Vodopivec

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We made the acquaintance of Paolo Vodopivec through none other than our mutual friend Giampiero Bea, who met us at dinner in Foligno with a bottle of Paolo’s Vitovska “Solo” in tow and urged us to pay him a visit. Giampiero is a difficult man to say “no” to, sure—but the wine was indeed utterly spellbinding. Even after a particularly long and strenuous day of visiting and driving, in a garishly lit restaurant, we were captivated by the meditative beauty of the Vodopivec, and so Giampiero arranged a visit for us for the penultimate day of our trip.

In person, Vodopivec exudes physical robustness and strength, but he simultaneously possesses a thoughtful and quiet intensity that mirrors the personality of his wines almost eerily—a certain gravitas and solidity that echo the terroir of the Carso itself, in fact. He is friendly without being at all ingratiating, and he speaks clearly and precisely, without a great deal of flourish. Like Zidarich, Paolo brims with an intelligence and thoughtfulness that becomes apparent even after only a few minutes of meeting him.

In comparison with the range of wines produced at Zidarich, Vodopivec works solely with Vitovska in his six hectares of vineyards. Having experimented with other varieties in the past, Paolo believes that Vitovska is the true voice of the Carso, and—in an almost monastic dedication of purpose—he has made it his life’s mission to channel the spirit of the Carso through the vehicle of its local variety. He also works entirely organically, and—although it is a historic practice—he rejects the transportation of topsoil, working only with vineyards that have a naturally occurring layer of soil, no matter how thin or poor. Furthermore, he employs incredibly dense plantings (10,000 plants per hectare), and never irrigates his soil. In comparison to Zidarich’s higher-altitude vineyards in full view of the Adriatic Sea, Vodopivec’s holdings are tucked away slightly further inland, flanking the quaint, rugged backroads, and melding gently into the stark pastoral beauty of the area.

Paolo works with an incredibly labor-intensive, fully manual basket press in the cellar, and—like Zidarich—employs extended skin contact during fermentation, which always happens naturally. An early disciple of Gravner, Vodopivec’s wines used to be more marked by tannin, deeper in color, and more ruggedly structured. Today, however, his wines are far more transparent, ethereal, and harmonious, with the tannins playing a background role in the service of greater textural profundity. Like Zidarich, Vodopivec employs large Slavonian casks for aging—but, importantly, Paolo is a steadfast devotee of the buried Georgian amphora as a fermentation vessel. With the exception of the “Origine,” all of his wines spend at least twelve months in these massive subterranean amphorae. Paolo rejects stainless steel entirely (there is none in his cellar), and feels that oak causes too quick and violent of a fermentation. Never one to rush, he gives the wines three years of barrel aging, plus another full year in bottle, before releasing them into the market.

There is a certain dark, almost gothic solemnity that permeates the air of an amphora cellar. Sure, quite a few growers in regions far and wide are now experimenting with these vessels, and we’ve seen above-ground amphorae tucked away in the corners of some unlikely places in our recent travels. But it is an entirely different experience to enter the cellar of a grower like Vodopivec (or like Gravner, for that matter)—someone who has fully embraced this ancient method and built their entire operation around it. Seeing the stark, circular lids at ground level, sometimes closed, sometimes open, surrounded by stones and dirt, one cannot help but think of death—of eternity. If a Burgundy cellar is like a hatchery, full of little eggs in rows waiting to come into their own, an amphora cellar is like a burial ground, quiet and beautiful and contemplative.

And indeed this feeling of solemnity and eternal beauty is echoed in Vodopivec’s wines themselves. Even more so than with Zidarich, these wines defy flowery descriptors and name-that-scent adjective-flinging—in fact, they possess such a force of spiritual potency as to seemingly mock the very idea of a traditional tasting note. They are profoundly mineral as befits the terroir of the Carso, yes, but these are primarily wines of texture—wines that go far, far beyond our linguistic capabilities and speak to us in the realm of the purely aesthetic. While they are undeniably beautiful, even gentle in their carriage, they are not exactly easy. They demand a level of attentiveness, receptivity, and concentration from the taster, and they make no obvious appeals to pure deliciousness. In the end, they must be experienced to be understood, and we trust that those among you who seek the most resonant and profound experiences of terroir out there will join us on this journey.

