The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

A Tour of Friuli Via Three Men

Posted on | July 9, 2010 | Written by Tida Lenoel | 3 Comments

Along with a group of IWM’s clients, I recently took a trip to Friuli, where we explored the region’s history and culture with a specific focus on wine. Every region in Italy is so different, especially its history, food and wine. I found Friuli to be fascinating in no small part because of its location that borders Austria and Slovenia. The region’s history and geography have strongly shaped the lives of the people, and in turn these people have shaped Friulian wine as we know it today. We were very fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit the producers who have made history in the wine-making world: the amazing Radikon, the magical Movia and the great Gravner.


When we arrived at the Radikon estate for a lunch and tasting, there was a beautiful table set up right on the edge of a hill; we could see vineyards for miles. We were first greeted by their tail-wagging dog, Fortunato, carrying a ball in his mouth; he was followed by the rest of the family. While Suzana and Stanko were cooking away in the kitchen, the eldest son Sasa gave us a tour of the vineyards and cellar. When we sat to eat, we were delighted. The dishes were paired with several of their wines from different vintages, and the meal couldn’t have been more perfect. The Radikons were so kind and welcoming that it felt as if we were a part of the family, if only for that afternoon. It’s that welcoming philosophy and tradition that informs the winemaking process and makes Radikon wines truly special and, in my opinion, best enjoyed with people you love.


The night before our lunch at Ales Kristancic’s estate in Slovenia, he sent us an email saying that plans have changed and to throw the old menu, which had been in the works for several months, out the window. He claimed he had something even better waiting for us—and if you know or have heard stories about Ales, you know that this is no surprise, for he’s an unpredictable, free spirit. We had a magnificent six-course lunch cooked by a professional chef, accompanied by a solo guitar performance by Ales. When it was time to tour the cellar, he preceded us by a few minutes so that he could prepare. Descending into the cellar, we found he’d lit candles around his pieces of art that were displayed, thus setting the tone for his performance. He led us quietly around and whispered the secrets of the wines that surrounded us. Not able to contain his excitement, he grabbed a few glasses and dipped them into a small metal canister filled with a golden liquid. It was a special dessert wine made from Picolit and Ribolla grapes when the vines get affected by botrytis (he only makes this wine for personal consumption). It’s easy to see how Ales’ personality appears in every one of his bottles, but it’s especially evident in the Puro, his sparkling wine that he leaves undisgorged so that it has to be opened under water to remove the dead yeasts. Opening this wine is an event in itself that commands attention and draws in a crowd for the show, much like its creator.


Visiting the Gravner estate in the afternoon for a tour and tasting, we were met by Josko himself. He appeared much more reserved than the other producers that we had met, perhaps because he still considers himself a farmer before anything else. Even before we arrived to the heart of the cellar, he paused to tell us about his journey, almost as if it were a right of passage. He wanted to make sure we understood who he was and his purpose—in short, why he made wines this way. He chose every word that he spoke carefully to show us his spirit and way of life. Wine to him is an extension of his soul; he considers it a part of him, like his children. Josko leads by example and feels that to make good wine you need to be at peace with yourself. He told us that he’s going to start aging all of his wines for seven years, because that’s the time it takes for a cell in the human body to fully regenerate. We paused before a wooden platform with an orange rim peeking up like a strange flower; this was one of the ancient clay anfora from the country of Georgia that Josko lines with beeswax and buries underground. Josko explains that the anfora was the first known technique for making wine. Believing in this tradition, Josko told us that to his thinking, there is no use in reinventing the already perfect wheel. It’s clear that Josko is sure of who he is and what he wants, and this certainty manifests itself in his wines—they embody his persona and are just as complex and nuanced as he is.

All three of these producers create magnificent wines, and I can’t even begin to give them the justice that they deserve. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to have met them all and to begin my journey of understanding wine, where it comes from, who makes it and how those two factors work together make wine the glory that it is.


3 Responses to “A Tour of Friuli Via Three Men”

  1. Sterling A Minor
    July 13th, 2010 @ 4:49 pm

    Every sentence in Tida’s comment is straight-up correct. She hereself did as magnificent a job being our IWM host as these winemakers are at making wine. Tida (Tee’ da) is a studied wine guide for the wines of Friuli, for she picked out over 60 wines (we had 67 in total) for eleven meals in five and a half days.

  2. Eric Hazard
    July 15th, 2010 @ 8:33 am

    Tida, glad you had a wonderful time in Friuli. Now that you’re back, can you please tell me how one might go about procuring a case of Eredi Virginia Ferrero, San Rocco, Barolo ’97. My initial requisition order seems to have been forgotten.

  3. Ellen Luby
    August 10th, 2010 @ 4:40 pm

    My enthusiastic compliments to Tida for an excellent job as wine guide! She provided lots of information on each & every one of the many wines we tried. Her knowledge is extensive, & what a remarkable memory! Tida knows wine!

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