The hidden gem of Friuli
When someone thinks about Italy, the first places to come to mind are always the same: Rome, Venice, Milan, Florence. But there many hidden gems in Italy, especially for wine lovers. One of these gems, is the Friuli region, bordered on the west by the Veneto region – where is Venice -, on the north by the Alps and Austria, on the east with Slovenia and on the south by the Adriatic Sea.
Friuli is an area of Northeast Italy with its own particular cultural and historical identity. This region has been conquered and occupied by many during the ages, from the city-state of Venice, the Hasburg and the Bourbon during the Middle-Age, to the Austro-Hungarian Empire during Modern history. This historical and cultural mix made Friuli very unique.
The climate of the Friulian plain is humid sub-Mediterranean, suitable for growing white wine grapes. That’s why 2.5% of wine produced in Italy comes from this part of the region.
The wines of the region have strong Slavic and Germanic influences. Around 62% of the wine produced in the region falls under a DOC designation – an Italian quality assurance label for Italian food products. The area is known predominantly for its white wines which are considered some of the best examples of Italian wine in that style.[Along with the Veneto and Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, the Friuli-Venezia Giulia forms the Tre Venezie wine region which ranks with Tuscany and Piedmont as Italy’s world class wine regions.
The winemaking history of the Friuli has been strongly influenced by its history as an important stops along the Mediterranean spice route from the Byzantine Empire to the trading center of Venice. During the Middle Ages, travelers passing through this area brought grapevines from Macedonia and Anatolia. Under the Habsburg reign, the French grape varieties were introduced, too. During the 19th century, the region served as a major Mediterranean port for the Austro-Hungarian Empire which bought a Teutonic influence to the area.
The international popularity of Pinot grigio in the 1980s and 1990s help to change the dynamic of Friuli-Venezia Giulia winemaking. Prior to this time vineyard owners sold their grapes in bulk to co-ops and négociant-like wineries that would blend the grapes together. With the success of Mario Schiopetto in bottling and marketing the product of his own vineyard, other vineyard owners followed suit and began opening up small wineries of their own.
The history of Collavini winery
The Collavini story began in 1896 at Rivignano. The founder Eugenio Collavini supplied wine to the noble families of Udine and to wine shops. The baton then passed to Giovanni, who worked through two World Wars. At the end of them, the trade boomed while the science of oenology also advanced, giving wines a quality before unknown.
It was Giovanni’s son, Manlio who noticed the first signs of major changes and indeed almost anticipated them. He was one of the first to take Friulian wines abroad. In 1966, the cellar moved to the Castello Zucco-Cuccanea in Corno di Rosazzo, built in 1560.
Manlio was one of the first to believe in Pinot Grigio fermented off the skins, as long ago as 1969, and in 1971, he created Il Grigio, a trend-setting sparkling wine, which was later joined by Ribolla Gialla Brut. Today, Collavini is a family-owned limited company managed by Manlio and his sons Giovanni, Luigi and Eugenio.
The winery environment
The villa of the noble Zucco di Cuccanea family, the current head office, is a fine example of a 16th-century fortified residence. The Torretta, the turret on the west-facing wall, was built for the purposes of defence and later became a point of observation from which to monitor the surrounding countryside, a marvellous panorama stretching across the hill country of Rosazzo, Ruttars and Cormons.
Leaving the villa and walking down an old Ribolla Gialla vineyard you reach the wine cellar, where the thousand-year-old farming tradition marries the modern technology.
They also produce some quality red wines, such as the More, a mix of Merlot and Refosco, and the wonderful Merlot dal Pic, a strong tradition Merlot.
Steady improvements in quality of the winery have been achieved in a number of ways, including vineyard management, harvesting by hand, sometimes in low-sided cases, and major technological innovation in the cellar. The best bunches are taken to the drying room, where low temperatures and ventilation coax from them a magnificent symphony of fragrances, imbuing the wines with savouriness, remarkable body and elegance on the palate.
These are the processes that have led to wines like the multiple award-winning Collio Bianco Broy. The other area of innovation is sparkling winemaking, and in particular the development of what is known today as the “Metodo Collavini”; Their method brought us among the others, Il Prosecco and the experimental Il Grigio Royal.