By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 28 November 2020
Bees, alfalfa and Fukuoka are Italian winemaker Lorenzo Mocchiutti’s favourite subjects. He calls the bees his ‘best workers’, the alfalfa grass is his ‘natural fertiliser’ and the Japanese farmer Masanobu Fukuoka’s holistic farming ideas are his ‘inspiration’.
Mocchiutti runs the iconic Vignai da Duline estate together with his wife Federica Magrini in the beautiful north-eastern corner of Italy in the Colli Orientali subzone of Friuli Venezia Giulia. Their vineyards are just 5km from the border, with stunning views across to the Slovenian Alps.
“In the 1990s Lorenzo inherited a few neglected hectares from his grandfather, with old vines dating back to 1920s in Ronco Pitotti, one of Friuli’s oldest hillside vineyards”, says Magrini. “Before this we were both great lovers of nature and organic ideals; we saw this as a great opportunity to do something different for our world”.
Today this hardworking enterprising couple have established the family estate back to its original 10 hectares, using their unique combination of biodynamic and holistic viticulture. “We see ourselves as protecting the landscape for future generations, not just for ourselves”, says Magrini.
Their region Friuli was devastated during the World Wars, but was the first quality white wine region in Italy to establish itself and is now a mecca of small artisan natural winemakers. Duline are very much part of this, but what sets them apart are their unusual philosophies, their immense respect for the land, love of nature and the stunning consistent quality of their wines.
“We had always followed organic and biodynamic methods, but we were inspired by Fukuoka’s ideas through his book The One-Straw Revolution”, says Mochiutti. “Fukuoka’s farming techniques are a radical challenge to global systems, requiring no chemicals, no tilling, no ploughing and little weeding”.
They adapted Fukuoka’s ‘do-nothing’ natural farming ideas to vineyards with astonishing success. Mocchiutti created his own machine to work with low impact between the vines, just moving the organic surface rather than changing the layers of soil. He named it ‘Masanobu’ after his Japanese inspiration.
When they began in 1997 they planted 2000 trees around their vineyards to encourage biodiversity and protect them from neighbours’ sprays. Alfalfa (erba medica) they call their ‘green cow’, with its deep roots aerating the soil, fixing nitrogen and acting as a natural fertiliser.
“Observation is very important to us and we feel that vines should be allowed to develop their own balance with no leaf-thinning or green harvesting”, says Mocchiutti. This is contrary to what many other vine growers believe, that trimming of excess leaves or fruit concentrates the vine’s efforts.
Duline reiterates their philosophy with a fun line drawing of bearded long-tailed Mocchiutti on their Malvasia Istriana label with the words: Chioma Integrale (meaning complete foliage): ‘No Trimming the Shoots’ and ‘No Herbicides’.
All grapes are hand-harvested, with two grape sortings and selections. Ferment is natural, whites fermented in old oak with natural ferment - with no fining or filtration and only a touch of sulphur. When you ask them about winemaking, they say it is ‘just simple’; all the work is done in the vineyard and the cellar is just a time to transform this work.
The couple’s unusual viticultural methods, the age-worthiness and purity of their wines has attracted attention from unlikely quarters. Highly respected Burgundian vigneron Jean-Marc Roulot of Domaine Roulot, one of Meursault’s top estates, is a huge fan of Duline’s wines. He sent his entire team from Burgundy to the Friuli estate to learn about Duline’s wines and viticulture.
Mocchiutti and Magrini at Duline focus on local indigenous white and red grapes. Friulano and Malvasia Istriana whites and Schioppettino and Refosco reds are grown on limestone and red clay flatter vineyards. In the small amphitheatre of hillside terraced vineyards with its marl-sandstone and limestone flysch soils in Ronco Pitotti, they grow Pinot Gris at the higher altitude - with Friulano, Refosco and international grapes Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Pinot Noir below.
What is so distinctive about Duline’s wines is their ability to age – all wines tasted were from the excellent 2015 vintage. Still remarkably fresh and vibrant considering their 5 year maturity with such consistency, richness and purity of flavours – superb wines.
The combination of old vines and dedicated natural viticultural methods makes Duline one of Italy’s most distinctive and stylish revitalised estates, offering wines with a real sense of place.
MALVASIA ISTRIANA CHIOMA INTEGRALE 2015 £25.99 ***STAR BUY***
Originally from nearby Istria in northwest Croatia, this Malvasia offers a fresher crisper style of the variety. Light floral and green apple notes, rich honeyed flavours, creamy texture with crisp dry finish – superb to drink on its own, but a good match with rich textured seafood like mussels, lobster or scallops: 12.5%.
LA DULINE FRIULANO 2015 £25.99
Originally known as Tocai Friulano, Duline’s Friulano vines date back to 1920 and 1936 – made from two clones: Tocai Giallo and Tocai Verde. A characterful wine with intense pear aromas, apple, light honey notes, spicy, nutty flavours to finish: 12.5%
RONCO PITOTTI PINOT GRIGIO 2015 £23.99 ***STAR BUY***
Definitely the best Pinot Grigio I have tasted; a superb example from 1940 and 1958 vines from the warm amphitheatre of Ronco Pitotti vineyard. Astonishing complexity for this grape with rich pear, apple notes, rich ripe opulent pump palate with creamy texture, spicy undertones with a hint of salinity to finish. Pinot Grigio re-born! 12.5%
LA DULINE SCHIOPPETTINO 2015 £26.99
Perfumed dark-skinned Friulian red grape was first documented as Ribolla Nera in 1877. It nearly died out, but was rescued by growers in 1970s - today there are only 100 hectares in Italy. The name derives from ‘scioppiettio’ meaning crackle. Red fruit, spice, soft supple silky mouthfeel, peppery undertones, earthy with finesse, refinement and a lightness of touch: 12.5%
[All wines available from Raeburn Wines www.raeburnfinewines.com]
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