Toward the end of our tasting with Vodopivec, in the dim light of the cellar, Neal turned to us, his eyes glowing: “This is why I can’t stop… This is what keeps me going in this business.” We couldn’t agree more.

“Origine”: The one wine in Paolo’s cellar that doesn’t spend time in amphorae, “Origine” is fermented in open-top wooden casks, and spends three years in large Slavonian botti before bottling. What it perhaps lacks in textural je ne sais quoi compared to its terra-cotta-aged brethren it makes up for in a stricter, more vividly limestone-driven mineral character—almost a Chablis-like saltiness and snap. There is an arresting purity here, reminiscent of pure mountain water, and the very long finish recedes slowly and elegantly, framed by a note of dried honey and a persistent whisper of chalk.
Vitovska: Fermented in amphorae and aged two and a half years in botti, Vodopivec’s Vitovska exemplifies the murmuring, layered beauty of his style. Subtle, deeply stony, and caressing on the palate, it whispers to the taster and invites contemplation as it unfolds slowly and gracefully across the palate. It seems to occupy its own aesthetic space, a pure exploration of cool-toned texture, Rothko-like in its single-minded yet comfortingly enveloping character.
Vitovska “T”: An exploration of the full capabilities of the amphora as an aging vessel, Vodopivec’s “T” is pure Vitovska that is both fermented and aged in amphorae—in this case, of slightly smaller size than his other wines. He includes a portion of stems during the fermentation, and aging takes place for two and a half years, on the lees for the entire time. Compared to the Vitovska, “T” has an immediately more intense and expressive nose, yet still with a remarkably reflective and introspective core. Subtle notes of spice, mustard seed, and dried herbs frame the palate, which displays greater concentration, power, and vibrancy than the two wines above.
“Solo”: Paolo produces “Solo” from what he considers his greatest vineyard, a 1.3-hectare parcel of pure limestone. Aged like the basic Vitovska —fermented in amphorae and aged in large Slavonian botti—its nose is gorgeous and spellbinding, striking in its purity and unadulterated mineral essence, subtler than the “T” yet more intense and layered than the basic Vitovska. It comes across as almost weightless on the palate, an offering of pure texture and pure stone divorced from the burden of viscosity or alcohol. The finish is saline and incredibly long, fading from perception as slowly and as focused as light receding at the rear end of a tunnel.
Download the Vodopivec Tech Sheet
Domaine NameVodopivec
Family/Owners NameVodopivec Paolo
How many years has the family owned the domaine?Several generations
How many generations?The first information referring to the Vodopivec last name (and therefore to our family) dates back to 1632.
How many hectares of vines are leased?6.0 hectares
How many hectares of vines are owned?0.0 hectares
Are your vineyards or wines Organic or Biodynamic Certified? If yes, in the EU? In the US? If no, are you in the process of becoming certified? Our company is not bio or biodynamic certified, but it has always used the techniques of natural winegrowing with very limited pest and disease control intervention. We fully support the main rule of the consortium we are members of, namely “CONSORZIO VINI VERI”.
Do you do field work and harvest manually? By machine? By horse?Grapes are only harvested by hand.
Do you practice green harvest? Leaf thinning? There is no green harvesting, since we cultivate head-trained bush vines. and the production per plant is very low. Limited defoliation.
How do you fertilize?As stated above, we only use mature manure from local stables that raise animals with local, Carsic fodder without using antibiotics and artificial supplements
Do you sell off any of your wine en vrac/allo sfuso?We do not purchase grapes. The grapes that we use for winemaking are only from the vineyards that we own and manage personally.
VINO #1ORIGINE 2012
GENERAL INFORMATION
AppellationOrigine 2012
Cepage/Uvaggio100% Vitovska
% Alcohol by volume0.125
# of bottles produced3800
Grams of Residual SugarZero
VINEYARD AND GROWING INFORMATION
Vineyard/ name(s) and locationsThe vineyards are located in the town of Colludrozza.
Exposures and slope of vineyardsSouth –Southwest The land is level
Soil Types(s)On the surface there is clay, below the surface there is limestone.
Average vine age (per vineyard)20 years
Average Vine Density (vines/HA)10500
