The Collio region, and Goriška Brda both refer to the Gorizia Hills area that straddles the North-Easterly Friuli-Venezia-Giulia region in Italy into neighbouring Slovenia. With less than 4000 hectares under vine in total, the zone is lesser known, yet its capacity for high quality wines measures up to the most prolific in the world. The viticultural practices here are exceptional, with a lot of producers investing in cutting-edge cellar technology. The wines speak of the people and territory.
We are here to meet Marjan and Valerija Simčič, a historic local producer with 18 hectares of vines. His winery sits 200 metres over the Slovenia border in the village of Ceglo, while his vineyards have been planted firmly in both countries for decades- for many wineries in the area this was not an easy feat.
The Simčič estate has been growing grapes for five generations and Marjan’s father, now in his mid-80s, is still actively involved. When Simčič Senior was a boy during the communist era, the cantina was part of Yugoslavia, where all exports went through cooperatives. Luckily for them, Tito’s regime was marginally more liberal than other communist regions, not only allowing growers to trade with their Italian neighbors, but also to work with vineyards with roots in both countries. History preserved this small, yet superb, wine region, and Marjan intends to do the same.
“It is a magical place here,” he says, gesturing to gently rolling skyline, “Here the Mediterranean and the Alps shake hands. Our grandparents really believed in this region, and we are proving they weren’t wrong. These are the ideal conditions for the vine’s growth.”
The terrain here consists of many small hills of a particular soil named ponca (or flysch), or opoka in Slovenian, that is present in varying degrees in many micro-terroirs. Marjan ticks the benefits off on his fingers- it has mineral deposits, high amounts of quartz, strata with excellent water drainage and plenty faults through which deep roots can burrow.
“This is why in Brda we can grow so many different varietals,” says Marjan. “We must simply choose the right micro-terroir for the right grape.”
We arrive in the middle of a busy harvest day in September, the air reverberating with the hum of crickets and scarlet dragonflies. This corner of the world is surprisingly warm compared to neighboring zones, and feels positively Mediterranean today in the late summer breeze. Marjan elaborates on the two forces that keep the equilibrium- the Alps in the north act as a barrier against the cold winds; the Adriatic sea in the South is a moderating influence- great for air circulation, and driving out disease and damp.
This feeds perfectly into the Simčič ethos of traditional and natural methods:
“Experience has taught us to apply only natural methods to vine cultivation, and not to use irrigation, artificial fertilisers or insecticides. Only humus. This makes the plants use the maximum amount of water and minerals, so they become more resistant and produce healthy and complex grapes.”
Marjan believes in preserving the natural cycle of all the living organisms of the vineyard, which in turn allows the vines to respond spontaneously to their environment. A slight amount of water stress makes the plants stronger, overcoming their hardship. Hence they do not produce unnecessary leaves and shoots, instead concentrating all their energy and nutrients into maturing the juicy, healthy grapes, like the Pinot Noir we see being plucked by hand by a small crew of family and locals. In a sense, the hardiness of the plants echoes the story of the growers here at Simčič through the generations-- triumphing in their sheer hard work and persistence.
We step into the cool winery. Here, amongst barriques and weighty amphorae, Marjan likes to keep it traditional. After a two year stint studying in Burgundy and Bordeaux, he’s been at the helm for 22 years and though he has changed things a little (most notably experimenting in skin maceration for white wines), he proudly notes:
‘“I’m very respectful of the traditional vinification. I do old style vinification just like my father.”
That said, the very fact that the Simčič winery is in Slovenia is a blessing in disguise. Being lesser known, until recently, they could work with a greater degree of freedom- not held down by international trends or appellation bureaucracy, they forged their own path and the wines are stunning for it.
As per the region, the wines are mainly single varietal, with an impressive range. Of course, the niche terroirs go a long way to influence the nuances of the wines, but Marjan’s winery expertise is a key factor. There are hints of his French training, such as extended lees resting for Chardonnay and local wonder-grape Ribolla Gialla. Exceptional harvests in small batches go into barriques for up to three years, emerging when Marjan knows they’re ready.
“Every step is the consequence of precise evaluations… there is no automation.”
Many of their wines are from familiar international varietals: Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, but not as you know them. High quality, rich, complex in taste, a harmony between fine elegance and minerality, and a testament to their makers who put their all into the precision and art of the process.
Marjan and Valerija and their 18 hectares are producing some of the finest wines the Brda area can muster. These wines are a rarity and a pleasure, as is their terrain and hospitality, and we are proud to be part of a new chapter in their history.