Emilio Bulfon

He’s one of our worlds enduring NATIVEGRAPE HEROES.
He’s also one of the few who journeyed to the ‘vanishing point’ to help recover Friuli’s forgotten bounty.

Big descriptor, you say?

Yeah well, we save it for the truly worthy. You see, were it not for Emilio’s courage and vision, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy and the beautiful Planet we call ‘ours’ would most certainly have lost a sizeable bunch of its nativegrape heritage.

Not only did he exact the recovery, he also went on to successfully commercialise what we know today as the White varieties – Cividin, Sciaglin & Ucelùt and the Reds – Piculit Neri, Forgiarin, Cjanorie, Cordenossa & Fumat.

That Emilio first plotted this viticultural course in 1974 is a serious testament to his foresight and determination. Let’s not forget Friuli in the 70’s was only awakening to its modern wine-making potential.

It was a time when Growers and Winemakers were facing a dilemma – how to manage the diverging commercial demands of local, national and international markets. Critical choices with significant consequences were being made all across the Grave plain to the Collio’s hills.

Local tastes were believed to be largely satisfied with native white varieties like Tocai Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, Malvasia Istriana & Verduzzo Giallo with Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso considered the go-to local red. Meanwhile international preferences would be increasingly indugled with Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Needing to quickly convert crops to cash, the temptation to switch to faster international gains was putting Friuli’s native grape endowment at extreme peril. Fermenting, in the midst of this commercial battlefield, one Friulano took a particular stand to counter the homogenizing forces!

Emilio Bulfon was largely alone in his thinking. Yet still he wasn’t prepared to settle for a vineyard mix that would bring about the extinction of Friuli’s grape identity. The thought of extinction, within his own lifetime, was something he simply could not, would not, countenance. In a fate filled moment, Emilio chose to follow the unbeaten path. It would not be an easy one but it was the one that Mother Nature herself had generously designed for Friuli.

Fast-forward 45 years to 2019 and the Bulfon winery portfolio is singularly ‘unique’.

It’s an early mid August morning as our little RED500 winds through the hills on our way to Valeriano, north of Spilimbergo, where the Bulfon cellar is located. On arrival, a quick meet and greet with Emilio is followed by a whistle stop tour of the vineyards. In true Bulfon style, Emilio’s daughter, Alberta, steers us on the roads less travelled around Castelnovo del Friuli and Pinzano. Here in Friuli’s bewilderingly ‘lesser-known’ western hills, the panorama is every bit as stunning as the more renowned eastern ‘Colli Orientali’. It’s wild at heart. It’s nature in your face. It’s uncontaminated. It’s beautiful.

Biodiversity is not a buzzword for the Bulfon family. You can see they live and breathe all that nature continues to bestow upon them. It’s give and take. You feel it & see it. Balance. Harmony. No cliché. Nothing hackneyed. Just honest hard graft and respect. Creating diversity, sustaining diversity and promoting diversity. There’s is a sanctuary to be visited time and again.

Arriving back at the winery, we meet again to chat with Emilio, his wife Noemi and Alberta’s brother, Lorenzo, a TT lovin’ biker who today is the head wine-maker at Bulfon.

While history & tradition will always be cornerstones of the Bulfon creed, they don’t inhibit the winery’s progress. Rather they underpin it. And you’ll discover that in the cellar. It’s a dynamic wine-making workshop. In recent years, the Bulfon’s have switched over to GANIMEDE steel fermentors, invented by local man Francesco Marin, from nearby Spilimbergo. An innovative system, it offers winemakers the opportunity to gently extract those more noble traits of the grape. And with it, Bulfon appears to have discovered the key to unlock the identity of Friuli’s lesser known enigmatic fruits. Remember, there are no guide books for the lesser known, it is pure trial and error.

Emilio Bulfon’s wines are a curious joy.

Why, you may ask? Well because, for first timers like us, there is effectively no taste benchmark. You’re tasting blind. Not in the literal sense you understand. Just blind to your mind’s eye. The wines pour and a new world opens.

Almost all of Bulfon’s wines are 100% monovarietals. It makes sense. With rare taste profiles, our first dip into this impressive grape gene pool is a memorable one. Across the range from whites to reds, sparkling to sweet styles, there is an immediate aromatic awakening. We will return to the whites in a follow up piece.

For now though, here’s a closer look at THREE of the VINI BULFON REDS:


FUMO ROSSO meaning Red Smoke – Vino Rosso (Table Wine) – Fruit from 2016
We tasted bottle #1047 of #1330 … Surely it is TIME for Italy’s disciples of the DOP to wake up and feast their eyes on this translucent ruby. Time to wake up & draw breath from this youthful floral maze, where a most delicate smoked portrait of rubbed riverbed stones creates the olfactory backdrop. Sufficiently fresh, the acids & tannins won’t blow your mind or palate. Instead it’s the unhindered, uninfluenced profile that will have you intrigued. Complexity may not be at stake but IDENTITY is! Though vinified only in steel, the tanks are no ordinary tanks. Bulfon employs the innovative GANIMEDE fermentors to facilitate the delicate extraction of FUMAT’s noble flavour compounds. The result a reassuringly tender and balanced wine. Certainly more floral than fruit driven with the warmth of its quirky smoke and stone, FUMAT is way more than another simple daily red. We’re putting down our marker… we believe Bulfon has discovered something very special with FUMAT.


CIANORØS – Vino Rosso (Table Wine) – Fruit from 2015
Medium to light Ruby. On the nose you find mixed Berries, Orange Roses and Red Plums, skins ‘n all. It’s pulpy too with a curious sweet tone. On the palate, there’s a marked difference to the FUMAT. While fresh, it’s the immediate drying tannic action that distinguishes it from the more supple softer FUMAT. Youthful with simple fruity, winey notes, on this occasion we felt Cjanorie benefited from a light chill. Later it engaged us with a herbal mint essence. We’d like to taste again.


PICULIT NERI – Delle Venezie IGP 2016. Recognised by the IGP discipline.
Medium ruby, certainly the most dense hue of these three varieties. Inhaling the aromas are more fruit focused, dark berries including a slightly unripe blackberry, draped in red petals. On the palate it is recognisably the most structured of these THREE, balancing a fresh feel with moderate to firm tannins that benefit with a little more open space. There’s a mineral edge too and an incisive cut of blackcurrant skins adding to the tension with acids, tannins and extract all knitting together. One can sense this going another 4-5 winters and would’nt we like to taste it then. Here’s hoping we can keep a bottle that long. Just for info, Emilio produces a Piculit Neri Reserve ‘Black Label’.

Hanging ten on another steep descent into learning, we’re smitten by Friuli’s great unknown and happy to admit it too.

Here’s a quirky spin to this tale that might interest you. It strikes us that the current vineyard and market beats in Friuli are remarkably similar to 1974 when Emilio embarked on his grape adventure. The only difference is that today, it’s not the international varieties that pose the big question. Rather it’s ironically a local variety, in the form of Glera, that’s dominating discussion and demand.

45 years on, it seems like the oenological Sword of Damocles once again hangs above the heads of Friuli’s winemakers and growers. With regional identity at stake, what will they do now?
Who or what will be their saviour?

To answer that question, we’ll offer this parting thought.

Emilio Bulfon has already been to the vanishing point once.
We’re pretty sure that, if needs be, he’ll go there again.
Only this time, he won’t have to go alone.
If you catch our drift.

Vanishing Point – ALEXANDRA SAVIOR

Go top