Sunday 29 July 2018

VCR, 'far and away the most important grapevine nursery in the world.'.

Remember the VCR (Video Cassette Recorder)? Yes? Well that dates you. Ever heard of Vinai Co-operativi Rauscedo VCR? No? You will.

Why will you hear of the Vivai Cooperativi Rauscedo? Because after 80 years of breeding and supplying the world with sanitary and un-virussed grapes (did you know that most Argentinian Malbec plant material comes from the VCR?), they are embarking on a programme to make resistant clones of all the best known varieties. They have already produced a PIWI resistant Pinot Noir and more than one Sauvignon Blancs. Imagine a world without chemical sprays and wines as good as anything today with no chemical residues. There may not be a choice sooner or later as products are outlawed (Systhane, Copper Sulphate) and others lose their effectiveness.

Rauscedo is a small town north of Pordenone just inside Friuli, an hour and a half from Venice. We have been wanting to pay them a visit after pilgrimages to Geisenheim, Geilweilerhof, Freiburg, Geneva NY and INRA Montpellier. These visits have been immensely exciting. Go if you can, especially if as in this case you can taste micro-vinifications of the grapes they have obtained through hybridisation, crossing etc.

Our trip originated in Venice taking one of the earlier No1.vaporettos down the Grand Canal to the Ferrovia. In any circumstances, one of the great journeys of the world but at 07.00 especially magical.

A pleasant rail journey passing through Conegliano, birthplace of Lorenzo da Ponte and centre of Glera production.

an awful lot of Glera really.

Rauscedo is a village a few Km from Casarsa and it was good to leave all thoughts of Prosecco behind, arriving at the Vivai Cooperativi where literally thousands of different varieties are produces in this vast vine nursery.

Our charming and knowledgeable guide was Dr. Stefano Battistella, Export Sales Manager.

The VCR brochure states

The “tale” of Rauscedo began in 1933 when in this small village of the province of Pordenone, in the region of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, some families formed a cooperative that would become the greatest grape-growing concern in the world. This tale is still going on thanks to the work of 250 coopertive members who have another very important task: to guarantee the availability of a perfect product under the morphological, genetic and sanitary point of view in more than 30 wine-producing countries served by this company, a perfect product under morphologic, genetic and sanitary profile. Thanks to a potential of 1,200 hectares of nursery and 1,400 hectares of rootstocks, VCR is capable of producing over 80 million grafted vines subdivided into more than 4,000 combinations, The extent of nursery grounds, the very good climate, the members' high know-how allow to obtain the average yield of first choice grafted vines amounting to 75% with peaks exceeding 90%. These targets are unthinkable elsewhere. In almost 90 years of activity Vivai Cooperativi Rauscedo has become far and away the most important grapevine nursery in the world.


 We first toured various empty hangars which Stefano explained would be at times full with the 800 seasonal staff the VCR takes on each year.

The place is vast. It has to be. 85 million vines are sold from here each year, in Italy and all over the world including countries one might not expect such as Poland and Russia.

including some Pinot Nero

Bunches are shipped to the southern hemisphere during our northern hemisphere summer.

cold store
The rest of the vines are held in cold store and are brought out only when shipped to their destinations.

neatly labelled of course. Evidence of a huge undertaking.


Here and there evidence of ongoing research and development as here with different waxes for grafting.

Then on to what was for us perhaps the most fascinating area, the facility for micro-vinification.

Here were tanks of various sizes

the smallest being only 50 litres. At a tasting promised to round off our visit evidence of a master hand at microvinification was in every bottle.

Damigiani also
No less than 350 micro-vinifications are made at Rauscedo every year. Other institutions don't match the success rate of Rauscedo in this very difficult process it seems to us.


Outside we visited an enormous building for the propagation of baby vines.

one of many unending avenues

to see the experimental vines in their later stages of development we had to hop into Stefano's car

all vines are irrigated and fed by unseen sources
the rellising is a marvel to behold. Here was vinegrowing on an epic scale (1,563 Ha.), complete with an amazing system for protection against birds.

building for the future
There was also a site for new research buildings. We also passed fields of roostocks (1,400 Ha.).

tasting room with temperature controlled cabinets

Back indoors we were ushered into the exquisite tasting room where Stefano selected several desease-resistant varietal wines he considered relevant to the climate in the South of England.

Sauvignon Nepsis and Sauvignon Rytos were unmistakenly Sauvignons but we were looking for something different.

We were tremendously excited to have found it in this. Soreli ('sun' in Friulian dialect) is from Tocai Friulano or Friulano as we must now call it. It has a very early ripening time in Rauscedo - August 22nd. This microvinification produced a wine of 13.2% Abv with 6.2 acid and 3.3 PH readings. The wine is delicate and floral. We have decided to grub up our 25 year old Bacchus and replant with Soreli next year. This may be one of the first if not the very first planting of Soreli (or any Rauscedo clone?) in the UK.

