Ronchi di Cialla, a Champion for Native Friulian Grapes
In some ways, Ronchi di Cialla is just like thousands of other wineries across Italy. A small, family run operation, currently being passed down from one generation to the next. In other ways, however, they are superlative, and in still others, totally singular. Ronchi di Cialla, after all, was founded with a purpose beyond making good wine, but with saving a piece of Italian – or more specifically, Friulian – culture, heritage, and ecology.
Ronchi di Cialla was founded in 1970 with the express goal of using only native Italian varieties. More specifically, it was founded with the goal of saving and proliferating the disappearing grapes of the Cialla Valley, in far eastern Friuli. Today, in a world obsessed with localism and heritage produce, this hardly seems like a radical move. But, Friuli in the 1970s was in the swell of a culture of mass produced, internationally styled white wine. The region was producing much of the worlds cheap Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, and this was seen as the avenue towards success among the region’s grape growers. And so, when Paulo and Dina Rapuzzi decided they wanted to found a winery, a business, on the back of grapes that had seen their zenith of popularity during the middle ages, they caused quite a bit of head scratching.
The proof, however, was in the pudding. Before long, Ronchi di Cialla was using grapes such as Refosco, Schioppettino, and Ribolla Gialla to produce some of the most compelling and long lived wines in Italy, and being recognized for it. Other producers began to realise that success was possible outside of feeding the sea of anonymous wine for thoughtless consumption. Now, these indigenous grapes are being planted all over Friuli, and the region has become one of the most ambitious regions in all of Italy for quality winemaking.
It is at the heart of this renaissance, however, in the vineyards and winery of Ronchi di Cialla, where these wines are still being made into their most compelling expressions. This is no doubt in part due to the estates extremely organic and innovative farming practices, employing a more wholistic, ecologically driven system of farming practices. This has been so successful that the estate has actually been recognized by the World Biodiversity Association for the unique species of beetles and shrimp that are found almost nowhere else in the world outside their estate. In the winery they favour a slow and gentle vinification, their top wines spending a year and a half in large old barrels after fermentation, before spending another three years in bottle at the winery before their release.
Ronchi di Cialla made an outstanding Refosco in 2006, with generous yet soft tannins and a balanced acidity that is structurally reminiscent of a great left bank Bordeaux. Aromatically, however, the wine shows a lighter, more herbacious tone that is both compelling and immediately inviting. The wine pungently gives shows off perfectly ripe cherry that is just starting to raisin, unlit cigar, and spring forest. The finish is deep, savory, and lingering. An outstanding wine.