Gravner, photos and notes from my visit

As I begin planning for my spring trip to Italy, Friuli’s been on my mind. It occurred to me that I’d never posted these photos from my visit to Gravner in September 2010.

Josko Gravner is an intense, intellecutal man and he doesn’t receive everyone. The day I visited, he was being filmed for a piece to appear on one of Berlusconi’s television networks. One of the gals from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia tourism office managed to get me on the “guest list.” The amphora-aging cellar at the winery is a magical room — in part because of his powerful presence and in part because of its spartan beauty.

During the guided tasting he led for the group of writers and TV producers who were there that day, he talked about “some of the mistakes” he’s made in the past. He said he would never age his wines in wood again.

All of his wines, he said, are now aged in amphora.

He also talked about how he believes that “zero sulfur” winemakers are mistaken: “Natural wine,” he said, “is not an excuse for bad wine. Even the Romans knew how to use sulfur.” (While there is no documentation of the Romans or Greeks using sulfur in winemaking, we do know that they used it to clean winemaking vessels and it’s likely that unbeknownst to them, it helped to eliminate unwanted bacteria. I need to a post on my research to date…)

The big news was that he announced to the group that he has been growing Pignolo for many years now and is currently aging some of the resulting wine. It won’t be released, however, he said, for many years to come. What a thrill it will be to taste those wines!

When you spend time with Friulian winemakers, many of them will tell you — particularly in Collio — how it was Gravner the grower that inspired and influenced them with his Natural approach to viticulture and his meticulous growing practices.

I was a bigger fan of his wines from the early to mid-1990s than those I tasted from the late 90s and when he was barriquing the wines too heavily for my palate. The 2004s that I tasted at the winery had that classic Gravner focus and intensity, their elegance overshadowed by their power in their youth.

Whether you like the wines or not, there’s no doubt that they are always thought-provoking and stimulating — both sensorially and intellectually.