Thursday, November 10, 2011

Fulvio Bressan, Bressan Wines: Top-15 Winemaker (Self-Styled) in Collio and Isonzo DOCs

We had started out the first day of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia EWBC 2011 post-conference trip behind schedule and things worsened as the day progressed.  After a drive through the Collio hills, a brief trip over the border into Slovenia, and a stop at our hotel to check in, we made our way to Enoteca di Cormons for a scheduled tasting and dinner with Collio producers.

The event was being held on the floor above the shop and, after climbing a flight of stairs, we debouched into a room decorated with banners and pennants in the ceilings and with producers manning wine-endowed tables arrayed adjacent to the room walls.  The producers were gathered together in little groups but quickly moved to man their respective tables when we arrived.  The producers were all conservatively attired, both in color and style, save one; an orange shirt stood out starkly amidst this sea of conformance.  This was my first glimpse of Fulvio Bressan.

The President of the Consorzio stepped to a makeshift podium and welcomed us to the region and then asked each producer to introduce him/herself.  The producers did so in a clockwise fashion and in reserved terms (matching their attire) except for the one wearing the orange shirt.  This individual stood out in that his physical makeup stood in stark contrast to a producer group that was greyhound-like in appearance.  His self-introduction was confident and strong in contrast to the rather tepid introductions that preceded and followed his.  He was Fulvio Bressan of Bressan Wines.  This is no shrinking violet, I thought.  More of a Barnum and Bailey type.  At the conclusion of the introductions, the President declared the tasting underway.

I began to work the room in a clockwise fashion beginning with the producer directly in front of me.  After working my way through a number of wines, I noticed a congregation around Bressan's table and he appeared to be holding court.  One of the bloggers at Bressan's table was @aleksimethonen (my newest best friend) so I ambled over to see what the fuss was all about. When I got to the table, @aleksimethonen suggested that I taste the Pinot Nero.  It had a great Pinot nose but with added richness and depth.  Ripe red fruit, but balanced, and the absence of oak associated with Pinot.  Fulvio stated that he picked his fruit late in order to ensure full ripeness.

As Bressan buttonholed passing bloggers and poured them his wine, he kept up a steady stream of conversation, with one liners ranging from outrageous to outrageously funny.  As he poured wine into the glass of one taster he remarked, "my surname is on the bottle, you think I will put shit inside."  He confided that he was a ninth-generation farmer and one of only 15 serious winemakers in the region.  "Most of the others are here to make money," he says.  "I need to live but beyond that ..."

Bressan properties cover 25 hectares in DOCs Collio and Isonzo, 20 hectares of which are planted to vine.  Fulvio insisted that quality wines are made in the vineyard ("A cellar is only a place where you store the wine until it is ready to be bottled.") and that it begins with the soil.  The Bressan soil is topped by a 1-meter layer of gravel through which the roots penetrate as they search for water and nutrients.  The gravel aids in the ripening of fruit (by reflecting the sun's rays) but also allows water to pass through to the clay and marl levels where it is captured and held.

The vines in the Brerssan vineyards are mostly between 50- and 100-years old.  Grapes from vines that are younger than 7-years old never make it into Bressan wines.  Guyot training is used on the estate with one shoot and four or five buds for each vine.  Plant density is 5000 vines/hectare.

In terms of vineyard management, Fulvio says that he used to be biodynamic but isn't anymore.  He claims to have visited many "biodynamic" farms and seen weed killer being used.  "You can gain biodynamic certification but the certifying agency is not with you 24/7," he says.  "Only the producer knows what goes into the wine and a lot of the stuff that makes it into the wine is the shit they put into the ground."  Fulvio does some winter pruning (by hand), but does no green harvesting ("Old vines are self-regulating"), has no grass in the vineyard, does not irrigate, and sprays copper only when necessary.

Fulvio feels that you can't have high volumes and high quality.  "It is a tradeoff."  He produces 3.5 tons/hectare, well below the DOC Collio limit of 10 tons/hectare.  In addition, his viticultural practices of no green harvest and no grass put him in violation of DOC Isonzo requirements.  In light of the foregoing Bressan declassifies his wines and sells them as IGT.

"I drink coke because it is made by a professional chemist and it is even and consistent every time I drink it.  I don't drink much of today's wine because they are made by a bunch of amateur chemists."  No chemical manipulation of Bressan wines is practiced.

The vinicultural practices of the estate are illustrated in the figure below.  After the grapes have been pressed (Step 2), they are delicately pumped into temperature-controlled stainless steel vats.  Indigenous yeasts are used to jump start alcoholic fermentation (According to Fulvio, using synthetic yeasts would be akin to giving his wife to his best friend.).  The time between harvesting and the completion of final maceration is approximately four weeks.

Bressan Viniculture

At this time Fulvio turned to a discussion of oak casks.  "What is oak really required for," he asked.  It was a rhetorical question.  "It is for oxygenation of wine." he said, answering his own question.  "Why then do I want wood tannins in my wine?  Why then do I need coconut and vanilla in my wine?  These flavors are not of the vine." In order to ensure that these flavors do not make it into his wines, he never uses 'uncleaned' new oak.  I raised a querulous eyebrow.  I had never heard of cleaning new oak.  Fulvio described his new-oak-cleaning process for my benefit:

  1. Fill the new oak barrel with a mixture of sea salt and well water and let sit for 10 days
  2. Dump out that mixture and fill barrel with water; let sit for five days
  3. Taste water after 5 days.  If still oaky, go back to step 1.  If no oak taste, the barrel is ready for use.
By this time the tasting was almost at an end.  I had spent most of the evening in dialogue with Fulvio and had not visited with all of the producers.  I looked around sheepishly and tried to quickly touch a few of them.

Fulvio's insights were extremely entertaining and his personality was captivating.  I had truly enjoyed our dialogue.

In addition to the Pinot Nero, Bressan produces the following wines.

Cabernet Crown Domains
No. 3 Bressan

Pinot Grigio

UPDATE: Since the publication of this article, Fulvio Bressan has posted ugly racial comments regarding the Italian Integration Minister on his Facebook page. After a number of defiant posts -- following a social media firestorm prompted by his comments -- Bressan apologized. Notwithstanding that apology, I have drunk my last Bressan wine. See my post here for the full details.


  1. Hey Lorris,

    I didn't discover your wonderful post until just a few days ago! I visited Fulvio and Jelena in Friuli Isonzo a few weeks ago, and was reading up on other online pieces before I published my own (which is here: )

    Your portrayal of the man and the wines is great, it gave me so many happy memories from our trip last year.

    1. I read your piece and it also brought a smile to my face (something that happens every time I think of Fulvio). He has such a captivating personality and and unique way of expressing his strongly held beliefs on wine and winemaking.

  2. I have enjoyed the friendship of Fulvio and his family for several years. I love their wines ... most especially the Schioppettino. I am so glad that you had a chance to meet them.

    1. It was a wonderful experience for me. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

  3. see here:

  4. I have written personally to Bresano Family and asked them to explain to me their position and actually got the explanation directly from them.
    “we, Bressan family, are subject of a REAL, THE MOST CRUEL RACISM. These well-speaking people, so “humane”, so “correct” did not think two times to shoot to all Bressan family, including our son of 12 and my mother-in-law and my father-in-law what have been working ALWAYS in Bressan winery since 82 years”
    I just don’t understand why everybody is punishing the entire family. They family is right