THE HISTORY OF PICOLIT
Picolit is a white grape variety native to Friuli.
Its current name is Picolit, but in the past it was also known as Piccolito, Piccolit, and Piccolitto Friulano. Tradition says that it was already cultivated in Roman times, but the first historical documentation dates back to 1682: “A caratello (wooden keg) of sweet Piccolit wine” is mentioned in a testamentary deed.
Count Fabio Asquini da Fagagna (1726-1818), who was also an agronomist, was the most prominent figure in the history of Picolit: starting from Venice in 1762, he conducted profitable trading throughout Europe, from London to Paris, from Amsterdam to Moscow, from the Imperial Court of Vienna to the Papal Court.
Unfortunately, by the early 1800s and simultaneously with Asquini’s death, Picolit had begun to slowly decline, although it continued to be mentioned by various authors and we find it in presentations on grapes of the era. In particular, the Tuscan G.Gallesio inserted it as the only Friulian grape (Uva del Friuli or Piccolitto) in his “Italian Pomona or Treatise on Fruit Trees”.
Phylloxera, which struck Friuli in 1888, risked making it disappear altogether, as with many other native Friulian grape varieties.
Its modern resurrection is linked to the Perusini family at the beginning of the 1900s at Rocca Bernarda. Giacomo Perusini began by rebuilding the ancient Picolit vineyard and trying to solve the grape variety’s main problem: its low productivity. Son Giacomo Perusini continued his father’s work and had the merit of reviving the fame of the wine owing mainly to a high quality production that increased the awareness of enthusiasts and journalists of the era.
Vitis vinifera 'Picolit'
A drawing of a cluster of Picolit grapes taken from “Pomona Italiana” by Gallesio.
DESCRIPTION OF THE GRAPE VARIETY
One of its characteristics is its low productivity as not many berries ripen regularly. This is due to the fact that there are few fertilized flowers. The stamens are short, underdeveloped and reflexed so that the pollen cannot reach the stigma which is longer, but above all the pollen has little or no germination power and is therefore sterile.
This phenomenon is commonly known as floral abortion. For all these reasons, self-pollination is difficult if not impossible: (Figure D)
Fertilization occurs only when crossed with pollen from other vines (a very common intercropping is with “Verduzzo Friulano”) by anemophily (wind transport) or, to a lesser degree, entomophily (insect pollinators).
OUR TRADITIONAL VINIFICATION OF PICOLIT
Our area, and in particular Savorgnano del Torre, has always been suited to producing raisin wines, especially Picolit. To understand the grape variety’s historical significance and how deeply it is rooted in the territory, we need only take a tour of the vineyards where we can also find centuries-old vines.
1. Harvested manually in crates, around mid-September.
2. Afterwards the crates are taken to an attic space for about 70 days where natural drying takes place, without forcing (i.e. without temperature control or forced ventilation).
3. In December the grapes are selected (to eliminate the bunches or berries attacked by grey mould) then de-stemmed and gently pressed with a vertical press.
4. Next follows cold static decantation and fermentation (with native yeasts).
5. Ageing in barriques.
6. After about 18 months, the product is bottled, followed by further ageing for months in bottles before being released on the market.
Botrytis Cinerea is a type of fungus that attacks the peel of grape berries and is the cause of the undesirable grey rot on the bunch; in particular conditions, especially climatic ones, this organism can also develop only inside the berries, consuming hydrocarbonate and mineral substances, causing profound changes in the chemical composition of the future must.
In this form – known as noble rot – it plays a key role in producing several great sweet wines.
The necessary climatic conditions are alternating sunny and dry days – which allow the “traditional” ripening of the berries to continue – with warm, humid and foggy nights, which instead facilitate development of the mould.
The crucial moment therefore becomes the harvest which is carried out in successive steps, during which only the completely moulded grapes are collected, also because the mould – if it is not well developed or if it is too advanced – does not give the wine the flavours that characterize what are defined precisely as “noble rot” or “botrytized” wines.
The harvest must therefore be strictly manual, carried out in several steps, selecting not only bunches but even individual berries and may even last several weeks.
During this period the fungus attacks the berry depriving it of the water it contains in favour of a higher concentration of sugars and flavours. Bearing in mind the differences in ageing, refining and, above all, the percentage of grapes affected by noble rot, moulded wines generally have a golden colour. What intrigues most about these wines is released mainly to the sense of smell with a breadth and intensity of notes that can include dried fruit, honey, caramel, and spices such as saffron. All these characteristics generate the typical botrytized aromatic profile.
The wines made with botrytis cinerea and their areas of origin are now well known, but we also began observing and experimenting on this fungus many years ago in our territory .
Not all grapes found in the Colli Orientali area lend themselves to the production of botrytized wines: Picolit, together with Friuliano, is one of the varieties able to develop noble rot; we have been experimenting with it for many years now on both grape varieties and not only for producing sweet wines.
When the vintage permits with Picolit, we try to work with noble rot directly on the plant; when conditions do not allow it (such as, for example, too much rain) we work with botrytis in drying. In this case the wine produced takes the name of Mufis.
The percentage of noble rot found in Picolit is always 20-30%, whereas with Mufis it is 70-80%.
It is worth mentioning that even with drying, noble rot is not always able to develop; in fact the years in which Mufis has been produced (2003/2006/2011/2017) are few.
With Friuliano, in particular in a vineyard, it seems that noble rot is able to develop better compared to others. Here we try to produce a dry wine, Erba Alta.
The grapes are harvested in successive stages in late September, early October; the wine, then, after pressing, undergoes fermentation and ageing in 10 hl barrels. Also in this case, depending on the vintages, the percentage of botrytis changes. Therefore the wines that are obtained are always different and this wine cannot always be produced (2011/2013/2015/2016/2017) with all vintages.