One of our last workshops at the Salone del Gusto was a tasting of wines from the Friuli region of Italy. We’ve been huge fans of Friulian wines ever since our bike trip through the region and we were both looking forward to this tasting and the opportunity to hear the maker’s philosophy on wine making. Little did we know there was a rebel in the crowd and that passions were going to run very high.
Fulvio L. Bressan of Bressan winery did not mince words as he told us his particular view of the current wine world. He vehemently believes in not tampering with the grapes. No fertilizer except that which comes from his barn. No irrigation lest the grape flavor becomes diluted. No oak barrels because “Do you want to drink wine or eat the kitchen door?” After the pressing, he does however keep his wine in very large wooden vats to start the fermentation process. Bressan uses only indigenous yeast, and if that retards the fermentation process and we have to wait a little longer, then so be it. In Bressan’s opinion vines need time to mature, and only after the first 25 years will you start to get good fruit from the vine. What happens if you get thirsty in the meantime? Drink beer. Bressan believes the vines have a memory and will protect themselves from pestilence while the use of insecticides will weaken the vine’s resistance. He strives to produce the most natural expression of the wine possible. He repeated something we had heard from a number of other wine makers: the wine is made in the field, not in the cellar.
Although there was another vintner on the panel many of these remarks seemed to be directed at Gaspare Buscemi, an elegant gentleman and producer of artisanal wines. Buscemi does not own land and buys his grapes, so theoretically he does not control the fruit, but he is very hands on and knows his suppliers intimately. Buscemi chose to keep his remarks to a minimum, but you could feel the tension mounting between them. About the only thing the two men agree on is that they both use natural cork. The poor panel moderator kept trying to reel in the conversation by saying soothing, non-confrontational generalities, but it was a losing battle.
By the time the panel was open to questions from the floor, all of us were squirming in our seats wondering how this was going to play out. A gentleman asked Bressan, “If you have this elitist view of winemaking, how do you supply the world with affordable wine.” The guy couldn't have given Bressan a better soap box if he tried. Bressan launched into a lengthy explanation that he does not care about the elite, he only makes wine the way he wants. He does not care about trendy. He makes pure, clean wine because he thinks it is trendy to safeguard his liver, his health and to not have a headache in the morning. He understands the need for grape cooperatives, or where people buy grapes they do not grow, but for him, this is the same as drinking a Coke. Buscemi bit his lips and patiently waited for the panel to end. Which mercifully for the peace and sanity of the panel moderator, it finally did end.
And the wines? How did they taste? Buscemi’s wine was a clean, clear, crisp and elegant expression of a Pinot Gris. Bressan’s wine was velvet in the mouth, it almost had the consistency of a passito wine on the tongue, nearly syrupy, but it was complex, and lush with the full ripe flavor of the harvest. Perhaps it is like Sophia Loren who is another unadulterated expression of her heritage?
Who ever thought wine tastings could be so exciting? Viva Italia!