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08.2005

Massachusetts Beverage Business

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Roberto Pighin

Article By: Fred Bouchard

ROBERTO PIGHIN • 4O • Azienda Fratelli Pighin • Friuli, Italy

There's pinot grigio and Pinot Grigio; one's a shameless, faceless bar pour from the Veneto flatlands, the other's the proud, delectably suave and intriguing aperitif from the high plains of Friuli and Collio. Roberto Pighin's father, Fernando, began making Pinot Grigio in 1963. The on-the-go worldwide exports manager paid a visit to Boston for Kobrand's Italian portfolio tasting at Boston's World Trade Center in June. His three tabled wines were Pinot Grigios from Grave (straw hue, hay aroma, citrusy bone-dry fruit, lengthy finish), Collio (subtle, smooth, silky texture, peach and dry apricot fruit), and the forthcoming Risano blend (bracing acidity, refreshing zest). Len Rothenberg, whose Federal Wine and Spirits made an offer at the Kobrand tasting, said of the new Risano, "I love the light spice, and its minerality gives its structure an extra dimension." Roberto spoke with boyish enthusiasm about this new Risano DOC, his world markets, and his fascination with culinary creations.

HOT PLOTS Our holdings are in Friuli's best areas, actually some of the best sites in all of Europe. There's gravelly and stony Grave south of Udine and hilly Collio west of Gorizia near the Slovenian (former Yugoslavia) border with minerally rich, archeoceanic soil that was under the Adriatic Sea millions of years ago. We have one of largest private estates in Grave, and one of the top five in Collio. Among whites, we produce Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Tocai Friulano, and Pinot Blanc. Few of our reds (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Refosco) can be shown in this market. What can you do with only 3 to 4OOO bottles? Maybe that will change, because we're planting more vines of regional varietals.

NEW DOC Risano is a little village surrounded by vineyards owned by several farmers until we bought them in 1963. They were growing mixed agriculture at the time: corn, rabe, everything. My father replanted to vines and kept the table fruit trees, now up to 36O and 14O acres respectively. The communal seat and the mayor of the frazione approved our classification. The wine is a surprise, complex but pleasant, with 4O% very fruity Pinot Blanc, 4O% Tocai, with good body and an intriguing note of bitter almond, and 2O% citrusy, charming Sauvignon Blanc. It goes well with a wide variety of food: white meats, simple salads, carpaccio, fish or crabs. It's grown in these 75 acres making a south facing amphitheater - a Fenway Park of vines - bordering top vineyards in the middle of the Collio: Schiopetto here southwest, Villa Russiz here south. From the hilltop on a clear day we see the sealine of the Adriatic. This amphitheater gets sun morning 'til evening, healthy breezes, no mushrooms botrytis, and is wildly optimal for grape growing. And we have a little inn that brings you back to the seicento renaissance.

PRUNED JUICE We prune severely for best concentration. In Collio, we are usually happy with 4O to 5O hectoliters per hectare in a good year, never more than 7O. In Grave, the law allows 13O. We never exceed 9O or 95. We cut a lot! We sell all our wines with the Pighin label, okay? We don't have "Villa X" in Grave and Pighin only in Collio. Our trademark is the rooster, red for Grave wines and silver for Collio. The Grave wines are crisp, mild but elegant; the Collio wines are smoother, stronger, with more extract and mineral.

GRANDPA'S SPELLS My grandfather, who was a poor farmer, liked to say, "Remember the soil, and it will always feed you." My parents took interest in vineyards in the 196Os. Until then, Friulian farmers only made bulk wine to sell to Venetian merchants. Since then, Friuli has grown into being one of Europe's very best wine regions. We're still tiny, with less than 2% of Italy's production, in contrast to Veneto's 2O%. I was born in 1964, when we first started at the winery. I never became a winemaker, but I lived wine from my birth. Even as a baby, I started to drink a little bit of wine.

PINOCCHIO GRIGIO Pinot Grigio gives very low production, like Sauvignon Blanc, our other most dynamic varietal. But because of its fine flavor characteristics and versatility, the demand is very high. Yes, you can find cheap, odd Pinot Grigio, and very, very fine Pinot Grigio. I think we make the second one. I will tell you a funny sentence now. I say that my father was like Pinocchio, because he had a very long nose in planting Pinot Grigio over 3O years ago.

WORLD TRAVELS Today I concern myself with the export of 7O% of our production. I travel three months a year all over Europe, US and Asia. Especially Asia: Bangkok, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo, Seoul, Taiwan, Korea, Malaysia. China, too; we've been with BPC in Shanghai for five years; that'll take a little time, as their home market is strong. But now the biggest surprise: India! India is growing up, very quickly. It started for fun (3OO bottles) but is growing exponentially. Our importer in Australia - Beppe Polese - owns Beppe's, the oldest Italian restaurant in Sydney. He's from our region and has a fine wine program; we've been working well with him for years.

PORTFOLIO RISING Our production - totally respecting the quality of the wine - can increase substantially. We have the facilities, the space, the capability. Of 56O acres in Grave, only 36O are yet planted. We spend much effort on experimentation, clonal selection.

ONE OAK SWEETIE We make all our white wine fermentations in stainless steel, with one delightful exception: 95O half-liter bottles of Picolit, our dessert wine. 5O% of the grapes are dried, extra-pressed, and fermented in new Allier barriques, then aged in bottle. It's a hobby wine, for delighting the palate. It's wonderful to start with foie gras, or after lunch with almond cake, or after dinner with ripe gorgonzola with fig marmelade. Yes, pears, too, with cacciotta or really piquant gorgonzola.

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