Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Friuli-Venezia Giulia Wine Region: Contextualizing an EWBC Post-Trip

The European Wine Bloggers 2011 Conference (recently held in Brescia, Italy) program included two 3-day post-conference tours -- one to Chianti Classico and the other to Friuli-Venezia Giulia -- and, wanting to gain some additional insight into Italian white wines, I opted for the latter.  Twenty-two of the conference attendees were scheduled for the trip and they all showed up on Monday morning bright-eyed, bushy tailed, and ready to embark on this exciting adventure; but, of course, the bus was late.  Starting out late affected all of our activities for the remainder of the day.

It was a 4-hour ride to Villa Russiz and our first scheduled event:  a presentation of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia agro-food industry by ERSA, the body responsible for regional agro-food development and promotionAfter some confusion as to where we should actually be, we were shepherded into a classroom where we were treated to a lecture on Friuli-Venezia Giulia by Claudio Fabbro, an Italian lecturer and wine historian.

Friuli-Venezia Giulia, the most north-eastern of the Italian wine regions, is bounded by Austria to the north, the Gulf of Trieste to the South, Slovenia to the east, and the wine region of Veneto to the west.  The region's location, as well as its history, has endowed it with a richness of diverse cultural influences.


The Friuli-Venezia landscape can be divided into four major areas: (i) the mountainous region to the north which includes the Carnian and Julian alps with peaks in excess of 2000 meters; (ii) a hilly area that is south of the mountains and along the Slovenian border; (iii) the central plain which is characterized by poor soil which has been made fertile through irrigation; and (iv) the coastal flatlands which is low and sandy to the west of the Isonzo River and rocky to its east.

In general, Friuli-Venezia Giulia has a humid, temperate climate which varies according to the landscape; areas to the north experience an alpine continental climate while those in the south experience a Mediterranean climate.  The Alpine system protects the region from icy north winds but air movement from east to west causes low pressure systems which can bring summertime hailstorms and thunderstorms.  Being open to the Adriatic, the region experiences Sirocco winds which can bring heavy rainfall.

The climate is modified by the presence of the Adriatic Sea and the Alps resulting in warmer winter temperatures and cooler summer temperatures.  Mean temperature in the summertime is 22.8℃ (73℉) and mean rainfall is 1524 mm (60 inches). Vineyards to the north and east lie above the level of the fog that flows in occasionally from the Adriatic and this allows the grapes to take advantage of the increased hang time to promote phenolic ripening.  The diurnal shift is somewhat mitigated by maritime influences closer to the coast.  There is a constant breeze known as "la bora" flowing in from the Adriatic and this provides great air flow in the vineyards as well as serving as a deterrent to fungal outbreaks.

The soil in the region is calcium-rich marl and sandstone in hilly regions and clay, sand, and gravel elsewhere.

The region is noted for small, high-quality, family-run vineyards producing fresh, rich, fruity, textured wines from a large number of indigenous and international varietals.  As the figures below show, Italian wine production (millions of hectoliters) has been experiencing a slow, steady decline over the years while Friuli-Venezia production (thousands of hectoliters) has experienced an 11% percent increase 2009 over 2008 and a 5% increase 2010 over 2009.  In 2010, Friuli-Venezia production represented 2.6% of all Italian wine production.

Italian Wine Production (Source: ERSA Presentation)

Friuli Venezia Wine Production (Source: ERSA Presentation)

Friuli Venezia DOC and DOCG Wine Production (Source: ERSA Presentation)

Friuli is best known for its white wines grown on south-facing slopes of the region's terraced vineyards (ronchi).  As shown in the charts below, the top five non-native varieties are better represented in the region's wines than Tocai Friulano, the leading indigenous varietal.  The distribution of varietals in the region can be directly traced to rulership influences over the span of its history.

Source: ERSA Presentation

Indigenous Grape Varieties (Source: ERSA Presentation)
This, then, would be our "theatre of operations" for the next two and one-half days.  During that time we would be visiting wineries and meeting winemakers from the various sub-regions of Friuli-Venezia Giulia.  At the conclusion of the lecture I felt that I had had a baseline briefing which prepared me for any eventuality.  But I was wrong.  I was not prepared for the hurricane that was Fulvio Bressan.

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