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Schioppettino

The Schiopettino vines that provide the fruit for Billy Button Wines varietal. The vines were initially set up for spur pruning but it was felt this resulted in inconsistent cropping. They’ve since been re-worked for arched cane pruning which has provided better consistency.

 

Peppery and elegant Schioppettino

By Jo Marsh, Winemaker/Director, Billy Button Wines, Alpine Valleys, Victoria

 

To produce its range of wines Billy Button Wines works with a number of local growers in Victoria’s Alpine Valleys, one of whom made the decision to plant Schioppettino vines that yielded their first semi-commercial crop in 2015.

What drove a Welshman to plant Schioppettino in Victoria’s Alpine Valleys? Brian (Bri) and Linda Lewis bought the ‘old Bailey’ vineyard in 2006. At the time, demand for Alpine Valleys fruit was nearly non-existent, so Bri decided to change things up and take a punt on some unusual varieties.

Alongside Fiano, Tempranillo and Pinotage (his personal passion project), he decided to try a couple of rows each of the Friulian pair Schioppettino and Refosco (dal Peduncolo Rosso) after being given a bottle of Bressan Schioppettino by Mark Walpole.

The Merriang South vineyard is at 260m elevation on red clay loam soils with some underlying rock. Grafted rootlings on 101-14 rootstock were purchased through Chalmers Nurseries in 2013 and the first (semi) commercial crop was harvested in 2015. The 365 vines are planted in 3m rows with a north-south orientation. Initially, the vines were set up for spur pruning, however we found this gave quite inconsistent cropping, so this has since been re-worked to arched cane which has provided better consistency.

 

 

Schioppettino is the last variety to flower (January here) and usually starts varaison after we start harvesting Chardonnay from the same vineyard. Several times, we have almost given up on our chances of ripening it in a season, but it always manages to achieve ripeness. Fruit-set is easily the biggest challenge with the variety as any cold, windy and/or rainy weather around flowering results in very poor fruit-set. Changing the pruning to arched cane has appeared to have lowered the incidence of aborted berries and provided a more consistent fruit-set and crop.

The variety seems to be very resistant to mildew with no incidence of downy or powdery mildew observed yet, despite some very cooler, wet vintages lately. As it is such a late-ripening variety, low levels of botrytis have occurred in the wetter years.

I remember a pre-vintage BBQ at Bri’s house in January 2015 where he had organised some Italian examples of Schioppettino and Refosco for tasting. “I don’t have the time or resources to do both this year, so I’m going to focus on the Refosco and not bother picking the Schioppettino,” he said. Well, you can imagine my response. Needless to say, the Schioppettino was definitely picked. The last fruit of the vintage, 950kg arrived at the winery and, at the time, we had basically no idea about the variety – we could not even pronounce it properly! We opted for whole berry, natural, open ferment and within a few days as the fermentation kicked off, the winery was filled with the aromas of black pepper. It was at this point our excitement in the variety really kicked in. That wine, from the first crop, still looks fabulous.

We haven’t changed our winemaking too much since this original vintage. We continue to ferment with whole berries but now like to precede this with a three-to-four-day cold soak and non-inoculated fermentations. We have not undertaken whole bunch inclusion as we feel the variety naturally has enough perfume, and the peppery character may become overwhelming if whole bunch was utilised. It would be great if we had enough volume to experiment and create more options, but with only 0.5-2 tonnes per year we cannot afford this luxury. Our fermentation regime just involves open small fermenters with a twice daily hand plunge. When the fruit finally comes in, the weather is usually quite cool to cold, so our ferments do not generally get over 25°C. We leave the wine on skins for a further two to three weeks maceration until we feel the tannin structure is where we like it to be. Harvest Baume have ranged from 12.4-13.9 across vintages with final alcohols 13.4-14.2 %.

Schioppettino is such an elegant variety with beautiful red fruit and perfume characters with fine tannins; we want to try and preserve this so we avoid oak (both new and old) and prefer to store the wine in Flexcubes as they allow the wines to respectfully mature with the small increase of oxygen. This form of maturation is key to much of our winemaking. Bottling takes place after nine months and the wine is released after another 12 months. We think peak drinking for this variety (or our version of it) is between five to 10 years.

What we love about the variety is the very high natural rotundone levels — you actually can taste it in the fruit. It has much higher levels than Shiraz from the same region in the same vintage. As with Shiraz, peppery characters are dependent on vintage conditions and much less apparent in warm years. We find the tannin structure to be elegant and even compared to Refosco we feel it has more layers and a tannin structure that provides extended ageing potential, although to be honest, both are downright delicious.

We think the variety is well suited to cooler climates as it does not have high levels of acid like other Italian varieties (e.g., Sangiovese, Nero D’Avola). Having said that, acid/pH balance is always much better than Shiraz! In cool years it can be challenging to ripen as it is always one of the last in the winery, however we’ve found we can make lovely balanced wines at 12-12.5 Baume in cooler years.

It would probably also go well in moderate climates, perhaps making a slightly richer wine but may not have the hallmark pepper characteristics of the variety.

 

Schioppettino

Background

Schioppettino (skee-op-eh-tee-no) was first mentioned in the late 19th century in Friuli (near Udine) in Italy as ‘Ribolla Nero’. DNA analysis has since revealed that it is not actually a black variant of Ribolla. The variety had almost disappeared by the early 20th century after Friuli was hit by phylloxera but was revived in the 1970s due to interest in indigenous varieties in the region. It was included in the list of authorised varieties for the Udine province in 1981 and achieved DOC status in 1987. In 2016 there were just 87 hectares plated in Italy, entirely restricted to Udine. Schioppettino is used in the DOCs of both Colli Orientali del Friuli and Friuli Isonzo where it may be blended with Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso. It is also used in IGT Venezia Giulia. Schioppettino has almost disappeared in neighbouring Slovenia where it is known as Pocalza or Pokalza. It is a recent import to Australia with just three known producers in the Heathcote and Alpine Valleys regions.

Viticulture

Maturity is mid to late. Bunches are medium to large and well-filled with medium berries. Yield is moderate. It is reported to have average susceptibility to fungal diseases but is prone to poor set and sunburn.

Wine

Schioppettino wines are generally medium-bodied with good colour, firm tannins and fresh acidity. Descriptors include perfume, fruity, spicy and peppery. Like Shiraz, this variety is naturally high in rotundone.

For further information on this and other emerging varieties, contact Marcel Essling at the AWRI ([email protected] or 08 8313 6600) to arrange the presentation of the Alternative Varieties Research to Practice program in your region.