Fresh from the Carso: Matej Skerlj

A month or so ago we visited Friuli searching for growers and visiting some of the region’s true icons. We had some very good visits during our time there, but it was Matej Skerlj, a young grower tending his family’s vineyards near the commune of Sgonico that really caught our attention.

Matej farms just two hectares of vines across a collection of tiny parcels hidden amongst the woods of the Carso. Just inland from the sparkling waters of the Adriatic on a rocky plateau some 250 metres above sea level, this is a remarkable terroir.

Vines are planted over a thin layer of terra rossa, red dirt rich in iron. In search of life, they push deep through the fossilised limestone below, resulting in wines with wonderful acidity and an often profound minerality. The plateau is cooled by a breeze from the sea and the bora, a wind that comes from mountains to the east.

Matej is young, humble and hardworking. He is inspired by this very special place and hopes to make wines that are true to it. His family have been growing grapes here for three generations and in 1965 opened up the doors of their home as an osmizza, selling their wine and the wonderful prosciutto they make from local pigs. Those doors are still open today.

Vineyard work is excellent. The Skerlj’s work organically, by hand and with real ntegrity. This is a harsh terrain. Vines vary in age and are planted at a density of up to 10,000 per hectare, promoting competition between the plants and resulting in fruit that is compact, powerful and intense.

Grapes are handpicked, fermented on skins in tini for several weeks and aged for two years in old casks in a cantina carved right out of the rock. The limestone provides the necessary insultion for the small amount of Vitovska, Malvasia and Terrano the family makes each year. We have just received the following wines.

Skerlj, Vitovska 2012
Vitovska is a grape that seems to give an almost literal translation of the Carso. This is a subtle, powerful wine that shimmers with minerals, as if it were chisseled out of the rock below. A drink with a remarkable sense of place.

Skerlj, Malvasia 2012
Matej’s Malvasia is among the best we have tried, fragrant with citrus and wild herbs, as the Carso was during our visit in the spring. The aromas are bound by a lingering lick of acid, something so often missing in the grape.

Skerlj, Terrano 2012
Terrano is a cerebral grape, not always easy to understand. You’ll only find it here on the plateau’s dusty red soils, brimming with iron and acid. Matej’s is dark but nimble, angular, with a real energy and drive. An intriguing wine.