and Gravner, Mahle explains it wasn’t until 2007 that he bottled a skin contact wine. He wasn’t willing to put a label on something he couldn’t get behind. It took those several years to find a barrel he believed in as a stand alone wine. Prior to 2007 the experimental lots were blended back into other white blends.

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To read part 2 in this series: The Butterfly Effect: How the death of a fad gave birth to beautiful color in wine, Part 2: Variety, Terroir, and Mind Scrambling

Part 3: The Butterfly Effect: How the death of a fad gave birth to beautiful color in wine, Part 3: The Craft of Wine Tasting, and the Question of Responsibility, Conversation with Two Sommeliers

To read last year’s series explaining Orange Wines beginning with how they’re made, then their presence in Georgia, Italy, and California, begin here: Understanding Orange Wines Part 1: A Quick and Dirty Look at How They’re Made and What Their Tannins Do To Our Saliva

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Over the next weeks I’ll be exploring the work of contemporary skin contact wines from California and Oregon winemakers, both varietals and blends. I’ve been lucky enough to taste several dozen examples both bottled and barreled from a range of grape types in both California and Oregon, and to interview a range of people on the subject.

I’ll be traveling in Sydney, Melbourne, and Geelong as well, however, and so my posts here will be mixed in with updates from Australian adventures.

Cheers!

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.