DRIVEN people display a natural, energetic, unspoken aptitude, which makes their vision immediately accessible. That thought sprang to mind the day we caught up with the genial Luca Belluzzo, oenologist
at the Azienda Agricola Graziano Belluzzo Winery.
The Belluzzo winery is located just outside TARCENTO, in the most northwestern corner of Friuli’s Colli Orientali appellation. A large town of circa 9,000 inhabitants, in vinous terms, it’s curiously overshadowed by its more famous, yet very much smaller neighbour, RAMANDOLO. Being geographically so close, you’d be forgiven for wondering why some of the latters sweet DOCG glory hasn’t yet rubbed off on TARCENTO.
Well, as one of the wettest townlands in Friuli, perhaps TARCENTO’s rainfall stats have had something to do with it. When it rains, it rains. In any race to select prime vineyard locations, a glance at such records might explain the reason so many have overlooked this beautiful, hill and pre-Alpine mountain landscape.
Yet, for those who take the time to dig below the headline data, there’s often untold rewards. Luca Belluzzo has been digging.
As the oenologist of Friuli’s largest cantina sociale, Cantina Produttori Cormons, Luca has a unique grasp of Friuli’s exceptionally diverse terroir. Working with growers and vineyards that run from the Colli Orientali and Collio Goriziano, all the way down to the plains of Isonzo and Friuli Grave, his day-to-day understanding of aspect, soil and climate is far-reaching. Indeed, co-ordinating the management of +400 hectares of vineyards, little wonder that his work at the Cormons cantina dwarfs that of his father Graziano’s family holding.
The current Belluzzo vineyards, all 2 hectares of them, represent another Oenological Universe. First planted 50 years ago by Luca’s grandfather, they are divided into 4 blocs. At 235m above sea level, the first two blocs are located above the winery, on plateaued fertile ground near the village of Loneriacco. The other two blocs are found on the sheer, terraced hillside perched below the landmark VILLA MORETTI, overlooking Tarcento itself. Here at 287 metres above sea level, Luca and Graziano have been busy reconditioning and replanting. Everything is done by hand, including the boring of 1,250 holes for the most recently replaced vines. Formed some 30 million years ago, the ground is pure PONCA, aka Eocenic marl & sandstone. Only someone with the vocation would dream of taking on the challenge.
Around Tarcento, tradition stands tall. While it makes for additional work, it also adds identifiable character. Coloured ribbons indicate where he and Graziano are identifying and re-systemizing the older stock of 50 year old Tocai Friulano, Verduzzo Friulano, Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso, Refosco di Faedis and Merlot. Luca is also pleased they’ll soon be planting new blocs of Friulano, Sauvignon and Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso. Experience and youth, side by side. The Belluzzo’s have particular plans with inspiring reasons.
Pushing open the newly mounted chestnut cellar door, the winemaking horizon widens to reveal a compact modern operation. Intimately cradled by historic exposed stone walls, you feel the emotional headspace extend endlessly.
Complete with a magical ‘mini-barricaia’ to house their 20 prized barriques, the immediate sense is one of a Creative Domaine. Clearly the seeds sown during Luca’s study tour at Chateau Fleur Cardinale in St.Emilion Bordeaux, fell on a fertile mind. It’s all beginning to add up. In every corner from vineyard to cellar, there are personal expressions of Identity, Integrity and Quality including Luca’s bond with Friuli’s native red variety, REFOSCO dal PEDUNCOLO ROSSO, a grape that he sees as pivotal to his future creative plans.
There are two entry level wines, the Perla Bianca – Vino Bianco (Friulano 80% Sauvignon 20%) and the Perla Nera – Vino Rosso (Refosco di Faedis 80% Merlot 20%). Both wines are produced exclusively in stainless steel and are blended youthful table companions designed to meet more traditional local preferences and tastes. A fitting tribute to the town of Tarcento itself, known as La Perla del Friuli (The Pearl of Friuli).
The Quality spectrum then expands to include four “Riserve” wines, each with their own personalised moniker.
*ORIGINE – 100% MERLOT is a tribute to Luca’s grandfather and founder of the winery.
*GRAZIANO – 80% REFOSCO dal PEDUNCOLO ROSSO & 20% REFOSCO di FAEDIS as the title suggests, this native blend is a tribute to Luca’s father.
*ORGOGLIO – 100% REFOSCO dal PEDUNCOLO ROSSO Luca’s orgoglio (pride) and joy.
*AURUM – 100% VERDUZZO FRIULANO a golden tribute to this late harvested ‘native grape’ passito.
All of the Reserves are only produced during the very best vintages and will only be bottled if ageing in barrique has been successfully completed. Luca takes nothing for granted.
