The King of Skins
Radikon, Friuli, Italy
Patiently ageing in the cellar for five years….the new Radikon wines are now ready to be enjoyed!
Over a telephone call from a cold, wet London, Saša tells me how much he misses London and how he is looking forward to returning soon! But, until then, we'll have to make do with the exciting new arrivals that have been patiently ageing in the cellar for five years and are now ready to be opened, or cellared if you can wait any longer! The 2016 Oslavje, Jakot and Ribolla Gialla could be considered one of the "best" vintages - despite the devastating attack of Peronospora (downy mildew), which significantly reduced the yield. Still, the grapes that survived are “excellent”, says Saša.
We have also received the 2019 Slatnik, Sivi & RS19 from the entry-level S range. “2019 was a very balanced vintage, which was very good for the Pinot Grigio [Sivi] as it was one of the longest harvests we’ve had. We don’t harvest everything in the same week; we try to wait for the perfect ripeness, on each vine, in each plot. There can be up to 15 days difference from the first to the last day of picking the Pinot Grigio." The bottles from the 2019 vintage will also be the first to bear the DOC Collio - since having left the appellation in 2001 - but now as part of Saša's ongoing plan to build the region's reputation from within the DOC.
We catch up with Saša Radikon from his family-run farm in the hills of Friuli, in a little town called Oslavia on the Italian Slovenian border to find out more...
How would you describe your style of winemaking to someone who hasn’t tasted your wines before?
Put simply, orange wines are white wines made in the same way that you make red wine. Fermentation takes place on the skins so that we can extract all the flavours from the skins. Each plot is fermented separately, and for the S range, the grapes are kept on the skins for approximately eight to ten days, and with the Blue Leaf range, it is two to four months. The aim is to capture as much flavour as possible from a single vineyard. I created the S range in 2009 as an introduction to orange wine. It is the perfect precursor to the Blue Leaf range.
"It's like choosing to eat an apple with or without the skin. We know that it’s usually better to eat the apple with the skin because there’s more flavour."
What can you tell us about your winemaking philosophy?
We always respect nature, and I try to understand the vintage and what's happening at fermentation. I aim to respect the grapes as much as possible and extract as much as we can. The information from the vintage comes from the skins because they are in contact with everything that happens during the year. We try to preserve that information and bring it into the wine so that people who drink the wines at the end can taste it.
“To capture time in a bottle is the ultimate aim."
Your late father, Stanko Radikon, is known as the pioneer of skin contact winemaking. What was it that inspired your father to start making skin contact wines in the early '90s?
Ribolla Gialla was the turning point. The skins impart a lot of flavours, but if you directly press the grape, the resulting wine is quite light and low in alcohol. He really wanted to extract more. Using Merlot as an example, you can make a very good red wine or, with skin contact, you can make a nice rosé. My father never really asked too many questions; he just tried. So he experimented by macerating the Ribolla and really liked what he tasted.
The method of winemaking is old, my grandfather used to make wines this way, but that was when everybody was making skin contact wines. When you think about the evolution of wine - during the ’60s and ’70s, there was a big move towards technology. In the countryside, toilets and bathrooms moved inside, pipework and water arrived in the ’60s, and the significant change was a drive to have everything as hygienic as possible. We think that this translated to winemaking.
People didn’t want to drink wine made in the old way without fining and filtering because they were not considered clean. At the same time, Oenologists arrived in Collio, and were advocating a clean way of making wine (they were also selling products!), so they changed the style of wines. So yes, my father was one of the first to reinvent the old way of making wine based on my grandfather's experience. His ambition was to adapt the old method but with modern technology, and he released his first skin contact wine in 1995.
"There was one other winemaker in the region making wine like this, which dad was always pleased about because it’s the difference between being considered as 'the crazy guy’ or leading a new movement - that’s the difference!"
What can you tell us about the local grape varieties that you work with?
Ribolla Gialla - we really love this variety; we plant it on the very best vineyards in the best aspects. My grandfather's only wish was that we keep working with this variety. It is thick-skinned, distinctive, but delicate in flavour.
Tocai Friulano - makes up part of the blend of Slatnik and makes up 100% of Jakot. The surrounding hills are very steep, and you can plant Tocai anywhere; of course, you will get a different expression, but it is adaptable on all aspects of the vineyard hill. In comparison, you can’t do that with Ribolla Gialla. Tocai Friulano is the most flavoursome of the two. It is a semi-aromatic grape and a relative of Sauvignon Blanc.
Pignolo - is the local red variety that we use in the blend for the RS, a blend of Merlot and the Pignolo. It’s intense and tannic and a highly complex vine to grow that requires more care and attention than others.
What is new at Radikon today?
There are many things in the pipeline, but we're just at the early stages, so I can’t say too much. The big news is in the future; there will be a new Slovenian wine project. I really want to make wine in Slovenia with a small cellar to vinify some grapes. I'm not sure which varietal yet.
“I want to define orange wines within the Collio appellation. The problem was that the DOC didn’t like the colour of our wines, they didn't think that they were 'appropriate', and now I’m trying to change that.”
"If by the time I’m finished, and our region isn’t recognised for excellent quality orange wines, I will be nothing."
If you want to build for the wine region, we need to build together, and the only way to make it together is by going in the DOC and trying to change the rules from the inside.
Similar to my proposal for the Collio Ribolla di Oslavia DOCG together with seven producers in Oslavia. If it's approved, we will jump from IGP to DOCG. The seven-member group is called the Associazione Produttori Ribolla di Oslavia. "An important project dedicated to quality and identity."
I’m building for my son to have something more important in the world. At the moment, we are still a very small village in a small region, probably completely unknown in the biggest parts of the world.
Your wines have great ageing potential; what can you tell us about this and what is happening in the cellar now?
Right now, the 2017 Ribolla is ageing in the cellar, waiting to be released next year!
The ageing potential is possible due to a combination of the Ponca soil, which is composed of marl and sandstone, full of minerals from the marine fossils originating at the bottom of the Adriatic Sea. This minerality helps keep the acidity high, enabling us to age the wine, while the tannins from the skins help preserve the wines for a long time. Ageing in oak barrels is a long process, and we age them until we are sure that they are stable before bottling.
For the Blue Leaf range, we use 1-litre bottles and slimmer corks. Sourced from the best quality cork growers whose trees are planted high on the hills, where there is less humidity and less fungus. The proportion between the cork and the wine in the 1-litre bottles is the same as a magnum. For the S range, they are to be enjoyed fresh and ready to drink. People should enjoy them within a few years - this is why S Line has regular 750ml bottles.
"The number one food pairing for me is sushi. If you’ve never tried, you should!"
What is the one thing that you want people who drink your wines to know?
Enjoy! Taste and drink them with a free mind. Try not to think too much about what a 'white wine' is and what a 'red wine' is. I recommend that you enjoy these wines with food because food and wine are our culture.
What is your ultimate food and wine pairing?
You can pair these wines with a lot of things, but they go really well with Asian food. The number one thing for me that can really save a night is sushi. If you’ve never tried, you should! These kinds of wines go well with raw fish. The Japanese have Sake and green tea - the green tea is tannins, and the Sake is acidity. These wines have both tannin and acidity, which is why they work so well together.
What is your biggest inspiration?
My father. The other big inspiration is nature. The hills around us - you should come one day, and then you’ll understand.
Thanks to Saša for talking us through your orange wine story.