Ronchi di Cialla

Friuli, Italy
Ronchi di Cialla is an historic producer in the Collio Orientali del Friuli, just under three miles as the crow flies from the Slovenian border.  Ronchi means “hills,” and Cialla, the name of the valley comes from the Slovenian word cela which means “stream.” Friuli is most known for the appellations of Collio, known more for white wines, Carso, known mostly for its red, iron-rich soil, and Collio Orientali del Friuli known for both red and white.  Collio Orientali del Friuli is just north and slightly west of the Collio. Branching off from the rest of the Collio Orientali del Friuli, running into the mountains from southwest to northeast is the small Cialla Valley.  The valley is somewhat isolated from the rest of the Collio Orientali del Friuli. Nestled in the mountains the valley is windy and cool valley with a higher percentage of rainfall than in the rest of Collio Orientali del Friuli. Their valley has the marl (clay & limestone) found in the Collio and the rest of the Collio Orientali del Friuli, but at Cialla there is a higher percentage of limestone. All of these are key that make the Cialla valley so special. So special, in fact, that they were awarded their own monopole sub-appellation (like Sassicaia & Chateau Grillet among others), so their top wines carry the appellation Collio Orientali del Friuli-Cialla. Important to mention as well is that this valley is where Dina and Paolo Rapuzzi revived the near-extinct Schioppettino variety after founding the Ronchi di Cialla estate.  In fact, all Schioppettino found in Friuli, not to mention California, can be traced back to Dina and Paolo and the Cialla valley.
When Dina and Paolo founded the estate in 1970, their aim was to focus on native varieties. This is at a time when most producers were leaning into international varieties such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc, and others. Granted, many of these had been in the area since the time of Napoleon, but the choice to focus on and revive the local varieties was far ahead of its time. The Schioppettino variety had been declared extinct and, because of this, was no longer able to be legally grown. Dina and Paola, therefore, had to fight to have it reinstated in the record books. In 1976 they were successful and received an award for reintroducing Schioppettino and bringing it back from extinction. In addition to Schioppettino (also called Ribolla Nera) they focused on Refosco and Pignolo, and for whites Ribolla Gialla, Verduzzo and Picolit.
Dina and Paolo’s children Ivan and Pierpaolo both grew up at the winery – both in the cellar as well as in the vineyards, throughout their childhood learning from their parents. They each studied entomology in university and continue to do research locally and abroad in the field. This interest and vocation of theirs strengthens and adds extra priority to their quest for as much biodiversity as possible in their vineyards. Their parents had always worked organically though never sought to obtain certification. Ivan and Pierpaolo have continued in the same tradition though with this greater focus on biodiversity.
Their wines begin with a set of fresh, vibrant wines vinified and aged in stainless steel. These include the Ribolla Gialla, Friulano, Rosato as well as the Ri-Nera Schioppettino, which is a super elegant and bright version of their oak-aged bottling. Then we have the Ciallabianco, a co-harvest and co-ferment of Verduzzo and Ribolla Gialla blended with Picolit which is a slightly later harvest. That wine ferments in neutral barriques with batonnage. They make a small production of Pignolo, a tannic, deeply colored variety, but their top reds are their Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso and their Schioppetino. Their Refosco is one of the most elegant examples of this variety. Refosco descends from the same tree as Teroldego and Lagrein, and both Corvina and Rondinella, two of the most important varieties in Valpolicella, descend, in turn, from Refosco. The Ronchi di Cialla Refosco is a rich red with dark fruit with game, berry, and floral notes. Schioppettino, on the other hand, is typified by spicy, cracked pepper notes along with current and cherry, those balanced by a high acidity and fine tannins. It is a wine that can be vinified in a young, fresh style, a la Ronchi di Cialla’s Ri-Nera or, in a more serious, tightly-wound, age worthy version such as the Ronchi di Cialla Schioppettino. Dina and Paola had the tremendous foresight to keep an impressive library of past vintages of the top wines. This is a tradition that Ivan and Paolo have continued. It is an invaluable treasure to have access to such wines with perfect provenance, directly from the winery.