Approximate harvest date(s)September 22 – 23. This year, winter in the Carso area was harsh. From the end of January through mid-February the local wind ("bora") blew violently with gusts of more than 100 miles per hour for two weeks, with cold temperatures. That caused a lot of damage to the plants. The growing season was characterized by a normal Spring and a warm (within the norm), dry and very windy Summer. I usually do not express an opinion on the vintages, because I view them as the expression of various factors influenced by the weather and the way we manage the vineyard.
WINEMAKING/CELLAR INFORMATION
whole cluster, % destemmed, %100% destalked
Fermentation: vessel type and sizeConic, 30-hectoliter Slavonian oak barrels. A month and a half
Duration of contact with leesSix months, Fifteen days
Select or indigenous yeast?Only local yeasts
Please describe wine making process for EACH wine such as: pump-overs, punch-downs, racking, movement/transfer of wine done by gravity or pumping?), battonnage, malolactic fermentation allowed, chaptalizationGrapes are destalked and put in conic barrels for fermentation, with punching down four times daily, without monitoring the temperature. A traditional press is used for the pressing phase. A pump is used for racking. No batonnage. Malolactic fermentation occurs naturally at the end of the fermentation, without adding lactic acid bacteria. No sugar added.
Elevage: vessel type(s) and size(s)Wine is aged in the cellar for almost three years in 30-hectoliter Slavonian oak barrels.
Duration of elevageAlmost three years
Duration of bottle ageing before release to US marketOne year
Do you practice fining and filtration? If yes, please describeNo. Our company is against any type of filtration.
Do you add sulfur? If so when and how much? How much sulfur remains in the wine at release?Sulphites are added before bottling. Generally, their content is 30-35 milligrams per liter.
VINO #2VITOVSKA 2012
GENERAL INFORMATION
AppellationVitovska 2012
Cepage/Uvaggio100% Vitovska
% Alcohol by volume0.125
# of bottles produced7000
Grams of Residual SugarZero
VINEYARD AND GROWING INFORMATION
Vineyard/ name(s) and locationsThe vineyards are located in the town of Colludrozza
Exposures and slope of vineyardsSouth– Southwest. The land is level
Soil Types(s)On the surface there is clay, below the surface there is limestone.
Average vine age (per vineyard)20 years
Average Vine Density (vines/HA)10500
Approximate harvest date(s)September 22 – 23. This year, winter in the Carso area was harsh. From the end of January through mid-February the local wind ("bora") blew violently with gusts of more than 100 miles per hour for two weeks, with cold temperatures. That caused a lot of damage to the plants. The growing season was characterized by a normal Spring and a warm (within the norm), dry and very windy Summer. I usually do not express an opinion on the vintages, because I view them as the expression of various factors influenced by the weather and the way we manage the vineyard.
WINEMAKING/CELLAR INFORMATION
whole cluster, % destemmed, %100% destalked
Fermentation: vessel type and size Fermentation in Georgian earthenware amphorae with a capacity between 14 and 25 hectoliters.
Duration of contact with leesA month and a half.
Select or indigenous yeast?Only local yeasts
Please describe wine making process for EACH wine such as: pump-overs, punch-downs, racking, movement/transfer of wine done by gravity or pumping?), battonnage, malolactic fermentation allowed, chaptalization malolactic fermentation allowed, chaptalizationDestalked grapes are put into Georgian amphorae for fermentation. Punching down four times daily, without a controlled temperature. A traditional press is used for pressing. A pump is used for racking. No batonnage. Malolactic fermentation occurs naturally at the end of the fermentation, without adding lactic acid bacteria. No sugar added.
Elevage: vessel type(s) and size(s)Wine is aged for six more months in the Georgian amphorae and then for two years in 30-hectoliter Slavonian oak barrels.
Duration of elevageTwo and a half years
Duration of bottle ageing before release to US marketOne year
Do you practice fining and filtration? If yes, please describeNo. Our company is against any type of filtration.
Do you add sulfur? If so when and how much? How much sulfur remains in the wine at release?Sulphites are added before bottling. Generally, their content is 30-35 milligrams per liter.
VINO #3VITOVSKA T 2012
GENERAL INFORMATION
AppellationVitovska T 2012
Cepage/Uvaggio100% Vitovska
% Alcohol by volume0.125
# of bottles produced2300
Grams of Residual SugarZero
VINEYARD AND GROWING INFORMATION
Vineyard/ name(s) and locationsVineyards located in the town of Colludrozza
Exposures and slope of vineyardsSouth – Southwest. The land is level
Soil Types(s)On the surface there is clay, below the surface there is limestone.
