50 million years ago, where we now find our hills which are made from a type of rock substrate called “Ponca”, there was once a fairly shallow marine lagoon on whose bed a complex of sedimentary rocks known as Cormòns flysch was laid down. This is an original geological formation which features alternating strata of marl and sandstone laid down in segments whose depths range from a few inches to over a foot. This gave rise to a terroir which is possibly the only one of its kind in the world.
50 million years ago the local geography was very different from today. The Eurasian continent still hadn’t joined up with Africa, and the Mediterranean didn’t exist; instead there was a wide strait that separated the two continental land masses. The marl which was brought up to the surface and then subject to weathering gave rise to our soils. But this happened a long time afterwards when, once the extremely slow migration of Africa towards the Eurasian land masses was complete, the two tectonic plates collided and the marine sedimentary strata were lifted up to form upland features.
The Ponca stretches all the way from the north east of Udine as far as the south of Istria, in Croatia. The part closest to us, which formed in the northernmost bays of the lagoon, straddles the present day border between Italy and Slovenia. More precisely it is split among two countries, three provincial local government areas and four Protected Denominations of Origin from the Collio, the Colli Orientali del Friuli, the Brda and the Vipava. Many peoples have trodden these lands and many have left heavy traces of their passage. Wine has always been central to the Ponca area’s economy since ancient times notwithstanding the frequent shifts of national borders as a result of the area often being fought over by various local and European powers.
To mention only relatively recent historical events, long periods of Italy’s battle in the Great War were fought on the hills of the Collio and the Brda which surround the town of Gorizia. Later, after World War II (which among these hills turned into a bloody civil conflict) on the night between the 15th and the 16th September 1947 the Ponca area and its vineyards were bisected by barbed wire; the Iron Curtain which ran all the way from Berlin to Gorizia had split the world in two.
The political events which followed on from Mikhail Gorbacev’s perestrojka brought about the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the declaration of the new Republic of Slovenia in 1991, which went on to join the European Union. A new era of political union in the Ponca area began when Slovenia entered the Schengen area and with the elimination of the borders in December 2007.
From 1987 onwards, following the new acquisition of vineyards in Ca’ delle Vallade, Borgo del Tiglio began an intense study of the terroir whose aim was to understand how the various growing sites influenced the characteristics of the wines produced from them. With this aim, the company underwent a complete rethink regarding issues which ranged from the buildings to the cultivation and vinification methods. Twenty years after this in-depth research was initiated on the company’s plots in the Collio, the border which had divided the Ponca for 60 years was lifted; thus came about the desire to discover the overall potential of the Ponca and the character which the various sites could infuse into the wines which come from them.
It immediately became clear to us that the borders outlined by the existing D.O.C.’s were arbitrary in that they were drawn by mere bureaucratic design. Moreover, we found that the three different types of Ponca which we found under the three company plots are found elsewhere beyond the Collio, where yet other types are present. Our experience gained from our company plots suggested that the various kinds of Ponca were able to confer different notes to the wines they produced.
But would these be found again in other similar locations to the original ones by dint of the character of the underlying rocks? And how great could the influence of climate be? How many different combinations of altitude, orientation and geology could there be? Only through trying and testing can these thousands of questions be answered.
And so it was that with the help of some Slovenian friends and colleagues, initially through experimenting just with the grapes, and then, over the last few years, using a structured method, harvesting and vinifying the grapes in our own cellars, we have been attempting (with selected vines from various Ponca hillsides) through our own agronomic management, to be able to “read” the terroir in the wines we obtain.
After having sold a certain quantity of that wine in bulk, the idea came about of using this wine that had been obtained as a result of research, for a product line under the brand of “Milleponche”, in the hope that once the national borders had gone, the bureaucratic obstacles would also be removed, those which prevent a winery from marketing a wine under the name of the place where its grapes were harvested. When that day arrives, we shall be ready, but in the meantime we are learning a great deal, including how to make the wines that originate from our land even better.
Our dream is that this unique landscape, and the selfsame rock from which it rises, with its own unique 50 million year history, may at least - through the fragrances and flavours of the wines it is capable of producing - be able to bring together the ideals of men.