Interview with Riccardo Callin
»Some may think that I’m a freak because I’m massaging the vines.« Riccardo Callin decided for wine growing and winemaking in his mature years. After abanding a successful business career in the metropolis, he moved to the farm in the village of Kazlje. There he began to produce wine in a few small vineyards in accordance with his strict natural principles. Riccardo declares himself as a natural winemaker. And as such, he is a big promoter ov two native varieties of his wine country, Teran and Vitovska. By latest definition, one might say that he is an authentic winemaker who tries to understand the vineyard with both, his brain and his heart. We talked to him about some of the more outstanding practices he uses in his work.
What means for you a natural wine? I understand the definition of natural wine in terms of organic, including biodynamic wine. Personally, I prefer to call my wine “conscious”. In the sense that I make this wine with awareness. This means that I have an ecological awareness that I will avoid using copper and sulfur fungicides as much as possible. When you have an ecological consciousness and are honest with yourself, all your actions are natural, ecological, focused on activities that do not harm nature, animals or man.
Today it is fashionable to be eco-friendly… Conscious work begins in the vineyard and ends in the wine cellar. The key to this is honesty, especially to yourself. In my opinion, a person who does not have this sincere ecological consciousness can not make a true natural wines. He may declare his wines as natural wines. But it will work for the market, to make money. Such wine, however, will have no identity. The true identity of the wine and the winemaker is very important to me. So you do understand the identity of the wine as the honesty of the producer? Honesty, and most of all modesty, is the virtue that is most lacking today. Not only in winemaking, but in society as a whole. And in my opinion, this modesty will be increasingly appreciated in the future. Therefore, my approach is also not to impose on others my philosophy, my wines, my way of working. This is a purely personal choice for the individual. When it comes to selling wine, that kind of mindset is probably not easy. I am disturbed by the vanity and the garishness. I understand modesty in terms of honesty. To tell honestly what is your way of producing wine, not to overdo it, not to persuade, not to make up stories. And in wine, that sincerity will be recognized. Words can mislead. Bottle of wine never.
Let’s move on to scientific arguments. The analyses has not shown the harmfulness of the use of plant protection products and fertilizers in the vineyard. Modern fungicides are already decomposed on grapes. Even when sulfur is used, it is consumed during fermentation.
Is there, according to your opinion, any scientific argument for decision to produce natural wines? The possible residues of the chemicals used in the winemaking process are only one part of the story. The other part is our impact. How we align our activity with natural processes and how we affect the environment. I compare raising my vineyards with raising a child. In my opinion, there is no use to upbringing a child with an argument of superiority. It’s better to understand it and direct it according to nature. I use the same concept in my vineyard. I just direct the vine, and I do not rape it with things that are not part of nature. When working in the vineyard, I came to the point I do not do green harvest and thinning at all. I only use it very rare, when the vine needs to be directed. I’m confident that sooner or later the vine stops growing. It is generally agreed that a green harvesting is necessary to direct energy to the ripening of fruit. I have a different opinion. With a green harvesting, the vine is forced to new buds and shoots. And these new shoots are even more lush, and more susceptible to disease. Thus, the vine will not direct its energy to the fruit, but again to the green part of the plant. This means that you trust the vine that it focused to produce healthy and quality fruits. Of course it is. The nature of the vine is that the fruit ripens.
What would you particularly highlight in your winemaking process? It all starts in the vineyard. I attach great importance to the cultivation of the vine, and especially to the soil. Biodiversity is for me very important. I do not add any artificial fertilizers into the vineyard. Instead, I try to help the vineyard regulate itself with green manure. When you decide for natural viticulture, soil microbiology is of crucial importance. The soil does not merely serve as a basis for the plant. The soil is the basis for the autoregulation of the vine. In practice this means, that I have grown such plants in my vineyard that help to increase soil biodiversity. This entails a greater diversity of insects. In doing so, I am trying to help the vineyard creating a microworld where everything is regulated according to the natural principles.
