David McDuff at I Clivi

Reporting from Friuli on one of our favorite producers


A group of fearless bloggers is now in Friuli, Italy, and reporting daily on their adventures. All of their blog posts can be found at http://cof2011.com/ as well as on each individual's blog. We are thrilled to be able to bring their reporting to you and encourage you to visit their blogs daily for exciting Friulian updates from Jeremy Parzen, David McDuff, Samantha Dugan, Wayne Young, Alfonso Cevola, and Nicolas Contenta.

What follows was originally posted by David McDuff on 2/11/11 on his blog http://mcduffwine.blogspot.com/
Photo by David McDuff

At the top of a hill in Corno di Rosazzo, just steps across the border from the Collio into the Colli Orientali del Friuli zone, lies the estate known as I Clivi (“the slopes,” in ancient Italian). I Clivi occupies one of the more privileged sites in the COF zone, with vines rooted in a soil base rich in calcareous marl, known locally as ponca (or flysch), an ideal environment for traditional Friulano varieties and a terroir that lends an intensely mineral signature and compact, focused acid structure to the wines grown on the property.

Arriving at sunset on Tuesday, we were greeted on the front terrace of the winery by Mario Zanusso, the current winegrower at I Clivi. Mario is a handsome guy, at once quiet, intense and somewhat reserved -- not at all unlike the wines we would taste with him a short while later. Walking and talking with him, I got the sense that he’d be just as much at home taking in a Ramones gig at CBGB (if only we had a time machine) as he seemed in the hills of Rosazzo.

The vineyards at I Clivi, as are much of the high quality sites throughout Colli Orientali del Friuli, are laid out on terraces cut into the hillsides. The slopes here, though not exactly gentle, are not insanely steep, at least not when compared to more precipitous viticultural areas such as the Mosel or Northern Rhône. While I’m sure that, for some producers, ease of mechanization plays into the maintenance of the terraces, Mario explained that their genesis sprang from a more primal need, as the friable nature of the ponca-rich soils make the landscape highly prone to erosion. The terraces, at a very practical level, help to keep the vineyards in place in a landscape where heavy rainfall might otherwise, over time, lay bare the roots of the vines.

I was so intent on capturing the beautiful view of the sunset (something for which my camera is not particularly well suited) that I totally neglected to snap a few shots of the old vines on the steeper, terraced vineyards at I Clivi.

The Zanusso family owns a total of twelve hectares of vineyards, eight of them directly surrounding the winery and falling in the Colli Orientali del Friuli zone, and another four situated in the Collio, just over the next line of hills, immediately adjacent to the border between the COF and Collio DOC areas. Farming at the estate is certified organic and nearly all of the wines are estate bottled, though Mario’s keenness for Ribolla Gialla has led him to purchase some fruit from growers in nearby Goriška Brda (Slovenia) while waiting for his own young vines of Ribolla to come of age.

In both the vineyards and the cellar, I think that the approach at I Clivi can best be described as rational. Respect for nature is maintained, farming is certified organic, but no particular doctrine or credo is followed. In Mario’s own words, “The first thing is that the wine is good. We don’t need to obey some [set of] rules.” Some of his wines are fermented on their native yeasts, others not, depending on the needs and characteristics of the vintage and each cuvée. Mario uses a light hand with sulfur, adding a bit at crush when the fruit is most susceptible to oxidation, most of which is consumed during fermentation, then adding just a dash at bottling for the sake of stability.

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