A History of Restlessness and Clay Amphora
A relentlessly reflective iconoclast, the style of wine that Josko Gravner has made from his 18-hectare estate has varied greatly over the past three decades. Regardless of style, Gravner has remained not only a benchmark of the region, but also one of its most provocative and influential winemakers. His commitment to his terraced, high density, old-vine vineyards has remained severe and his sites are famous for being meticulously kept.
In the early 1980s, Gravner was the first to abandon the use of steel tanks and cool temperature-controlled fermentations that had dominated Friuli white wine making, for the use of French barriques. This amounted to a revolution for the region; a change from the crisp, clean wines that were intended to be drunk relatively young, to richer, deeper wines that benefited from aging.
However, Gravner soon became weary of this style of wine and ridded his winery of its barriques and high-tech scientific equipment to pursue wine as it would have been made generations ago. The barriques were traded in for large old Slavonian oak barrels, he began macerating his white wines for periods of around twelve days, and no temperature control or filtration was used. The wine then sat in barrel for three years or more. The resulting wines were cloudy, dark, and had a textured and even grippy mouthfeel. Many of Gravner's neighbors were scratching their heads and wondering if their strange, wine savant had lost it this time for good. These were surreal and singular wines at the time.
His exploration of old fashioned winemaking techniques led him finally to the use of amphoras, clay pots that were wine's first vessels. There's a history of their use going back 4,000 years and Gravner began to experiment with the amphoras in 1997. From 1998 until 2000 his wines were a combination of barrel and amphora. In 2001, Gravner released his first wine raised purely in amphora.
While the severity of his practice is unquestionable, perhaps no other factor speaks to Gravner's importance than the number of disciples he has had, the influence he has wielded in Friuli and Italian wine in general. Both Edi Kante and Damijan studied with Gravner before beginning their own, much respected, wineries in Friuli. Gravner's influence can easily be seen in the wines of his neighbors Radikon and La Castellada. The use of amphoras has spread through Italy with Lispida in the Veneto, Cos in Sicily, and Guttarolo in Puglia to name only a few.