Josko Gravner has been Friuli’s most esteemed and influential winemaker for over 30 years. He is a visionary and a maverick and he talks straight.
He is not afraid to tell you that he is not in a hurry to sell his wines; that he doesn’t believe in organic or biodynamic because they are just marketing words; that his current vintage is not as good as his last; or that he is not going to sell his wine until they are ready to drink – usually 7 years.
Josko earned his reputation in the 1970s by embracing modern winemaking techniques including fermentation in stainless steel tanks and new oak barrels. His wines were crisp and floral and they sold well. He was crowned the “King of Italian Wine.” But in 1987 he went on a research trip to California to taste wine and he was disgusted by the chemical and artificial flavours. He returned to Italy determined to safeguard the soil and the authentic flavours of the wine and he started researching the roots of winemaking. He discovered that until 1000 AD wine was made in clay amphorae pots. In the late 1990’s he acquired a clay amphorae from Georgia where they are still used and experimented by harvesting the grapes and burying them in the clay amphorae to macerate for seven months before finishing the wine in oak barrels. The result was unveiled at a dinner in 1998 and it was astonishing. As a result, Gravner decided from then on to adopt a natural approach because “wine and food have to be natural products.” The winemaking process that Gravner employs produces white wines that resemble red wines – they are dense, flavourful, dark in colour, and tannic.
Gravner uses what he calls a “natural” approach to winemaking: only wild yeasts are used, the grapes are macerated for seven months in clay amphorae, there is no temperature control on the fermentation, the wines are bottled without filtration, and there are almost no additives or chemicals in the wine. The only additive is one-half gram of sulphur per hectoliter to stop the grapes from turning into vinegar – this is a practice that dates back to Roman times.
At first, people reacted harshly to Gravner’s new approach and he became a bit of an outcast. But the quality of the wines eventually won everyone over and now the wines are acclaimed by industry and wine journalists from around the world and Gravner is once again “The King of Italian Wine”.