“We make wine the way we do because it’s our way of doing something concrete for the world,” Federica Magrini told me about the philosophy she and Lorenzo Mocchiutti share at Vignai Da Duline in Friuli Venezia Giulia. They have not just a natural, but a soulful, even spiritual approach to winemaking. And, their wine is magnificent.
How does their philosophy manifest at Vignai da Duline? Let’s start with “No Trimming the Shoots” and “No Herbicides” (above) Federica explained that the prevailing wisdom is to cut the green growth on the vines back to force the plant to put energy into the grapes. But she and Lorenzo have found that the vines find their own equilibrium if they are not trimmed. The plants become especially resistant to lack of water. Balance comes naturally.
Ditto for allowing grass to grow in the vineyards. None of their vineyards, even the oldest ones going back to 1930 have been treated with herbicides. In recent years, they tried the old wisdom of planting “erba medica” (the name of a grass that translates literally to “medicine grass” but is a form of alfalfa) among the vines. If cut and left in the vineyard, it is a natural fertilizer that eliminates the need for animal manure. Federica and Lorenzo found that this practice opened the soil, allowed it to oxygenate, and then, these changes revitalized the vines.
As I proceeded through the visit, I began getting the idea. This remarkable couple is creatively adopting ancient/traditional wisdom to solve modern problems. Another example is the way they renovated the Ronco Pittoti vineyard, one of the oldest in Friuli. Federica talked to me about how she and Lorenzo worked with the natural curves of the hill.
As we walked around Ronco Pittoti, Federica expressed their goal of achieving balance between cultivated areas and wild areas. For them,the vines are a kind of umbilical cord, delivering the grapes while still being linked to the wildness of Nature.
In the middle of Ronco Pittoti, Federica and Lorenzo have installed a sculpture by Massimo Poldelmengo: it has 16 pillars, each with a Roman numeral, united in a square. It is art in the context of Nature that also serves as a table and gathering spot in the vineyard. “We think of it as an altar between Earth and Sky,” Federica told me.
After visiting the Ronco Pittoti vineyard up on the hillside (with the unusual ponca or flysch soil that is typical of these hills) with Federica, I met up with Lorenzo to see the original Duline vineyards. They are lower down in the valley. The soil there is called “terra rosa” (red earth) because of the high iron content in the clay and limestone soil.
These are the original vineyards of his family with many vines dating back from the 1930s. “The very old vines are still doing well,” he told me. “The ones I had to replace were those planted in the 60s and 70s–the go-go years of chemicals. They didn’t have the same longevity.”
And longevity is a key word. In this video, Lorenzo breaks another conventional notion about grape varieties like Pinot Grigio. He explained that all of his wines, even Pinot Grigio, can age. If the vines are old and treated with respect, they yield grapes with the structure necessary for aging. His Pinot Grigio, for example, has unusual high acidity that means it stays fresh even after years in the cellar.
At the end of my visit, I tasted two fascinating wines…and bought others to take home to my cellar.
Vignai da Duline Pinot Grigio Colli Orientali DOC 2013
100% Pinot Grigio from the oldest Pinot Grigio vines in Friuli Venezia Giulia (1940-45): the Ronco Pittoti vineyard. These old vines and the limestone (once under the sea)/clay soil give maximum minerality and also, acidity, not usually typical of the variety. The wine is dry but complex in a way that “normal” Pinot Grigio is not. It can age for up to 15 years as compared to a maximum of 3 years for typical Pinot Grigio. 13,5%
Vignai da Duline Morus Alba Colli Orientali DOC 2012
Like the table in this vineyard, this wine is a hymn to diversity in Nature. It is made with 60% Malvasia Istriana (native grape of the peninsula of Istria that juts into the Adriatic) and 40% Sauvignon, a French variety but this very old clone no longer grows in France.
The wine is one of those that defies normal description or categorization. It is crisp and dry from the limestone soils (particularly the flysch or ponca of the Ronco Pittoti vineyard) but rich, complex and elegantly smooth. It calls up the rich diversity of the two Vignai da Duline vineyards. A structured wine 14% that Lorenzo likes to pair with white meats, seafood or oysters.
Vignai da Duline
Via IV Novembre, 135
San Giovanni al Natisone, UD
Frazione Villanova del Judro