Schiopetto Friulano: 1992-2017


Mario Schiopetto is considered the father of modern Friuli Venezia Giulia (FVG) wines. Before his arrival, FVG wines garnered mostly local interest and were consumed fairly quickly after the harvest. But Schiopetto’s wines were clean, precise, mineral and ageworthy, and they rapidly gained an international following, literally putting FVG on the map. Schiopetto’s Friulano, first made in 1965, has long been one of the region’s gold standards for this iconic indigenous variety.

Born in 1930, Mario Schiopetto took an atypical path to stardom, holding a number of different jobs before becoming a full-time wine producer. When still young, he worked in his family’s restaurant in Udine, the Osteria ai Pompieri, where he learned about wine from his father, Giorgio. Schiopetto was also a truck driver, and spent considerable amounts of time in Germany and France. Though these two jobs were far removed from the more common path of attending viticulture and enology school (the route most winemakers and producers follow today), they did allow Schiopetto to gain hands-on experience with European wines. At the restaurant, he was able to try all the better-known Italian wines of the time, many of which did not leave him especially impressed, while his travels through Europe helped him develop his palate for great German Riesling and French Chardonnay. In his formative years, Schiopetto learned a great deal about terroir and grapevines from the French, but there is no doubt that German winemaking most influenced his vision of the wines he wanted to create. Schiopetto’s whites were and always have been famous for their purity, precision, cut and minimal oak; in fact, while Schiopetto made his first Tocai (known as Friulano today) in 1965, he did not employ any oak barrels whatsoever until the 1980s. Even then, he used large old oak barrels and only for a short period of time.

Schiopetto was not just innovative in his winemaking, but also blessed with keen marketing and business acumen. At a time when few, if any, FVG wineries were known outside of the region and producers sold their wine in bulk or in demijohns, Schiopetto was the first to estate-bottle under his own label. He was also extremely careful about selling his wine to specific niche markets, wanting to place it in upscale shops where FVG wine had not been sold much before. In the 1990s Schiopetto built a new cellar in Capriva del Friuli and bought the estate’s first vineyards, located outside of the Collio, near Rosazzo, in FVG’s Colli Orientali denomination.

After Schiopetto’s death in 2003 at 72 years of age, his children Maria Angela, Carlo and Giorgio took over, prior to selling the estate to current owner Emilio Rotolo in 2014. (Rotolo is also the owner of the prestigious FVG Volpe Pasini estate.) When he took over, Rotolo installed Maria Angela as honorary president to maintain a link with the Schiopetto name and history. Today it is Alessandro Rotolo, one of Emilio Rotolo’s two sons, who follows Schiopetto most closely, helped by consultant winemaker Lorenzo Landi.

Mario Schiopetto’s place in Italian wine history is important, and his legacy lives on. During the 1960s and 1970s, Schiopetto was not just Friuli’s most famous winemaker, but one of the most renowned in all of Italy. The majority of FVG’s leading winemakers of the 1970s and 1980s learned, or at the very least honed, their craft by following his lead. 

The beautiful view of the vineyards at Schiopetto.

The Estate and Its Friulano

Schiopetto started his career renting vines owned by the Archbishop of Gorizia at Spessa di Capriva in 1965 and was finally able to buy them in 1989. Today the estate owns vines in four different communes: Capriva, Pradis, Zegla and Oleis. The Friulano is made with grapes grown in Capriva, a quaint village in the Collio where the winery is located. (Friulano is the present-day name for Tocai Friulano, which can no longer be used in Friuli, but that is a saga for another day.) Schiopetto's famous blended white, Blanc de Rosis, is sourced mostly from Zegla and Pradis and only in small part from Oleis, where the estate also grows red grape varieties that benefit from the warmer mesoclimate.

Schiopetto’s consultant winemaker is Lorenzo Landi, who also consults at Volpe Pasini, the first wine estate that Emilio Rotolo bought in FVG. Like Rotolo, Landi believes in making very clean, precise, steely white wines that honor the Schiopetto mindset and tradition. The hand-picked Friulano grapes are pressed in a soft press, then briefly decanted in the total absence of sulfur dioxide. Alcoholic fermentation takes place in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks, and the wine spends eight months on the lees. The recently introduced Friulano M is similarly made but has anywhere between 3% and 5% Riesling in the blend. It is a single-vineyard wine from the estate’s oldest vines, planted in 1954. (Schiopetto, a Riesling lover, planted a small number of Riesling vines in random fashion throughout the vineyard, hence this variety’s small presence in the Friulano M.)

I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to taste many old vintages of what is a truly historic Italian white wine, but as good as they were, I found that the older wines had not gained much in terms of complexity or nuance with prolonged bottle age. Although the wines are drinking splendidly well, it’s hard not feel that most would probably have showed best within their first eight years of life. There is also a noteworthy difference in depth and complexity between the regular Friulano and the M bottling; while the former is a beautiful wine made in the crystal-clear style typical of Schiopetto, the M takes this crystalline purity to a whole other level. Chalk that up to the magic of old vines.

The wines in this vertical tasting were tasted in July 2019 from bottles sourced directly from the estate’s cellar.

See the Wines from Youngest to Oldest

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