Soulful Skin-contacts and Cultural Intersections
Owner & winemaker: brothers Alexis & Jannis Paraschos and their father Evangelos
Vineyard area: 7 hectares (= 17 acres), estate-owned
Vineyard management: certified organics
Soils: clay, silt
Main varieties: Ribolla Gialla, Friulano (fka Tokai), Malvasia Istriana, Pinot Gris for the whites; Merlot and Pinot Noir for the reds
Annual production (approx.): 25,000 bottles
Winemaking: usually some skin contact for the whites. Fermentation in open-topped vats and amphoras, aging in barrels and amphoras. Spontaneous fermentation only. No fining, no filtration, no sulfur additions.
- The winery started in the 1990s, inspired by wines of their neighbors like Gravner or Radikon, which Evangelos fell in love with at the family restaurant he ran
- The estate has been organic since the beginning and went completely natural (indigenous yeast only, no filtration, no SO2 added) in 2003, after moving to a newly built cellar that finally allowed them to work this way
- With their Greek roots and Italian/Slovene border situation, the brothers are true polyglots: they speak Greek with their father, Italian between themselves, Slovene with their workers, and English with most of their clients
- Just above the cellar, the family runs a small, cozy agriturismo with beautiful views of the surrounding lush vine-covered slopes; highly recommended.
“This year, we were like monks in Burgundy,” Alexis Paraschos acknowledges with his typically warm smile, “no travel, no party, just working and observing our vines doing well, seeing the effect of different pruning methods and getting beautiful healthy grapes with only 12% potential ABV in the end.” There’s no trace of longing for the busy life on the go of the more “normal” years in his voice; maybe it’s because the “fairs & flights” part of the job is usually done by his more outspoken brother Jannis anyways, or maybe because—and this is our bet—the Collio area is a pretty nice spot to get stuck in.
Located on the border of Slovenia and Italy, the hilly microregion of Collio Goriziano / Goriška Brda offers an unfair share of everything a wine lover could ask for: the hustle and Vienna-like flair of the proud port city of Trieste lies just an hour drive away, as do the Alps and beaches. Being a historically busy intersection of the Balkans, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Italy means that great eating spots abound in the area (including a Michelin-star restaurant that allegedly inspired Ana Roš of Hiša Franko to become a chef, too). And most of all, it really touches one’s heart to look at all the natural beauty around. The family’s agriturismo, located just above the cellar, overlooks lush vine-covered slopes and valleys and makes you sympathize with the rich merchants of the Habsburg empire who made Gorizia their favorite holiday spot.
The tumultuous course of history left a strong mark on the area’s viticulture, too, as Alexis explains to us when we wonder about the prevalence of Merlot in the area. Far from being recently imported, it was actually introduced during a brief episode of French reign during the Napoleonic era at the beginning of the 19th century. “And since the growers had good experience with this grape, they opted for it when replantation was needed after the ravages of WWI, in 1918 and beyond.” History explained in wine—yes, please!
Although the Paraschos winery started in the 1990s when Alexis’ father Evangelos became inspired by neighboring Gravner wines that he liked to serve in the family restaurant, the family actually has the luck to own some vines that hail almost a century back, on both sides of the border. The oldest Merlot plants from these vines give birth to Skala (meaning “rock” in reference to the poor gravel subsoil), the winery’s top red. Naturally low yields bring about a deep, focused wine with endless layers of fruits, stones, and fresh earth. “That’s the character given by old vines,” Alexis nods, “past 50 years of age, something beautiful happens to Merlot, and it starts to give these noble notes of truffle and humus.”
But the region—and estate—is probably best known for their whites, or rather oranges, as the winemaking tradition in the area consists of skin contact wines from the locally typical Ribolla Gialla, Malvasia Istriana, and Friulano (fka Tokai until the famous Hungarian namesake area said no). Alexis Paraschos uses the maceration rather lightly, aiming at harmony between freshness, tannins, body, and the seductive drinkability of these wines proves him right. Especially the Orange One, a blend of all three varietals that came about from Alexis’ historical research: “Traditionally, the wines here were blends or even field-blends, with the practical reason of getting a naturally balanced wine even when one of the varietals had a weaker year. Take Ribolla, for example—it needs a big vintage and good exposure to create great wine, so we only make pure Ribolla in these years. But it’s also the best way to fight the unnatural idea that wine equals monoculture.”
Indeed, monoculture is not something you’ll experience in the lush Paraschos vineyards; since the beginning, the winery has been synonymous with extreme respect for the environment (and the consumer). No herbicides, no pesticides, the only fertilizer used is organic manure, and the rows are covered with grass and plowed only in winter if necessary. No wonder the vines look so happy and healthy despite their significant age, we say, complimenting Alexis. “We couldn’t do it otherwise,” he shrugs, “You can have an occasional bad vintage when working this way. But you still have your healthy soil and living vineyard. And that’s what matters the most.”