We were also offered tastings of Sauvignon Kretos (ripening time August 11th!), Merlot Khorus (August 31st), Cabernet Volos ('average' ripening time) and the following clones so far without names;

VCR 109.052 (ripened 30th August)
VCR156.312  (11th October)
VCR 156.537 (5th October) 

All fascinating. The VCR 156.537 (from Pinot Noir) was especially good. We have already replanted our red block with the Blattner Cabernet Noir so were only looking for a white variety.

It had been kind of Stefano to open so many bottles. We asked him what would happen to them after our departure. He answered with a shrug. We hope the remains would be given to staff with their lunches. The wines were certainly much too good to pour away.

The VCR website sums up 'Experimentation; the true power of innovation' as follows;

The secret of VCR’s primacy lies in the never-ending search of new varieties, clones and crossings that can give better and better results for the growers. Vivai Cooperativi Rauscedo have gone through all the major strands of the research in the grapevine nursery domain, such as: from micropropagation to green-grafting, health checks through Elisa test and PCR, from cloning with weak selective pressure to the characterization of the clones through the evaluation of fine parameters. A decisive contribution to the improvement of quality are offered by Vivai Cooperativi Rauscedo also through the 350 microvinifications that are performed annually in the VCR Experimental Winery: they allow a constant check on the oenological potential of the different Italian and foreign clones that are the object of the multiplication; tasting sessions are also an opportunity for a fruitful dialogue between winemakers, growers and nurserymen in the interest of the entire wine industry...

In addition, in 2006 Vivai Cooperativi Rauscedo, as a financing partner, joined the project "Sequencing and Characterisation of the Grapevine Genome" of the Institute of Applied Genomics of Udine, believing it will be crucial to be able to benefit in the medium-to-long term the results of a research aimed at obtaining disease-resistant varieties through hybridization. The innovation and scientific experimentation are therefore the true engine for VCR’s growth, because they allow growers in all wine-growing areas of the world to improve the quality of their products through the use of VCR clones and grafted vines.

And under the heading 'The Original VCR Clones,' this fascinating article:

Since 1960 the VIVAI COOPERATIVI RAUSCEDO has been selecting its own original clones: a very important strategic choice aimed to make a large quantity of their own selections available to growers, additionally to the clones selected by the Public Research Institutes. In 1990, following the enormous success of the "Rauscedo" series, that still boasts some excellent clones clones such as the Cabernet Sauvignon Rauscedo 5, Chardonnay Rauscedo 8, Sangiovese Rauscedo 24, Sauvignon Rauscedo 3, etc., the approval process for the "VCR" clones started.
These biotypes are distinguished primarily by the sanitary tests covering all the more dangerous and widespread viral organisms afflicting vineyards and, in particular, the fanleaf virus, leafroll disease and rugose wood complex, and by the great care taken at the genetic level in the identification of biotypes able to satisfy the quantitative and qualitative needs of modern viticulture. But the clonal selection activities of Vivai Cooperativi Rauscedo have not only concerned the local and international varieties grown in Italy, but also those relating to the most important wine-producing countries abroad.
By the end of the 1980s, intensive varietal exploration commenced in Greece involving famous native vines like Mandilari, Liatiko, Vidiano, Limnio, Moschofilero, Aghiorghitiko, in Serbia and Montenegro with Prokupac, Vranac, Kratošija and Krstac, in the Czech Republic with the Moravia varieties which is the par excellence wine-growing region of that country, and has recently begun selection work with Crimea and Azerbaijan varieties.

Buy wine, Stazione ferroviale Santa Lucia, Venezia

The station always had a surprising selection of wine but this has grown and now there are shelves galore - even Tignanello if you should feel the need.

Together with the shop at Prague main railway station (Praha hlavní nádraží), this must be one of the outstanding station wineshops. It puts most airport duty frees to shame.

Friday 20 July 2018

Hotspot Lisbon

Aah, Jacarandas
Unique place Lisbon. 18th century city, lovely people (did you ever meet a Portuguese you didn't like?), art (Gulbenkian Museum among others), food (note José Avillez's operation), still flourishing bookshops, markets, trams, proximity to interesting places nearby (Estoril, Cascais, Sintra) - and wine!

Colares bottles at Joaninha, Cascais (see below)
Slotovino has a few obsessions. Perhaps the main one is Colares, the wine grown in sand on the coast to the north of Lisbon. Indeed so near as to be in the process of being swallowed up by the outskirts of Lisbon itself. The vineyard area of Colares is now reduced to perhaps 10 ha. The unique Ramisco (red) and Colares Malvasia grapes are not grown anywhere else. Because they are grown in sand they were never attacked by Phylloxera and enjoyed a period of international distibution during the Phylloxera epidemic. The reds in particular are age-worthy and are typically low in alcohol.

