Nikolas Juretic: Finding the Balance

28.6.2024

From art through Simonit & Sirch to farming the family vineyards – and making art again.

Nikolas farms 2ha of family-owned vineyards in his native Cormons in the Collio area, on the border between Slovenia and Italy, and makes (skin-contact) white wines I thoroughly enjoy – precise, soil-driven, balanced between ripeness of grapes and flavours and beautifully tense structure.

I think he is a rising star, not only for his region but for wine – good wine – in general. The wine world needs more people like Nikolas – I wish there was at least one in every wine region! He is a great example of a man who walks and works with nature, not against it. Not dogmatic but open-minded while knowing what he wants and where he is headed.

Unlike most other growers whom I usually meet at fairs, Nikolas luckily came into our lives through my work with Simonit & Sirch – he is one of their pruning wizards, travelling around the world teaching people how to give their vines as much longevity as possible through sensible pruning. I dare say we became friends, he never refused to give me advice when I asked. Plus, we are of similar ages and have children the same age. He makes wine with his wife Lelle, just like me and Mira… in short, we have countless topics to talk about, as you'll see in the following interview.

Words by Milan Nestarec & Lucie Kohoutová / Photos courtesy of Nikolas Juretic

I'll start on a light note – how are you? It looks like you're quite a busy man now, the family is growing, your wines are great and always sell out quickly, you are always travelling a lot… You looked happy the last time I saw you. Is it true? Are you having a good time of your life?

Indeed, a busy time! I have a lot going on in every way – we are slowly expanding the production and organising the new cellar properly which takes a lot of time. I’m happy with how everything is developing, just a bit tired because I sleep fewer hours, but family helps me smile a lot.

I see you as someone who loves wine, nature and his region boundlessly. Tell me more about Cormons and the surrounding area – what is the situation with natural wine there now? I was quite surprised when you told me that you and Kristian Keber were alone. Is it getting better, are there any new faces?

I love this place to death. I’ve spent my childhood and youth always outside in the vineyards and forest and I’m still doing the same now. Cormons and its surroundings is an amazing area, still not ruined by mass tourism and enjoying a slow life.

Collio had a moment of fame in the past decades, especially in Italy, that’s why many wineries are not changing and evolving their style. Especially in Cormons the wine production and offer hasn’t changed much, but what the current visitors and wine tourists are looking for in our region is something different.

"Thanks to people like Gravner, Radikon and others, their part of Friuli got a strong impulse and growth. Yet somehow in Cormons, things haven't changed. "

The first and only one before me was Kristian Keber who started experimenting when he was young and now, after taking over the family estate, he has changed everything. After him, I and a few other young winemakers decided to start a new approach to making wine. Marta Venica and Mitja Sirk began a new project in the same period as me and they have helped and supported us very much. Their approach in the vineyard is great, they cultivate with much respect for soil and landscape. The wines are a bit more “technical” than mine, but anyway I’m very happy to have such colleagues! Luca Dellisanti together with Davide Gaggiola in Cormons started a beautiful natural wine project a few years ago, which is very promising for the future.

The first time we met was thanks to your work in Simonit and Sirch. Can you please tell me something about this path in your life? How did you get this job and how difficult was/is it?

Before I met Marco Simonit, I spent two years in Australia working in a small winery in the Mornington Peninsula, called Quealy. This was a very important step on my journey. Before Australia, I had worked for a few wineries in Cormons, but as you can imagine, they were very technical and used every possible chemical to correct and modify wine. There was no space for creativity or adjustments, I just had to follow the instructions like recipe and work.

Australia was the exact opposite, there was always space for discussion and experimentation. The wine region was still very young, the oldest vines in 2012 were max 20 years old, so there was no tradition, no recipe or formula to follow. I had the opportunity to work together with amazing people who let me try things out and were curious about my opinion.

In 2013, I decided to come back home and try to make some wine with my parents' grapes. Just a few weeks after my return, on a Sunday morning riding the horse in La Subida, I met Marco Simonit and he offered me a job. His company was growing very quickly and the demand for his consultancy and training was very high. Right away, I’ve decided to try this and put my wish to make wine aside for a while. So I’ve started travelling all over the world together with Simonit & Sirch. It was a tough but very inspiring and beautiful period.

Thanks to this work, you have certainly met a large number of interesting people. Do you remember any key moment that opened your eyes, that surprised you, whether positively or negatively?

I've met so many beautiful people! One was Andreas Schumann who showed me what biodynamic agriculture is and shared his great approach to making wine. Meeting Claus Preisinger and tasting wines with him was also very inspiring.

Unfortunately, I’ve also met and seen some bad examples of winemaking and viticulture. I’m not going to name names, but there are many problems in defacing and polluting the soil and environment, and also owners with not much respect for the people working in the vineyards. Some people work with plants without any respect – they don’t understand that plants are living beings, very sensitive to how we treat them. No wonder then if these wineries need to use massive chemical treatments in vineyards to try to stop the diseases affecting these poor sick plants. As a consequence, in the cellar, these people need to correct and cover all of the problems with enological techniques.

Please tell me more about your family winemaking history – what are your background and roots?

My father Robert was born and grew up in San Floriano del Collio, a village on top of the hill next to Oslavia. The generations before him were settlers, cultivating a piece of land for the Earls of San Floriano. This means they were very poor and living only with what was possible to cultivate. Vineyard cultivation was part of the contract with the earls, so only a small percentage of the grapes and other cultivations remained in the family. A bit of wine was always produced with very rudimental methods and old techniques.

Maceration of the white grapes was normal. I still remember how my grandfather was living – nowadays, he would be considered a Biodynamic guru, but for that generation, it was simply normal. He was cultivating and living in connection with every little corner of his 2 hectares; vegetables, fruits, animals, vineyards, everything was connected. That was an inspiration for my work, as well as his permacultural viticulture methods.

