Joško Gravner, often hailed as the father of the macerated white wine trend, had an unexpected journey in winemaking. Initially a star in the realm of modern, technologically driven winemaking, Gravner was known for his enthusiasm for the latest equipment and techniques. Yet, a transformative 1987 trip to California, a hotspot for innovative winemaking, sparked a radical shift in his approach. This was a region still basking in the glory of its triumph at the 1976 Judgment of Paris, which had reshaped the global wine landscape. Gravner, once treading a similar path of oak ageing, science, and additives, found himself disillusioned after a marathon tasting of 1,000 wines in just ten days, dismayed by their uniformity and lack of character.
Embarking on a nearly decade-long quest for authenticity, Gravner immersed himself in the study of winemaking history. He discovered a connection to his roots in Collio/Brda, where his ancestors produced skin-contact wines. His research also led him to Georgia, renowned for its 8,000-year history of winemaking, including the traditional use of skin-contact methods.
Armed with this knowledge, Gravner dedicated himself to crafting his first extensively macerated Ribolla. The 1997 vintage, however, took three long years to mature. When released, it faced a chilly reception; the radical departure in style was too much for many. Most notably, Gambero Rosso, a prestigious wine magazine, issued a scathing critique. The fallout was severe, with 80% of the vintage returned. This blow, though painful, only strengthened Gravner's conviction in his new direction.
The year 2000 marked another significant milestone for Gravner. He ventured to Georgia and ordered 11 qvevri, large 1000L ceramic vessels. However, the transportation challenge was underestimated, and only two of the qvevri survived the journey to Italy. This meant another year's delay before he could fully implement his vision. Today, Gravner's winery boasts over 45 qvevri, a testament to his commitment.
Intriguingly, the labels of Gravner's Ribolla and Breg in the 2001 vintage bore the word 'Anfora', indicating a partial use of qvevri. It wasn't until 2003 that these wines were completely fermented in qvevri. Recognizing the full transition, 'Anfora' was removed from labels in 2007, as all wines were now qvevri-fermented.
Now, Joško Gravner's wines stand as a high watermark of craftsmanship in the wine world, with his Ribolla often acclaimed as the best orange wine globally. This journey from a tech-forward approach to embracing ancient winemaking traditions not only changed Gravner's wines but also made a lasting impact on the industry.