The Story

In the farthest reaches of Northeast Italy, the tiny village of Oslavje sits technically in the Isonzo zone of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, but is so close to the Slovenian border that you can see the Slavic hills on a clear day. Driving along these dusty roads, it’s hard to escape the remnants of war and poverty that have ravaged this area over the last century. Yet a bright light amongst all this is a passionate family of winemakers who have embraced the local grapes and traditional methods of wine making for more than 30 years; and who have brought this area global attention with arguably the finest skin-contact wines in the world.

The vineyards here were originally planted by Stanko Radikon’s grandfather, Franz Mikulus, who grew the local grape Ribolla Gailla to make wine for the family. In 1948, Stanko’s parents, who had inherited the property, planted additional grapes and expanded the production to create wine for sale. In 1976, Stanko Radikon began making wine, and in 1995 he returned to the process of long skin maceration that his grandfather used. He wanted to draw attention to local grapes like Ribolla Gailla, and knew this method would produce the best examples. Radkion wines soon earned international acclaim, and he is often credited for creating the category of skin-contact wines as we know them today.

Stanko’s son Saša grew up helping his father in all aspects of winemaking – from carefully cultivating the local grapes to perfecting the best technique for punching down the heavy musts. He worked side-by-side with his father for over a decade, and when Stanko Radikon died in 2016, Saša took over the estate. Since then he has expanded the domaine – still experimenting at every turn – but maintaining his father’s dedication to high-quality skin-contact wines. Radikon’s annual production is now 65,000 bottles, distributed to more than 20 countries, and Saša is revered around the world as a pioneer and master of skin-contact wines.



"The flavours we can have with skin contact wines are more of the grape, more of nature… more complete."



The Radikon estate is entirely organic in every aspect of production, and all vineyard activities are timed to the lunar phases. On just over 18 hectares, Saša grows local favourites Fruiliano, Ribolla Gailla and Pignolo; as well as Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and Merlot. Saša is slowly returning his focus to native grapes, and replants with them whenever possible.

No matter the grape, the long maceration periods for skin-contact wines lead to intense flavours and abundance of structure and tannins. Which in turn means these wines often age very well. Saša says some can age more than 20 years, whereby the freshness and acidity soften and classic tertiary favours develop. Saša even designed his own bottles to create ideal ageing conditions. Most Radikon wines come in a unique 100ml bottle with a slimmer 15mm cork – which creates the same proportion between cork and wine as in a magnum. And it also gives thirsty wine-lovers an extra 25ml to enjoy.



"The tannins are part of the flavours, the taste of grapes. If we press wine without tannins we lose part of the life of the grape – the sun, the rain. It is important to have all these things together."



In 2009, Saša created the eponymous “S” range as sort of introduction to skin-contact wines. For these cuvées, the grapes are kept on the skins for approximately 8-10 days (as opposed to up to four months for his other wines), so the intensity of flavours and tannins is lower and the wines are overall more approachable. They are released ready to drink and meant to be enjoyed within a few years, thus use traditional 750ml bottles.

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The People


Even as a young boy, Saša dreamed of one day making his own wines. When he finished his oenological studies, he returned to the family domaine and began his own series of experiments, testing reduced maceration periods and different vinification methods. Many of the resulting wines were added to the domaine’s range, and this spirit of experimentation continues today as he explores additional grapes, alternate blends and varying vessels.

Saša shares his great-grandfather’s fondness for Ribolla Gialla, which was once considered one of Italy’s greatest white grapes, and was a staple on the dining tables of Venetian nobles in the 13th century. The logo of the domaine is in fact a Ribolla leaf, and Saša has become the grape’s loudest global cheerleader. His intense, complex Ribollas are the benchmark for what is possible from this grape.

“Its not white, it’s not red. It’s something in the middle.”

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Family Affair

At the Radikon winery, the flurry of human activity makes a stark contrast to the casks of grape skins quietly soaking as if on a long spa holiday. In the cellar there are always a range of wines macerating, ageing or settling, and Saša or one of his team is constantly monitoring their progress. Skin-contact wines need extra attention, and Radikon employs seven people year-round, adding another three to four seasonal workers as needed. The domaine’s range of grapes reach optimal ripeness at varying times, so a team of 20 or so is brought in for a grueling six to eight weeks of harvest each year.

But overall, Radikon remains a true family affair. Lucia, Saša’s wife, welcomed us warmly at the domaine, and oversees all visits and much of the logistics and shipping. His sister Ivana plays a key role in the winemaking and also travels to promote the wines. Even Saša’s mother is still an active presence at the winery. They all work to preserve the pioneering spirit of Stanko.