You also strongly believe that the healthy flow of energy can help vineyard … I think I was one of the first to introduce bioenergy fields in vineyards. If you accept this, each of my vineyards has balanced bioenergy. In the context of natural viticulture, what is your attitude to the introduction of chemicals? Of course, I try to avoid copper and sulfur fungicides as much as possible. In our territory, however, the climatic conditions are such, that this is extremely difficult. I use natural algae based fungicides, biodynamic products, teas and macerated products such as nettles. Copper sulfate and sulfur fungicide are almost irreplaceable, but I try to use as little as possible, and when really necessary. Especially copper sulfate I try to replace with natural substitutes.
Then you do not believe that a quality crop is possible without the use of any chemical preparation? In our climate conditions, maybe from time to time some harvest could be done without everything. Of course, it all depends on the weather, especially the humidity. In my opinion, and in the circumstances, I hardly see the possibility of working without it. I thought a lot about it myself. And maybe in the near future, I may decide to experiment in a small vineyard entirely without the use of copper and sulfur.
That is, will you fully indulge in nature? Well, that’s not how it will work. (laughs) This means more intake of natural substances. This is often a misconception of most people that natural winemakers don’t even spray. Quite the opposite. Natural, organic winemakers are forced to spray much more because they use natural substances. My fellow neighbors often say: Look at Riccardo, he’s back on the tractor and spraying, and he says he’s a natural winemaker. The difference is that I spray in a T-shirt, and they spray in chemical-resistant work clothing and with a gas mask on the nose.
Let’s move to harvest time. Recently, harvests in Primorska are much earlier. Do you notice these changes as well? These very early harvests are typical for conventional winemakers. Because they are looking for technological maturity, lower sugars and acids. I’m looking for physiological maturity, so my harvest is always delayed by 2 to 4 weeks against conventional winemakers. Of course, there are also changing climatic conditions. You are also known to de-stem your grapes by the traditional method. That’s right. The grapes do not go to the mill. We separate the strawberries by a hand from the stalks. It’s a traditional method that was used in this region when there were no machines. This results in fermentation in the grape berry, which also improves extraction. Especially for the teran, which has a relatively thick skin, this is extremely important. This makes the paint and polyphenols more beautiful.
How about filtration in connection with the concept of natural wines. Does it make sense to filter natural wine? Personally I do not see a sense in filtering my own wine. The wine will clarify with no additional help. For a wine that is produced on a correct natural way, I do not see the need to stabilize it by sterile or any other filtration. On the contrary, I see the disadvantages of such filtration, as wine loses its main ingredients that give it tone and aroma. It would be absurd for a natural winemaker to filter his wine.
From your wine cellar you are most proud of a teran. Karst and teran are inextricably linked.
How do you see this wine in the context of a global wine market? A definition of teran is Karst and a definition of Karst is teran. It is an indigenous and very special wine of our region. These special characteristics are given by the climate and the soil. And due to these characteristics, teran may not be accepted by all consumers. But I noticed, however, that even demanding guests from the wine-sighted countries know how to appreciate this wine. And that they rate it as a top quality wine.
Are you a fan of fresh or aged teran? My teran is aged. Although I also like fresh teran, which has a special and characteristic note. Due to the small production, I cannot afford two product lines to myself. Traditionally, the teran was never aged in the Karst, so aging has been a challenge for me. This helps me push the boundaries, and prove that teran has exceptional aging capacity. Now there are already some winemakers in the Karst producing top quality aged teran. This is breaking down some local stereotypes. And so a wine is also becoming an interesting export item for developed culinary markets
Finally, a question about massaging a vine you practice in your vineyards. You said that someone could understand you as a weirdo. I do massages the vine for two reasons. The first one, that you may or may not accept, is to get contact with the plant. It is only when you have a plant in your hand, you can feel it. This contact with the plant means a lot to me. Another useful, and probably more argumentative, reason is to remove dead bark, dead cells and molds by massaging the vine. In a way you are ventilating, oxygenating the plant. Maybe some observer may find this act as a nonsense. Some, for example, are hugging the trees. It could be a nonsense, but it’s a nice feeling.