It was a real round-about trip over the hill from Ruttars to San Floriano and down to Lenzuolo Bianco. This part of the world has been home to the GRAVNER family for centuries. We should add that our ageing street navigator hasn’t been updated in a decade because we’ve learned that often the accidental road, the one less-travelled, brings with it a lifetime of surprises. This was to be one of those exceptional close encounters of the ‘unheard’ kind.
From our wonderful opening chat with Josko’s wife, Maria, to our tasting with Josko, including his Bianco Breg 2008 and Ribolla 2007, we could never have anticipated what was to come next.
Our innocent request to hopefully return one day to tour the vineyards was met with a modicum of Gravner bewilderment and surprise… “But we’re going now… aren’t we? Or have you got another appointment?” “Eh… no, we hastily replied,…we’re absolutely good to go”. If ever there was a life changing moment, a bit of ‘carpe diem’, this was it!
What had started out as a respectful, reverent, and at times robust exchange of oenological thoughts and impressions, it had suddenly transformed into the most amazing of vinous and philosophical ‘jam sessions’ we are ever likely to busk along with. Think of suddenly striking a few chords in the company of Dylan or Van or Young and you’ll grab a sense of the dream-like vibe. Yet this was REAL.
Up and over the hills, from cru to cru, Josko’s trusty Landrover lent it’s steel base to the rhythm of our conversation. Ribolla Gialla, one of Friuli’s native white grapes, is at the heart of Josko’s new adventurous beat. So much so that Gravner has the largest single vineyard dedicated to this variety in the Collio. Infact Ribolla Gialla has now become the principal native white variety for the winery with pretty much all international varieties being uprooted in 2012 to be replanted with this local late maturing, high acid gem.
Rather, our current particular interest is in one of Friuli’s other native greats, the elusive black-skinned variety, PIGNOLO, to which Josko also dedicates his time. More about that another day because, as time passed in his company, what unfurled with each emotional step was an awesome life story, electrifying on one hand yet acoustically resonating on the other.
We quickly discovered that being with Josko, there’s nothing more simple or beautiful than going with the ‘FLOW’. We talked and talked and laughed… about almost everything. Art, culture, history, politics, language, music – our story about meeting Cat Stevens…Cat Who? said Josko :)… and of course wine-making, where needless to say we touched on his now world renowned macerated wines.
“They are AMBER not ORANGE!” quipped Josko with a wry yet determined grin. “And what’s more, they’re best served at room temperature, not 10-12°C,” he added. As it happens, back at the winery we’d already tasted at 24°C!! Stunning. Intense yet subtle, his wines reflect his relationship with MOTHER NATURE as much as natures relationship with him.
Suffice to say we got Josko’s message. Intense, crisp and clear. To be honest, when eyeball to eyeball with a folk legend, just as with the musical masters, if the man himself tells you that his creation starts with an A Major, hands down, you accept it. So folks, ‘HOT PRESS NEWS’….for Gravner, let’s get it right….AMBER it is :)
His unique style may well have rattled a few cages over the years. But never with intent. His goal is nothing more than to make the best wines he possibly can with total respect to his natural surroundings. Using amphorae, leaving ‘white’ grapes ferment on their skins, planting trees, building ponds and putting up bird boxes…how the heck does this stuff seem to upset people ?
Ironically, perhaps it’s down to our ‘HUMAN NATURE’… the ability of some to mis-understand a man of conviction, a man of purpose… a man with a real plan.
In the cellar, as he says himself, Josko’s wine-making skills run contrary to much of what you might be taught in Oenology School. We’re talking everything from using wild yeasts, lengthy skin contact, fermentation in amphorae with no temperature control, 6 and now even 7 years ageing, in large wooden vats with ‘no fining or filtration’ when it comes time for bottling. Some throw their hands in the air at the thought of such an unpredictable co-existence with nature. YET the struggle, or rather the challenge, doesn’t register that way for Josko. It’s life. It’s living.
The operative word in his world is ‘TIME’. Time as nature would intend it. And this struck us repeatedly. Time to Work. Time to Sleep. Time to Sit Still. Whatever it may be, here everything flows according to the rhythm of the ever changing lunar phases. Bio-dynamic it is. Yes. But it’s also much more than that. It is Josko’s way of life. Therefore he doesn’t feel the need to shout it from the hill tops. He’s got a point.“People who know me, know what I do,” he said with calm assurance.
Here, in Lenzuolo Bianco, perched above the townlands of Gorizia, if you let yourself, you’ll quickly learn the value of time. And if you’re like us, you’ll happily get lost in it too.
As we shook hands for the second time, an epic, ‘Springsteen-esque’ 5 hours after taking to the Collio’s theatrical wine-making stage, our departure came with the realization that it didn’t matter why or how we’d come to meet Josko. What mattered most was meeting him. Really meeting him. And that we did. When he explains to you his vision and his way and you then sample the host of emotions fermented in your glass, it’s simply impossible to deny what he’s doing is creating wines that go beyond the universal quality spectrum and into the neighbouring galaxy of art, philosophy, heck even mindfulness. Superlatives ? Let’s leave them all to one side. There’s only one Josko Gravner. No need to compare. There is likely no comparison.
Up on the hill near the town called ‘HUM’, where Josko’s latest terraced vineyard is undergoing developmental work, we talked with him in great detail about his vineyard management programme and the critical need to respect what Mother Nature gifts to us.
Incredibly, after all the amazing riches we’d just seen and learned about from Josko, we were shortly after brought back to earth with a bang. To see evidence of herbicide use at another unknown winery / vineyard site was more than enough to rattle our new found karma. Some will no doubt accuse us of being sensationalist. But in that isolated moment, our soul flipped and strained with the aptly poetic lyrics of U2’s Running to Stand Still reverberating loud….
…Sweet the sin, bitter the taste in my mouth
I see Seven towers, but I only see one way out,
You got to cry without weeping, talk without speaking, scream without raising your voice
You know I took the poison from the poison stream
Then I floated out of here…
On this of all days, clearly this ‘sad vision’ in such an inspiring location got us ‘rattled near HUM’…we’ve seriously gotta do something about where we’re goin’ folks…what sense is there continuing to pollute the land with such short term thinking.
Josko had just showed us there is a better way. The kinder you are to Nature (both Mother & Human), the kinder it’ll be to you. Man, if only a few more adopted this more sympathetic sustainable approach…we’re not talking Anarchy folks, it’s just the beauty & the dynamic of life that needs protecting.
and all the U2 crew who through their collective work, words, music and film have captured the essential echoes of nature…both Mother & Human !