The man, the myth, the legend, the wines
On June 21, 2010 we had the pleasure of hosting Ales Kristancic of Movia and his newly released 2008 Lunar Chardonnay. Dinners with Ales always brim with vibrancy, surprises and magic. On this specific evening, we were able to taste an array of Movia’s wines. Chef Kevin Sippel outdid himself with the food, and the wines could not have been more expertly paired. For example, the Cobia in Octopus and Cucumber Guazzetto were an unparalleled choice to showcase the debut of Movia’s 2008 Lunar Chardonnay.
The Lunar are pure solo-varietal bottlings. The 2007 vintage featured the Ribolla Gialla grape. As we prepared for the event, we were careful to carry the 2007 Lunar upstairs in the exact position in which it had been lying in the cellar in order not to disturb the contents of the bottle. The bottles were opened in that same position, poured, and clear wine emerged from the bottle. Ales’ biodynamic winemaking principles mean that he foregoes using chemicals to clarify his wines; rather, he relies on atmospheric pressure. Ales makes his Lunar in a wholly hands-off approach— the goal is for the wine to create itself. Using a holistic method to his winemaking practice, Ales designed the French oak barrels used to create the Lunar, and these barrels allow for whole clusters of fruit to be dropped into the barrel without damaging the cluster. He believes strongly in unity, harmony and integrity; it shows in the wine. The unique thing about tasting the 2008 with the 2007 was being able to see the wine’s evolution to a mature, clean, terroir-driven wine.
Unlike Movia’s Lunar, the estate’s Veliko wines were created generations before Ales. The Bianco is comprised of Ribolla, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc; the Rosso of Cabernet Sauvignon is a Merlot and Pinot Nero blend. These vines are all planted side by side, unlike many blended wines that are grown on separate plots. Ales believes that this brings harmony to the wines, due to their coexistence creating one healthy system. The taste bears out Ales’ somewhat esoteric reasoning. Count me in as a believer!
There’s a lot to be said for meeting a wine producer—especially one as dynamic and, well, beautifully strange as Ales. Many writers have tried to describe Ales; some have failed, a few have succeeded, including IWM founder Sergio Esposito, who devoted an entire chapter to Ales in his memoir. Ales is an iconoclast, a figure of near-fictional proportions, and he captures your imagination. He’s a man who can work a room, making everyone present feel a little bit more beautiful, a little bit more glittery, and a little bit more special.
The night came to a true Movia conclusion as Ales and the crowd participated in the opening of his Puro Rose 2002. The Puro is Ales’ sparkling wine, left undisgorged, under the philosophy that this plug of yeast is the source of life for the wine, and it should remain until consumption. Leaving the wine undisgorged, however, means that when it’s time to open the bottle, it’s something of a party trick. Ales is a showman, a bon vivant and magician. Upending an open bottle into a bowl of water, wiggling out the cork and whisking the open bottle out to display it and exclaim, “Zak! Zak!” is just part of the fun—for him and for all of us.
The surprise of the night was Ales himself, his charm, his warmth and his joy for his work. Ales knows and loves his vines, and this knowledge and caring reflects in how well the wines age—as well as how enjoyable they are in their youth. Though he’d love to see his wines cellared for forty years, Ales has a philosophy of keeping wines in his cellar until he feels that okay with people drinking them. My favorite wine of the night was the 1990 Veliko Bianco, a wine that exhibited great pedigree, amazing length, and complexity that would give me the confidence to show it among some of the greatest white wines of the world.
When speaking about the estate and wines of Movia, you’ll without a doubt mention its famed producer Ales Kristancic. You simply can’t bring up the wine without the man, because they go hand in hand. Sadly, I’ve yet to have the opportunity to meet Ales, but I admit he’s such a fascinating figure that I’ve done some research on him (reading the Ales chapter in Sergio’s Passion on the Vine started my mini-obsession). Recently, I read Food & Wine magazine’s profile “Ales Kristancic: Wine Genius of Slovenia,” and what stood out to me the most was this passage:
Conversation is equally disorienting. This isn’t so much because Kristancic’s native language is Slovenian (he is also fluent in both Italian and English), but because his actual native language is Ales. To wit, cigarette in hand: “I need critics! I don’t need this wow-brow shiki-miki zak-zak!” Roughly translated, that means, “Hey, I need actual critics, not a bunch of useless hipster yes-men.”
I got the picture of a man who says, does and gets what he wants, and if it doesn’t exist, he will create it—including his own language. Ales’ unbounded need to create his own universe is especially evident for me in his choice to design his own crystal glassware collection made by Rogaska, Slovenia’s leading crystal producer. Hand-blown from one piece of crystal, these glasses are so time-consuming that one specialized artisan can make only ten glasses in a day. Ales doesn’t just have a glass for his red wine and for his white; he has several for each style. For example, he has a Champagne glass, but also a glass specifically for his sparkling wine called Puro. He also has a special decanter made for his Lunar—a wine named for the moon and crafted from 100% Ribolla Gialla.
If Ales puts this much care, dedication and precision into crafting the perfect vessel, I can only begin to imagine the intensity with which he creates his wines. Whether in his glassware or not, you really should try some of his wonderful wines, because while I’ve not met the man, I have drunk his wines, and they are amazing. And if you are interested in meeting him, we’re hosting a special winemaker dinner and tasting with Ales. (I’m pretty excited about the night.) We’ll be featuring a wide selection of Movia wines, some dating back to 1983, as well as the U.S. debut of the Chardonnay Lunar 2008.
As Ales himself might say, “Zak-Zak!”