He’s “the high priest of orange wines,” according to James Suckling. Or “the modern godfather of orange wine,” as deemed by Bloomberg. Whatever you choose to call him, Josko Gravner is a pioneer who has revived the ancient practice of amphora winemaking.
Gravner’s wines are a pure, crystalline example of how amphora-aged wine should taste. But they’re also different from any other conventional wines, from production to the final product. Here are five things to know before you experience Gravner:
1. Sometimes, beautiful wine is inspired by disappointment.
Gravner’s winemaking inspiration actually stemmed out of disappointment. In 1997, he made a trip to California, tasting thousands of wines over the span of ten days. “They are moving in a direction opposite to that of safeguarding the soil and the authenticity of the product,” Gravner recalls lamenting to his wife.1
After his revelation, Gravner became determined to learn winemaking from its original birthplace — Georgia. Unfortunately, traveling to Georgia was a challenge when it was a part of the Soviet-era U.S.S.R. He was not able to make his trip until 2000.
Ultimately, Gravner returned to Italy with a deep understanding of amphora winemaking. Soon, Georgian amphorae were shipped to him, and his winemaking operation began.
2. It’s OK to be anti-technology — for things that end up in your belly.
Gravner himself isn’t anti-technology. “I’m not against progress, computers, or aeroplanes,” he states. “The better they function, the happier I am. Wine, however, ends up in the stomach.” 2
It is with this mentality that Gravner approaches winemaking. He strives for as little intervention as possible. This is not easy with amphora winemaking, which amplifies the effects of bad grapes. So, Gravner relies on selecting the best possible grapes. With quality grapes, he is also enabled to keep human intervention at a minimum.
After selection, the grapes are left to ferment with wild yeasts. They then rest in Georgian amphora underground, with no temperature control. Ultimately, amphora aging totals about 7 months, followed by six years of wood cask aging. The wines are also unfined and unfiltered. This is truly the bare minimum of human intervention. Gravner has managed to craft an expression of the local terroir that’s about as pure as it gets.
3. Gravner is making wine for himself. We’re just buying the surplus.
Upon closer understanding, it becomes clear that Gravner’s winemaking process is not focused on profit or scalability. If it were, he would most certainly be taking the easy way out — spending less time on grape selection, fining out impurities, and cutting short aging time. And he most certainly wouldn’t bother with biodynamic principles, like aligning his farming and winemaking to the moon cycles. In Gravner’s words, “I make the wine for myself, and any surplus I sell.”
4. Amphora wine is hard to find.
Considering that they’re “trending”, orange and amphora-aged wines are incredibly elusive to find. Amphora wines are all low-production operations, and are not available at nationwide wine retailers. We highly recommend Astor Place Wines in New York City. Their selection is excellent, they do not charge an extra premium on Gravner or other Georgian wines, and the shipping fee is reasonable. Lucky Manhattanites can skip the shipping fee and visit their physical location.
5. Gravner lives up to the hype.
We’ve put Gravner on a pedestal. Fortunately, his wines live up to their reputation. The Ribolla 2008 is nothing short of magical. Yes, it’s an unnervingly brilliant orange hue almost akin to Gatorade, but don’t let that faze you. We expected weird, and instead got elegant, smooth, and complex. Piercing, crystalline, honeyed flavors unfold, layer after nuanced layer. On the nose, tangerine, honeyed peach, dried apricot, toasted almond, and a hint of light floral morph into ripe persimmon on the palate. It’s a study in contrasts — so piercing in flavor yet so exceptionally smooth. With its medium acidity, textured minerality, and red tea-like tannins, the Ribolla can easily be enjoyed chilled, or like a red, at 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Gravner’s wines are something every wine lover should experience at least once in their lifetime. These are truly wines borne out of love for the craft, and it shows. To learn more, visit Gravner.it.