‘Forgotten grapes’ and sustainable winemaking at Gravner in Friuli

By Tobias Webb
Josko and Mateja Gravner

Lots has been written about the wines of Gravner, and I won’t try to repeat that here. For good short histories of this cult vineyard on the Italian / Slovenian border, where Josko Gravner makes innovative and intriguing wines focused now entirely on local varieties, you can’t do much better than taking a look at their site, and a couple of other short articles, here and here.

Mateja Gravner was a charming host when I visited in late August this year, and photos of the tasting she offered are below, as is a podcast interview here and embedded below.

I wanted, alongside trying the wines, to find out how seriously they take biodynamic approaches in the vineyard.

So I hope this interview and post offers a slightly different view of the Gravner family, about whom much has been written. (they have switched to using only Georgian Amphorae and local grapes in recent years)

They get three times fewer bottles per vine even than vineyards who utilise careful selection processes (it takes three vines to make a bottle of their wine, in a good year) and that might be reflected in the wines themselves.

All of their wines are highly concentrated in flavour, almost sherry-like in places, given their extended skin contact approach. It’s not wine for everyone, but it’s absolutely worth trying. I found it a real education, having never had wines anything like this before.

I’m more of a red wine fan over whites, so I was curious to try the Rosso Breg. It’s a local grape, and delivers some serious tannins and structure. It’s a wine I’ve made a note to try more of, and my abiding memory is that it was nowhere near ready, even 12 years after the harvest. It’s like nothing I’ve ever had, and in the modern world of so many wines tasting almost the same, that’s always a reason to come back to any wine.

In the interview we talked about birds in the vineyard, and why encouraging them can be a good idea. We talked about biodynamic approaches in the region, and about the challenges of scale with the rainfall in the region and the weather conditions in general.

Mateja was keen in the interview to point out that working in a biodynamic way is a much more serious commitment than other approaches, given the risks, the costs and skills needed. She makes a powerful case for the Gravner approach to grape growing and winemaking. I’d strongly suggest readers give their wines are try, but prepare your palate for an intense experience, unlike any other I’ve had in wine, and that’s a good thing.

About the author

Tobias Webb

Toby Webb is co-founder of Sustainable Wine. He is also founder of Innovation Forum, a leading platform for change in sustainable supply chains. He has spent 20+ years working in business and sustainability and has spent ten years teaching the subject at various London universities. He advises a number of companies large and small on sustainability. Businesses he has worked with include Patagonia, Interface, Bayer, SOK Group, Boots/Walgreens, Metro, Unilever, Nestle, Reckitt Benckiser, Sainsbury’s, and many others. He co-authored the UK’s national CSR strategy for David Cameron from 2006-10. He has been organising events, advising, teaching writing, blogging and podcasting on sustainable business since 2001. His (non-wine) blog is at www.sustainablesmartbusiness.com