Wine Stories Alessandro Torcoli

I’m called G, as in Gravner

I’m called G, as in Gravner

G as in Gravner, which means grey or stone, depending on the etymology. In fact, (grey) stones are one of Joško’s passions and are found dotted around the vineyards and courtyards of the house-cum-winery. We could also say “G as in Gialla”, given that Ribolla will be the basis of our story. “Talking of the etymology of ‘grau-grey’, some Slovenians insist that our family’s name is pronounced “Grauner: but that’s madness, we are Gravners, with a v,” Mateja, one of his three daughters, clarifies. And the objection isn’t just raised by Dannunzian Irredentists: here, the family’s vineyards are divided between the Italian Collio and the Slovenian Brda.

Between Collio and Brda, a border country

The Gravners receive us in Hum, in Slovenian Brda, on a hot September day. The country architecture of Joško’s maternal grandmother’s house has been restored while maintaining the flavour of the place. Bunches of Pignolo hang before us and will have to wait a while longer before being picked. “We won’t be starting the harvest until October,” Joško explains.

I banned chemicals from the vineyard!

“One of the best vintages was the 2011: everything was perfect, with very little rain. We stopped the harvest on the 11th day of the 11th month (November) at 11 o’clock, when we heard the sound of the train from the south, which means a turn for the worse. In fact, it rained and we started picking again on 23rd November, with a north wind and good weather on the way.” These are stories that raise the eyebrows of those used to scientific explanations from winemakers, talking about pHs of grapes and weather stations. Joško seems more worried about getting back farmers’ wisdom. “I banned chemicals in the vineyard 26 years ago and the only precaution I take in the cellar is a bit of sulphur dioxide.”

Don’t call them Orange wines

In the vineyards he scatters the glomus fungus, “which normally enriches the humus in woods and strengthens the roots. I learnt this from a farmer in Valle d’Aosta.” Joško has his own personal view. “My wines are not orange; if a wine is orange, it’s oxidised,” he specifies. As for biodynamics, as well as the classic preparations and following lunar cycles, he also uses a pendulum to follow energy flows, “but I don’t go crazy about it, or it becomes a drug.” The word ‘energy’ is recurrent in his vocabulary. And yet, Joško Gravner has not joined any particular trend (if anything, he has unwittingly launched some, like the use of amphorae), but he doesn’t want to be defined as a guru either: his story is dotted with episodes that make him very human: trials and errors, ever since he joined his father at the winery.

Errors and successes

“I suggested increasing the yield per hectare to my father Joseph, and in 1979 we reached shameful values. I realised that we were going down the wrong road and that my father was right: little and better.” Today he picks 250-500g of grapes per plant, which don’t even make one bottle. Also from the book of errors, “I decided to introduce steel vats and cold technology. He quickly regretted it: I sold the steel vats while I was still paying off the loan I took out to buy them.” Without forgetting the famous episode of his first experiment in a terracotta amphora, when Joško found the container empty because he hadn’t thought of lining the inside with beeswax, like he does today.

The latest vintage of Breg

Meanwhile, we sip an intensely-golden wine which ripples in a crystal glass made for Joško by the master glassmaker Massimo Lunardon. It is the Breg 2009, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio and Riesling Italico. It is a symbol of the winery, complex and intense, to be enjoyed before it all goes. In fact, Joško has uprooted all the international varieties and will devote himself exclusively to Ribolla Gialla (for whites) and Pignolo (for reds). Then we drank the Breg up to the 2012 vintage, which will be sold in 2020. “So I can achieve my dream of producing only Ribolla, which I have grown since I met Veronelli in 1982.”

Ribolla Gialla, a symphony of aromas and flavours

As unbiased drinkers, we can bear witness to the fact that, apart from ideologies against international varieties, Ribolla Gialla has a certain elegance, an austere and intriguing expressiveness and alternation of themes that the most intense and symphonic Breg doesn’t have. It’s a bit like comparing Beethoven’s Third Symphony with Bach’s Goldberg Variations. There is a right moment for both of them.

Photos by M. Mocilnick

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