In north-east Italy, 300m from Slovenia, you’ll find the town of Oslavia, and Saša Radikon, who is tasked with continuing the work of an exceptional wine family. That the Radikon reputation is so revered is thanks to the work of the intrepid Stanislao (Stanko) Radikon. Stanko was obsessive about producing pleasurable, natural wine, aiming for the “maximum expression of nature” at all times.
The Radikon land was originally planted with indigenous Ribolla Gialla grape by Stanko’s grandfather, Franz Mikulus, shortly after World War 2, and was joined by Merlot, Friulano, and Pinot Grigio thanks to Stanko’s parents, who took over the domaine. Stanko began bottling in 1979, but it took time to achieve the heights he is so fondly remembered for. He started with commercial winemaking, but, not so thrilled with the results, decided to go backwards. Stanko wanted to make wine like his grandfather- unburdened by modern commercial winemaking tools and techniques.
Stanko is a risk-tasker and a man of character. Radikon lost a lot of customers thanks to what was seen as pretty radical winemaking, but he was steadfast in his plans, and the principles of his goals are hard to argue with. If pesticides were on the skins, how could the juice be properly macerated? Stanko wanted purity, wine of a time before chemicals and technology that took him farther from his ancestor’s winemaking. Wine should express culture, place, people, history- you begin to fuss with it too much, and you start losing the details.
Skin-contact and stability stand out with Radikon wine. Stanko experimented with a variety of skin-maceration time, settling on 3 months of skin maceration and 6 years of aging in the cellar. Stanko’s grandfather wanted to make wine that lasted a long time, and extended skin contact helped him achieve that. On top of that, he slimmed down the neck of his bottles and constructed a new cork, allowing as little air as possible to get through, and constructed the prototype bottle himself. What most find surprising about the stability and ageability of Radikon’s wines is the complete lack of sulfur- he stopped adding any at all in 2002. You can thank the extended skin contact for the preservation that allows them to forego sulfur. To take it even one step further, Stanko insisted on 500mL and 1L bottle sizes- you share two 500’s with dinner, or a one liter bottle.
Stanko Radikon seems almost like a mythical figure- so in tune with winemaking of the past, producing wine of exceptional craftsmanship and stability, nailing a style that is now as trendy as can be, yet controversial when he jumped in, and gone well before his time. After producing 36 vintages, he passed away at age 62 in 2016. Saša leads the way for Radikon since, and he’s as much a star as his father. He’s been deeply involved since childhood- he grew up among the vines, learning more in the cellar than he did studying oenology. Saša is a skilled winemaker with his own voice, reflected in the recent vintages of “S” wines from Radikon- shorter maceration, at 10-14 days, and just one year of aging in the cellar. Saša emphasizes work in the vines as the most important part of the Radikon operation. Without taking good care of your grapes, you can’t produce excellent wine. All vineyard work is done manually without herbicides or pesticides, and the vines are carefully pruned to produce low yields of perfect fruit.
60% Chardonnay/40% Sauvignon Blanc. All of Radikon’s whites are made in the same way: the organically farmed, stunningly low-yield, hand-harvested fruit is destemmed and gently crushed with a pneumatic press. The grapes are placed in old Slavonian oak vats and co-fermented with native yeasts. Maceration with the skins lasts about 3 months—however long it takes to reach total dryness–with no temperature control and no sulfur. The wine is racked and aged on its lees in huge Slavonian oak casks (25-35-hectoliter) for 3-4 years, racked twice a year. The wine is then bottled without sulfur and without filtration. The bottles are aged for several years before release.