ORGOGLIO 2016 – Reserve – Refosco dal Penduncolo Rosso 100%
Deep ruby. Pleasing structured feel for one so young. Already balanced and self assured. Both fresh and refined, black cherry and assorted black berried fruits. Very much a work in progress, it will remain in barrique for a further 12-14 months before bottling. Followed by minimum 12 months cellaring. Taking account of its current balance, ORGOGLIO ’16 has a very promising future. Definite marker.
ORGOGLIO 2015 – Reserve – Refosco dal Penduncolo Rosso 100%
Deep ruby. Beautiful poise and harmony. Fresh with a vein of mineral support, delicious tannins and ripe black cherry. Displaying both structured and elegant lines, Luca confirms it will be bottled shortly and laid down for 12 months before release. We await this one with real anticipation.
GRAZIANO 2015 – Reserve Blend – Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso 80% Refosco di Faedis 20%
Characterful ruby blend, where the Refosco di Faedis adds its signature floral aromatics to the 2015 Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso’s more structured bounty. Also to be bottled shortly, followed by 12 months bottle ageing before release. A rather unique native blend and one to savour in time.
All the Reserves are ‘Non-Filtered’ with very ‘Low Sulphite Addition’, which is added just before bottling (Free+Added SO2 = Total SO2 60-70mg/L)
ORIGINE 2013 – Reserve Merlot 100% – Bottle No. 72 / 233
Strong recall of Saint Emilion or another from Bordeaux’s RIGHT BANK. Further evidence to support Friuli’s credentials as the ‘home-from-home’ for the Merlot variety. Delicious, fine grained, medium bodied with raspberry, soft white chocolate undertones and a most delicate note of star anise.
ORGOGLIO 2013 – Reserve Refosco dal Penduncolo Rosso 100% – Bottle No. 13 / 214
Youthful ruby, its path is more pointedly on aromatic rather than fruit lines. Wild violets with balsalmic herbs, peppered spice and light vanishing hints of red cherry. While not offering the same structured and balanced feel as vintages 2015 & 2016, nonetheless this 2013 is a worthy reserve that speaks of both the variety and the vintage.
ORGOGLIO 2011 – Reserve Refosco dal Penduncolo Rosso 100%
Rich ruby to the rim, with as yet no sign of age. Colour stability augers well. Black cherry and spice give way to a more complex aromas cherry sottospirito & chocolate fondent. Structure, balance, fine integrated tannins with mineral backbone and welcome persistence. A richly fulfilling Refosco experience.
AURUM 2014 – Reserve Verduzzo Friulano 100% – 500 bottles
Intense amber with copper red hues. Light mixed dried fruit aromas of fig, prune, crushed chesnut, raisins, tarrocco orange skins and toffee. Exceptional concentration. Grainy integrated tannin, meditative qualities. Sweet yes, sticky no. Extremely pleasing, dried apricot, apricot syrup almost medicinal. For such concentration the body is medium. Not overweight in any way. The pure essence of well being. Meditate on this.
Both considered excellent red vintages for Friuli, the current natural youthfulness of the Belluzzo samples does not distract us from their signature structure and elegance. Confering them with evolutionary potential, it strikes us how reminiscent they are of Refoschi found in the Colli Orientali’s red southern heartland that stretches from the hills of IPPLIS to ROSAZZO and on to BUTTRIO. Interestingly, we discovered that we’re not the only ones to have drawn such a conclusion, with the legendary Enzo Pontoni expressing similar thoughts when he also visited Luca for a recent barrel tasting.
Well, here’s where Luca’s data digging has shone a light on one of TARCENTO’s unique quality traits. He revealed to us how the diurnal temperature variations in these hills are the highest recorded anywhere in Friuli Colli Orientali. In the critical latter stages of harvest season, Tarcento can experience day-to-nightime temperatures drops of 18-19 degrees Celcius. As a consequence, the Belluzzo Refosco bunches are afforded much treasured extra hangtime. With that comes even ripening and a shot at the elusive double – Technical (Acids/Sugars) and Phenolic (Antocyanins/Tannins) Maturity. Could it be that TARCENTO’s long overlooked climate offers a unique “+” for lovers of Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso?
With only 2 reserve vintages bottled thus far, the forthcoming 2015 and 2016 Belluzzo Reserves will be important additions to the winery’s portfolio. We’re talking structural and evolutionary longevity meets elegant aromatic individuality, which will make them a welcome addition to the regional Refosco style mix. With limited bottled numbers, this serves as a reminder for all who consider themselves to be early birds.
Tarcento and Friuli have in their midst a skilled and creative talent. Driven yet humble, dedicated and hardworking, Luca’s TARCENTO MISSION is also about validating the importance of his home town on the regional wine-making map. We can’t help thinking that, on his current trajectory, the impact of his work will one day be seen on much bigger maps too.
…for Luca Belluzzo, it very much appears to be a case of…