Talking about the red, not everyone shares our love of this wine. More eminent palates than ours find it not to their liking ('Hmmm, where's the fruit?' 'Not for me I'm afaid...' 'A little sour... Definitely one for wine geeks.' 'Tight and tart.'

Our experience has been quite different. True, the ageworthiness is sometimes overstated and the few remaining producers have different styles. Arenae seem to be on a mission to make more highly extracted wines. Their alcohol levels have been creeping up. The above comments related to Viuva Gomes, Monte Cascas, Casal Santa Maria and Adega Regional whereas our benchmark is Colares Chitas (Antonio Bernardino Paulo da Silva).

Prices for Colares tend to be high, reflecting the rarity of this wine. However, if you go to Lisbon and the area around you can see a reassuring number of bottles and not all are expensive.

The best deal we found came from the venerable Manuel Tavares shop. Colates Chitas 2007 for only Eur. 20.60. We had seen the same bottle elsewhere for almost double that price.

Mauel Tavares is also a nice Gastronomia

Although looking delightfully old-fashioned, Manuel Tavares is super efficient online. We bought a case of this Colares Chitas from them and it arrived in record time.

The veritable wine hotspot of Lisbon is at the corner of Rua Dos Fanqueiros and the Rua de Santa Justa where there are not just one but two branches of Garrafeira Napoleão as well as a bright new branch of Garrafeira Nacional whose original shop is just up the road. 

Here are the two branches of Garrafeira Napoleao on either side of the rua Santa Justa. It is difficult to walk up the street without buying a bottle or two.

The founder Francisco Napoleao can still be found at one or other of the shops having his lunch most days.

Garrafeira Nacional's new shop is opposite

The top two shelves are devoted to Colares at Garrafeira Nacional
It was heartening to see shelves of Colares at all these shops. These are in the original Garrafeira Nacional shop nearby.

on a neighbouring shelf, these bottles caught our eye at Eur. 450 each. Pêra-Manca was news to us. An assistant explained that it is the most expensive wine of the South of Portugal whereas Barca Velha had that distinction in the North. Pêra-Manca is made from Trincadeira and Aragonês (Tempranillo) and is produced only in exceptional years.

On an excursion to Cascais we discovered Joaninha, a lovely modern wine boutique, also with a fine selection of Colares (see photo above).

Pedro was our helpful guide.

We mentioned the chef/restauranteur José Avillez at the top. He is Mr. Portugal as far as restaurants are concerned. Still young he studied with Alain Ducasse and was an intern at El Bulli. He took over the 'Bel Canto' restaurant next to the Teatro Sao Carlos opera house in Lisbon and achieved 2 Michelin stars in no time. He then proceeded to open at least a dozen restaurants and bars in Lisbon and Porto, all very good if the two we went to are anything to go by.

As well as the excellent menu, staff and atmosphere we were very taken with the first winelist on a tablet we had ever seen. At the top there is a description of the wine - in this case

Country; Portugal
Appellation; Vinhos Verdes
Grape Variety; Alvarinho

and then a list of dishes 'Best with' - "peixinhos da Horta", Beef Tartare, Bt Egg, Cantinho Salad, Cherry Gazpacho, Mushroon Risotto, Octopus, Professor Eggs, Roasted Cheese, Sausage with cornbread, Scallops, Shrimp, Tuna Tartare, Vegetable Curry, Vegetable Tangine, Barrosa Burger.

You can click on Wines by the glass, Natural Wine, Red, Champagne and Sparkling, White etc. and receive similar information on every entry. Perfect. Note to all other restauranteurs worldwide, please copy.

Lisbon sometimes feels wine-mad.

At the airport, an entire display of wines from 'Native Grapes.' Astonishing. There was even Colares to be had. It is really worth getting to the airport early.

We bought

Casa de Vilacetinho white Vino Verde from their signature grape Avesso blended with Loureiro

A Joao Pires Moscatel Graudo - a synonym for Muscat D'Alexandrie - from the Setubal Peninsula,

another white Vinho Verde this time from Quinta de Avaleda (not to be confused with Quinta Azevedo) Loueiro/Alvarinho

And this remarkable Merlot/Saborinho/Cabernet Franc blend from the Azores. Saborinho is the local name for Negramoll. At 11.5% this was absolutely delicious. The very definition of more-ish. Undoubtedly the best red wine we have ever had from the Azores.

All these bottles were inexpensive and good.

And so we bade farewell to Lisbon - not before glimpsing a vineyard from the plane window (it's just below the big white building).