Joško Gravner‘s vineyards and cellars in Oslavia—in the Friuli region of Italy, stitched to the border of Slovenia, where one of Gravner’s vineyards exists—are infused with the philosophy that “nature offers everything we need.”
Gravner’s practices have ascended into highest levels of the cosmic and natural energies of life, elevating the ideas of biodynamics to “let the vine cycle come full circle year after year, calmly.”
“Calm is what we need to live through the season and face hardships,” to quote Gravner from his website. “To watch time go by, knowing that this is the right thing to do for the wine that’s waiting.”
Gravner’s wines are crafted in Georgian amphorae, some buried underground. Modern cellar work and winemaking have devolved to traditions relied upon thousands of years ago. Native yeasts, unfiltered, unfined, no temperature control, moon-guided timing…these are all aspects of the wines that come from Gravner.
I’m still learning these ways, and still learning these wines. And readers, I reserve the right to add to my understanding. In the meantime, I had the opportunity to interview Mateja Gravner, Joško’s daughter who is in charge of foreign promotion. I share the answers here, edited only for clarity.
Jill Barth: Can you describe the atmosphere of a Gravner vineyard? What life exists there? What smells and sights?
Mateja Gravner: A rich world, multifaceted and alive. The different kinds of trees, along with vines, insects, birds and other animals bring a lot of life and at the same time create a peaceful environment. Walking in it you can smell the soil, grass, flowers and fruit when in season.
JB: “Nature offers everything we need,” is something I’ve read on the website. Can you speak to that?
MG: It is not necessary (neither possible, actually) to force nature in accordance with our needs. It’s on us to welcome what nature gives us and to get the best quality out of it, without damaging or impacting nature.
JB: What threat is monoculture? How can traditional farmers and wine growers adapt to a more holistic growing philosophy?
MG: All monocultures impoverish nature and the environment, since monoculture increases and concentrates diseases (therefore making it necessary to carry out more sprayings) and depleted soils (therefore making it necessary to use a bigger amount of manure in order to keep up quantity). In a world like ours where a lot of what is produced is wasted or not released at all on the market, going back to a holistic approach allows to exploit less both the environment and the soil. At the same time this approach allows to increase the quality of goods produced and the safety of the environment.
Inserting a vital space for the animals whose environment we have stolen and combining productive plants with other plants (either fruit trees or trees belonging to that natural environment) allows to bring areas under cultivation closer to woods as far as production of organic substance (a healthy wood represents the greatest producer of organic substance, whereas intensely farmed areas represent the largest consumers of organic substance).
JB: “Simple and functional,” is how the cellar is described. Are all wines in amphorae?
MG: All our wines are fermented in amphora and white wines undergo also a first ageing in amphorae, before spending a further longer ageing time in big oak casks.
Mankind has understood how to make wine many centuries before knowing what was happening from a chemical point of view. This does not mean necessarily that wine was of a better quality than nowadays, but generally speaking technology used in food production is a time saving tool which results in a lower quality. In our winery, which apparently seems empty, there is all that is needed to make wine.
We bring in only our grapes and only grapes that are healthy and ripe. After a fast pressing (if possible, we keep the stems), grapes ferment without the need to add any selected yeasts and we do not control fermentation temperature either (buried Georgian amphorae, known as qvevri, are perfect from this point of view, since the soil that surrounds the amphora soothes the rise of temperature during fermentation). Malolactic fermenation is carried out in amphoa too.
After malolactic fermentation has been fully carried out, we rack off the wine, which is then aged for a few months in the qvevri and then in big casks of Slavonian oak for six years. This long ageing allows the wine to “ripen” properly, allowing for unstable components to fall and settle.
If you respect the natural development of wine, many of winemaking practices become superfluous. But you need to use high quality grapes to do this, which means you have to commit yourself to producing high quality grapes in the vineyard.
JB: The winemaking practice at Gravner seems almost meditative. Does your family have a meditative practice?
MG: No, not exactly. We try to experience nature as a source of thought, which everyday allows us to see what we have under our nose. This “under the nose evidence” is so blatant that we might not actually see it or give it for granted.
Italian Food, Wine & Travel
This Saturday, the Italian Food Wine Travel group of influential bloggers are investigating Italian Viticulture. Join us on March 2, 2019 at 10 am central time using the hashtag #ItalianFWT. Here are the topics of focus:
Here on L’Occasion: “Gravner: ‘Nature As A Source Of Thought’”
“Dinner in Testosterone Land: Braised Short Ribs + 2016 Nuova Cappelletta Barbera del Monferrato” on Culinary Adventures with Camilla
“Brasato al Vino Rosso with Montefalco” on A Day in the Life on the Farm
“Looking Beyond Biodynamic Certification at Cantina di Filippo” at Food Wine Click!
The Swirling Dervish: “The Wines of Alois Lageder: Cultivating Nature as a Habitat of Life.”
Nicole Ruiz Hudson is Cooking to the Wine: “Arianna Occhipinti SP68 Sicilia Rosso with Creamy Eggplant and Tomato Zoodles”
“The Organic Wines of Abruzzo with La Valentina” on Vino Travels.
Avvinare: “Chianti without sulfites- the wines of Fattoria Lavacchio”
Grapevine Adventures: “The World of Biodynamic Wine at #ItalianFWT”
Thanks to our host, Gwendolyn Alley, the Wine Predator: “Organic Orange Procanico paired with a Pasta Bar”