You can't talk about Collio without mentioning the names of the "founding families," Schiopetto and Felluga. It was Mario Schiopetto who launched the region's reputation in the 1970s with the technique of fermenting white wines at cold temperatures. He died in 2003, but the benchmark set by his wines lives on.
The Fellugas, well, they're like the Kennedys. Endlessly fascinating royalty.
The dean of the clan, Livio Felluga, is now well into his 90s and pretty much stays home. His son, Andrea, runs the Livio Felluga winery; his daughter, Elda, runs an agriturismo (farmhouse B&B) and osteria across the street. The winery is known for its antique labels, hand-drawn maps of the Friuli wine-growing region. The Livio Felluga 2006 Terra Alta, a blend of friulano, pinot bianco and sauvignon was named the country's top wine by the association of Italian sommeliers. And last year, at the age of 95, the viticulture school in the Friulian capital of Udine awarded him an honorary degree in enology.
The most prominent public face of the Felluga name these days Livio's much younger brother, 83-year-old Marco Felluga (on the left in the photo), honorary president of the Consorzio (winegrowers association); his daughter, Patrizia, is the current president, and operates a winery called Zuani with her children, Caterina and Antonio (also in the photo). They recently bought and renovated a nearby country restaurant called Trattoria Luka so they could showcase the region's wines with traditional local recipes.
For his part, Marco's son, Roberto, has two superb wine estates, Russiz Superiore and Gradisca. His family bought the properties after losing their original vineyards in Istria, on the Dalmatian coast but on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain. The local grapes back then were tokai (now called friulano), picolit, malvasia and the red refosco. But French varieties like pinot gris, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc had been imported a century earlier, so winemakers had a good palette to work with. The soil, marl and sandstone, imparts a strong minerality to the wines, an intensity that on occasion covers up varietal differences.
In fact, at Luka one night, we were treated to five "young" whites from Collio and five more "aged" wines with four or more years of bottle age. They ranged from ultra simple to complex; rich yet with a common thread of minerality. The influence of terroir clearly beats varietal character in Collio.
Russiz Superiore also houses a very elegant agriturismo, where half our group stayed. Roberto received his guests with that combination of courtesy and warmth that no hotelkeeper can duplicate; it really was his home, after all. (And a word here about all those complaints on TripAdvisor about "rude" front-desk clerks in Italy's big-city, tourist hotels. They're working for the hotel owners, not for the customers, so they're not going to treat anonymous little you like a princess. Their job is to rent rooms, not be your babysitter, translator, tour guide and best friend. Get over it.)
Back to the Fellugas: the crest of the Marco Felluga winery is a lion; the crest of Russiz Superiore is twin eagles. Two proud beasts that don't always get along, which might be said of any extended family, Italian or otherwise. But there's a strong sense of loyalty nevertheless. You can taste it in the wines.