Age of Vines: 80 years old
Soil: Clay and Marl
Varieties: Tocai Friulano
Vinification Method: Grapes are hand-harvested, destemmed, and fermented spontaneously in open-topped oak vats with no refrigeration for about four days on the skins. After that time the grapes are pressed and transferred to stainless steel tanks and kept at cellar temperature for four more days. The wine is then transferred to 2500-liter barrels for elevage for about 40 months. Batonnage is performed only if there is some reduction present.
Amphoreus — Back to the top
Age of Vines: 90 years old
Soil: Clay, limestone, and Marl
Vinification Method: Grapes are hand-harvested and destemmed. The crushed grapes are placed in an open-topped clay amphora that the Paraschos family currently sources from Crete. The juice and skins are left in amphora without refrigeration for two months, during which, gentle hand punch-downs are performed five times a day. After fermentation is completed the amphora is covered and sealed with beeswax. Battonage is performed through a hole in the top of the sealed amphora to reduce reduction. The wine is racked off the skins normally in May (around 6-7 months of skin contact) to stainless steel tank. The wine rests in tank for a few weeks before being bottled and is aged in bottle 2-3 years before being released.
Ribolla Gialla — Back to the top
Age of Vines: 30 years old
Varieties: Ribolla Gialla
Vinification Method: Grapes are hand-harvested and destemmed, and macerated in open-topped wooden vats for 5 days without refrigeration. Hand punch downs are performed about 4-5 times per day. The skins are pressed in stainless steel tanks for about 4 days at cellar temperature. Then the wine is racked, with the fine lees, and transferred to 2500-liter oak barrels for elevage.
Age of Vines: 30 years old
Varieties: Pinot Grigio
Vinification Method: Grapes are hand-harvested, destemmed, and macerated in open-topped wooden vats for 8 days without refrigeration. Hand punch-downs are performed about 4-5 times per day. The skins are pressed to stainless steel tanks for about 4 days at cellar temperature. Then the wine is racked, with the fine lees, and transferred to 2500-liter oak barrels for elevage.
Merlot — Back to the top
Age of Vines: 15 years old
Soil: Clay, Limestone, Gravel, and Marl
Vinification Method: Grapes are hand-harvested, destemmed, and macerated in open-topped wooden vats for 20 days without refrigeration. Hand punch-downs are performed about 4-5 times per day. The skins are pressed to stainless steel tanks for about 4 days at cellar temperature. Then the wine is racked, with the fine lees, to 2500 and 500-liter oak barrels for elevage.
Ponka — Back to the top
Total Production: 1300 bottles
Age of Vines: 40 years old
Yields 15-20 hl/ha
Soil: Clay filled marl (called Ponka)
Varieties: 40% Ribolla Gialla, 30% Chardonnay, 30% Friulano, Pinot Blanc
Vinification Method: Grapes are hand-harvested, destemmed, and macerated in open-topped wooden vats for 14 days without refrigeration. Hand punch-downs are performed about 4-5 times per day. The wine rests in tank for 24 months in total. The wine is bottled unfined, unfiltered, and with zero sulfur added.
Orange One — Back to the top
Alexis Paraschos on this wine: “The true “white” of Gorizia! Our historic research shows that the white wines of this area used to be a blend of typical varieties because such wine would give a more harmonious and naturally stable result. We choose to make this skin-contact white, coming partly from complanted vines, to honor this tradition and fight monoculture.”
Age of Vines: 30 years on average
Vineyard: Slatnik, Lucinico and Sant’Andrea, marl-clay
Grapes: Ribolla Gialla, Malvasia Istriana, Friulano (in roughly equal parts)
Winemaking: the grapes are hand-harvested at optimum maturity, then macerated on skins in open vats for a couple of days, based on what the given grape needs. Spontaneous fermentation in big oak vats at cellar temperature with regular manual punch-downs. Aged at least 24 months on the fine yeast in large Slavonian oak barrels. Botted solely by gravity, no filtration, fining or sulfur added.
Personality: balance it is! Lemon, orange peel, a touch of roses, light body, and good length: one of these skin-contact wines for people who are getting tired of, or freshly acquainted with orange wines.
Skala — Back to the top
Alexis Paraschos on this wine: “Something special happens to Merlot vines once they pass 50 years of age: they start giving grapes with a sublime note of truffle and wet earth.” This cuvée, the estate’s top red wine, pays an absolute tribute to this unique character, elevated further by the experience, amount of time, and handwork employed.
Age of Vines: 60 to 90 years
Vineyard: Sant’Andrea and Lucinico on gravel and clay with rocky subsoil (= “skala” in Slovene)
Winemaking: hand-selected grapes ferment with the skins for 30 days in open-topped old oak vat. Aged in big Slavonian oak barrels or smaller French oak tonneaux and barriques for 5 years on its fine lees. Botted solely by gravity, no filtration, fining or sulfur added.
Personality: Opulence, this cuvée owns everything! Depth, concentration but also energy, and finesse that you can keep returning to for days. Dry and perfectly structured tannins, earthy notes intertwined with crunchy minerals and lightly cooked dark fruit. If someone ever gets foolish enough to tell you that natural wine cannot age, especially without sulfur, stun him with this Escher painting of wine and its youthful character. Serious oomph.