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Passionate Pairing

Saša enjoys life to its fullest, which includes a love of great food as well as wine. He is passionate about pairing his wines, whether with local ingredients or international dishes like curries and sushi. Saša says stronger foods are needed to balance the acidity and tannins of these wines, and with dishes like raw fish, “…the wine clears the fat of the fish.” Another staple is charcuterie. On our recent visit he expertly shaved slices of meat from a cured pork leg – a fixture on countertops in the region. It was served alongside some strong local cheeses, and we must say the two paired magically with our entire tasting.

Saša has honoured his father’s legacy, but has also forged his own path, becoming an inspiration for generations of winemakers both locally and worldwide. And he has earned the domaine a reputation as one of the foremost producers of skin-contact wines.

"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."

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Oslavje, Friuli, Italy

Even though Oslavje is in Italy, the Slavic influence is felt throughout. While walking through the vines a mix of English, Italian and Slovenian can be heard, and most road signs are trilingual as well. Some of the Radikon parcels are so close to the Slovenian border that previous vineyard workers assert they were watched by border guards during the war. The area is covered by a patchwork of agricultural products, dotted with a few houses and small businesses. It all has a sleepy feel, but the buzz around the handful of well-known wineries in the area definitely adds a bit of energy. The Radikon family continues to draw interpretation from both countries' cultures, cuisines and winemaking traditions.

In the vineyards, Saša intentionally keeps yields very low, aiming for four to five clusters per vine. Because there is so much rain in the area, this low ratio is necessary to ensure concentrated grapes. In most parcels, the vines produce less than one kilo of grapes per vine. Saša practices green harvesting, removing leaves so grapes don’t touch, avoiding mildew and similar problems. He also takes the leaves off after flowering to encourage air flow. Most of the vines are trained on a high guyot system, with grapes at the bottom and a protective cover of leaves on top.

In skin-contact wines, the actual grape skins play a crucial role because, unlike the flesh inside, the skins reflect their contact with the sun, rain and air. So for each vintage, Saša carefully records the weather throughout the year and notes the resulting effects on the skins.



"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."



The soils here are ponca, which has the appearance of a rock, but is actually compressed clay. Most of the vines are on steep slopes which are terraced to avoid landslides from heavy rains. The clay soils are shallow and hold too much water, so the terraces help direct water out and away rather than down. The rows are spaced apart so each vine will benefit from sun exposure no matter what time of day, aspect or angle of the parcel. Occasionally cover crops are needed, but most of the vineyards are wild, and cut three or four times a year. Saša uses the clippings to help make his own compost.



"In our wines you can really find the terroir. The acidity, the minerality… it is there."



On the use of sulphur, Saša says he prefers not to use it, but will if he needs to.

“This (avoiding Sulphur) is not religion. If the wine has problems, I will think about what I can do to solve it. But if we don’t have problems, it doesn’t make sense to me to add it” he says. Even in his grandfather’s time sulphur was avoided, but simply because it was expensive, and they soon discovered it was unnecessary, as the added tannins from the maceration were a natural preservative – creating natural protection against spoilage.

Radikon’s vast subterranean cellar is a practical as it is striking. It maintains naturally a temperature of 10°C in winter and 16-18°C during the ferment period over the summer. The back wall of cellar is pure ponca, which ensures the humidity in the cellar is stable, with very little variation. Yet Saša insists some change in conditions is important, "The wine must feel the seasons change outside. If not, it will not age. Just like us, it must evolve and change with the seasons."

The cellar includes a plethora of different barrels – from 6 to 40HL. “We have to have different sizes because the wines need different things,” he says. But, contrary to the belief that all skin-contact wines use amphorae, Saša uses only wood. He says wood is ideal because it, “…respects the wine but doesn’t change it.” He also employs long ageing periods to round and soften the wines.

The domaine has opened a lovely tasting room with a view overlooking the valley and a small guest house to host visitors. Saša would like to expand his plantings, but says it is difficult to find new parcels, as the good sites are already taken or sadly not for sale. He has recently planted some vines in Slovenia, though he remains tight-lipped on what he has planned for those grapes. We can’t wait to see – and taste – what he creates next.

In the meantime, we are pleased to offer an extensive collection of Radikon’s back vintages, covering the 12 years of our collaboration with Saša and his extraordinary wines.


“To capture time in a bottle is the ultimate aim.”



Words by Allison Burton-Parker

Photography by Matt Hickman