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Paolo Rapuzzi

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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.

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