Average vine age (per vineyard)20 years
Average Vine Density (vines/HA)10500
Approximate harvest date(s)September 22 – 23. This year, winter in the Carso area was harsh. From the end of January through mid-February the local wind ("bora") blew violently with gusts of more than 100 miles per hour for two weeks, with cold temperatures. That caused a lot of damage to the plants. The growing season was characterized by a normal Spring and a warm (within the norm), dry and very windy Summer. I usually do not express an opinion on the vintages, because I view them as the expression of various factors influenced by the weather and the way we manage the vineyard.
WINEMAKING/CELLAR INFORMATION
whole cluster, % destemmed, %100% destalked
Fermentation: vessel type and size In Georgian earthenware amphorae
Duration of fermentationA month and a half
Durata del contatto con i lievitiThree years
Duration of contact with leesOne amphora one day and one amphora six months.
Select or indigenous yeast?Only local yeasts
Please describe wine making process for EACH wine such as: pump-overs, punch-downs, racking, movement/transfer of wine done by gravity or pumping?), battonnage, malolactic fermentation allowed, chaptalizationIn one amphora the maceration took place in one day, in the other amphora it was six months. After pressing, the wine was put into small amphorae for ageing on the yeasts for two and a half years. A pump is used for racking. No batonnage. Malolactic fermentation occurs naturally at the end of the fermentation, without adding lactic acid bacteria. No sugar added.
Elevage: vessel type(s) and size(s)Wine is aged in the cellar for two and a half years in the small Georgian earthenware amphorae.
Duration of elevageTwo and a half years
Duration of bottle ageing before release to US marketOne year
Do you practice fining and filtration? If yes, please describeNo. Our company is against any type of filtration.
Do you add sulfur? If so when and how much? How much sulfur remains in the wine at release?Sulphites are added before bottling. Generally, their content is 30-35 milligrams per liter.
VINO #4SOLO MM12
GENERAL INFORMATION
AppellationSolo MM12
Cepage/Uvaggio100% Vitovska
% Alcohol by volume0.125
# of bottles produced3.8
Grams of Residual SugarZero
VINEYARD AND GROWING INFORMATION
Vineyard/ name(s) and locationsOne single enclosed vineyard, called Ruje, located in the town of Colludrozza.
Exposures and slope of vineyardsSouth –Southwest. The land is level
Soil Types(s)Some clay on the surface, below the surface there is limestone. It is a very rocky vineyard.
Average vine age (per vineyard)20 years
Average Vine Density (vines/HA)10500
Approximate harvest date(s)September 22 – 23. This year, winter in the Carso area was harsh. From the end of January through mid-February the local wind ("bora") blew violently with gusts of more than 100 miles per hour for two weeks, with cold temperatures. That caused a lot of damage to the plants. The growing season was characterized by a normal Spring and a warm (within the norm), dry and very windy Summer. I usually do not express an opinion on the vintages, because I view them as the expression of various factors influenced by the weather and the way we manage the vineyard.
WINEMAKING/CELLAR INFORMATION
whole cluster, % destemmed, %100% destalked
Fermentation: vessel type and size Fermentation in Georgian earthenware amphorae with a capacity between 14 and 25 hectoliters.
Duration of fermentationA month and a half
Duration of contact with leesSix months
Select or indigenous yeast?Only local yeasts
Please describe wine making process for EACH wine such as: pump-overs, punch-downs, racking, movement/transfer of wine done by gravity or pumping?), battonnage, malolactic fermentation allowed, chaptalizationDestalked grapes are put into Georgian amphorae for fermentation. Punching down four times daily, without a controlled temperature. A traditional press is used for pressing. A pump is used for racking. No batonnage. Malolactic fermentation occurs naturally at the end of the fermentation, without adding lactic acid bacteria. No sugar added.
Elevage: vessel type(s) and size(s)Wine is aged for six more months in the Georgian amphorae and then for two years in 30-hectoliter Slavonian oak barrels.
Duration of elevageTwo and a half years
Duration of bottle ageing before release to US marketOne year
Do you practice fining and filtration? If yes, please describeNo. Our company is against any type of filtration.
Do you add sulfur? If so when and how much? How much sulfur remains in the wine at release?Sulphites are added before bottling. Generally, their content is 30-35 milligrams per liter.

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