Andrea Felluga on the wines of Friuli, changing weather and sustainability

Here's an interview with Andrea Felluga, a leading winemaker in north east Italy for his family business Livio Felluga. We talked about the wines they make at Livio Felluga, the weather, the 2017 harvest, what sustainable wine actually means, climate change and adaptation (old vines adapt much better to volatile weather, he says) and his views on sustainability more generally.

As so often when I visit winemakers, he was passionate, hospitable, welcoming and open to discussions. After the interview one of his team took me up to the Abbey nearby where the grapes are grown for their Abbazia di Rosazzo cuvee. Some photos are below. 

Before we turned on the tape Andrea gave me a full tasting of his white wines, which was effectively a one-on-one masterclass on tasting white wines.

As any casual reader of this blog will know, I'm a red wine guy, so this was a real eye-opener for me. He gave me tips and techniques on tasting whites, what to look for, and offered a fascinating insight into the interventions he uses throughout the process in making his whites. Andrea also half-jokingly told me that making red wine is easy by comparison to making complex whites.

There are two areas for white wine that I hold above all others. One, unsurprisingly is Burgundy. The second is Friuli. I thought this was because I love the Friulano grape so much (the body, texture, viscosity, and restraint) but when I asked Andrea which is his favourite, he spent some time explaining to me through tasting, why he feels his Pinot Grigio is his best wine. My personal favourite is the Abbazia di Rosazzo in which Andrea blends Friulano, Pinot Bianco, Sauvignon Blanc, Malvasia and Ribolla Gialla for rich, deep, complex results.

In the interview we discussed the 2017 harvest, which was going well when I visited in late August 2017. 2017 was a hot year, but the rains came at the right time. Friuli generally has good wine weather, as you'd expect. "From a winemaker point of view, understanding the profile of the grapes, when to pick the grapes...each vintage is different...in the end it's up to the winemaker". Since the late 1990's they've seen the weather change, "The trend is more energy in the atmosphere, more extreme weather, hotter, wetter and lots more intense weather conditions".

I asked him how they measure these changes, "It's the feeling we have, and what we get in the wines". 1993 was when they first noticed the weather changes really affecting the vintage, and considered it an exceptional year. Only later they realised volatile conditions are the new normal for Friuli.

I asked how they can adapt to climate change given this volatility. "In the long term the vineyards we plant now...we adopt more vigorous and stronger rootstocks for the vineyards that can withstand this kind of extreme weather better. The age of the vines is very important. An old vine has its own strategy of facing the environment. If it's too hot, an old vine can adapt to that stress in a better way than a young one."

Location helps, the vineyards are so far meeting the challenge, he says.

In Friuli they grow many different grape varieties, some native, some imported from around Europe. The most famous of which is Malvasia. At Felluga they produce single varietal Friulano, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc. These are "not native to Friuli but now traditional to Friuli" Andrea says. The blends they produce also include Malvasia and Ribolla Gialla, their local grapes alongside Friulano.

I also asked Andrea for his views on what sustainability actually is for a winemaker in Friuli. "I don't have the recipe, there is not one path to sustainability...which means a lot, and nothing at the same time."

"It's important that every winemaker...should approach it in the way they can afford"

"Viticulture can be a champion, at the cutting edge of sustainability, because, generally speaking, we have the profits that allow us to think of it. In other agricultural products the margin of profit is so small that they cannot afford a more expensive way of producing. In winemaking we could".

I ask about chemical use in vineyards, which is usually a sensitive subject with winemakers. He points out that copper is a heavy metal, despite being used in organic approaches. He responds that: "I don't think that's the right answer". It might be that some chemicals are not worse than copper, he suggests. At Livio Felluga they are working on "micro use of copper" for the last seven years, being more scientific and targeted. (It's a complex area, for a little more detail do listen to the interview below).

I ask him about biodynamics. "Weather is becoming more extreme.. rain here is not regular through spring and summer, and so it's difficult to do the biodynamic approach".

I challenge him on this, saying that in Champagne and Burgundy they are taking biodynamic approaches, and he counters that in Friuli the rainfall is around double that of Burgundy. We leave it there, and move on to talk about natural wines and his views on that. "Natural wine doesn't exist" he argues, "wine is always the result of nature interacting with humans. Natural would be to leave the grapes on the vine".

For the full audio interview go here, or look below.

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