"I still remember how my grandfather was living – nowadays, he would be considered a Biodynamic guru, but for that generation, it was simply normal. "

Can you please tell me more about your terroir and the way you work in the cellar?

The area we cultivate is mainly made of Ponka soil [also called flysch, consisting of sandstone and marl and rich in limestone, editor's note], great soil for viticulture because it lets the roots grow extremely deep and the vineyards have a middle vigour naturally. Crops are not big and thanks to the warm climate it is easy to reach good grape maturity – I love very ripe grapes! During harvest we don’t measure anything on the grapes, we harvest by taste only. This is very important to obtain a complex and rich wine. But we need a fresh element too. This is partly given by the stems as we don’t destem and do whole-bunch maceration. Also, accepting a bit higher volatile acidity helps maintain freshness in the wine. The macerations times vary – every vineyard, grape variety and vintage needs different lenghth of skin contact.

Who influenced you the most in your professional life? Is there a winemaker who inspires you – and why?

A big inspiration was my trip to Georgia. I went there to understand the long maceration and came back home crazy in love with Nikoladze Ramaz wines that are made without maceration. It's the same at home – I'm very curious about the long-macerated wines from my area, but I prefer to drink something with a short or no maceration.

The wines of Burja from Primož are amazing because they simultaneously transmit great freshness and complexity with beautiful control of the maceration without being dogmatic.

When I want to drink skin contact wines, then I’m crazy for Alex Klinec, also a great friend and supporter of my work. And Milan, your wines are also something I love to drink without limits in the last years.

Oh thank you, that's a pleasure to hear. And a compliment I must return – it's always a pleasure to open a bottle of yours. Back to my questions, what do you think is the biggest misunderstanding or misconception in today's world of wine? Is there something that us winemaking folk are blindly following yet it's false progress?

I keep hearing that it is important to anticipate the harvest to produce fresher wines in this always hotter climate. That’s the biggest mistake for me. We have to change our approach in the vineyard first, there are many ways of keeping the soil and the vines fresh in summer, there is a need to rethink the way the bunches are treated during summer. There is a need to rethink the varieties we are using. Historically, there are numerous examples of big changes in viticulture and an evolution of grape varieties to adapt to the climate. I believe it is also wrong to believe only in a handful of varieties just because they are indigenous and the market demands it.

You paint all your labels yourself. Not only are they beautiful but they also attract consumers to your region even more. Do you have any other supernatural skills that I don't know about? Is wine art for you?

When I was younger, I decided to study art. This period was beautiful, free without any limits. Then my interest in wine prevailed and art took the backseat. But when I started making my own wine, it was a great opportunity for me to make my own labels, make art both on the bottle and inside.

You and Lelle, your partner in both life and wine, make a great wine couple. Do you influence each other?

Yes, we do. We try our wines together all the time and discuss them, we look for new ideas and inspiration. Her Cuvée surely got a bit of my influence and vice versa, the special release we are now producing in Cormons bears her touch.

I think that my life and work changed after Mirka and I became parents. You and I have children of similar age – how has parenthood affected you? Has this fact affected the way you work, if at all?

Yes, very much so! Being parents is wonderful, it brings so many beautiful moments only for you. The emotions are so strong, but there are also many things to do.

Before becoming a father, I was spending whole days outside around my vineyards, just to feel nature and observe and understand my plants. The same thing in my cellar, I had more time to just sit and think. Now, every working process needs to be more quick and the time available is limited. I’m still trying to get used to it.

What are your plans for the future? Where are you directing most of your energy to right now?

The focus is on trying to get more efficient, as I mentioned. I don’t want to be less present for my children and family and don’t want to dedicate more attention to my wine production than I am now so getting my winery and life well organised is very important now.

With the 2024 vintage, we're going to make a brand-new white wine. It's a collaboration with a local winegrower, already in the making, with the goal of making a lighter style of wine, at a lower price point.

We are also going to start a new collaboration with a great friend, Zsoka. She is going to produce red wines in my cellar. Something I’m not able to do.

What do you think is the future of the natural wine scene? In recent years, it has experienced quite drastic changes. Where do you think it will all go?

The extreme natural wines of the past years and the big natural wine movement has helped to keep a big interest in wine also in cities and countries where wine is not a traditional drink. I think this was something amazing and impossible to reach with the sternness of conventional wine. Now is the time to find the balance and it is already happening. Many conventional wineries are changing their approach and many wines are becoming more and more interesting. I don’t really know how everything will turn out in a decade, but a big change is already happening and it will continue to evolve. Change is part of our life.

"The natural wine movement has helped to keep a big interest in wine also in cities and countries where wine is not a traditional drink. I think this was something amazing and impossible to reach with the sternness of conventional wine. "

If you had to point out one important bottle in your life, which one was it and why?

I was very lucky to get two amazing bottles on the same evening. Both were presented blind, by two great friends of mine. The first one was a very rich white wine, the first sip was difficult as a white wine from Collio in a hot vintage can get too much. After the second try, it was of great elegance and energy, was mind-blowing, kept me busy thinking about it for weeks. The second one was cold, acidic, with delicate white flowers' aromas. The variety was familiar, was it from my area? So fresh, crispy and old at the same time…

The first one was Château Rayas Blanc 1995. Second one Gradnik Tocai Friulano 1984.

Both wines were a big lesson. How a warm-vintage white wine can taste amazing and how in our region it is possible to make Tocai Friulano in a totally different way than the people are used to.

These two wines are still a big influence on my way of making my two main wines, the Toc di Montone (blue label) and Grande Waldo (orange label).

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