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Terpin

Who: Franco and Daniella Terpin

Where: San Floriano del Collio, Gorizia, Friuli Venezia-Giulia

What grapes: Friulano, Pinot Grigio

How many bottles: 25,000

Key facts: This natural estate uses long macerations and aging to produce wild, colorful, textural white wines.


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Sialis Pinot Grigio

Organic: Practicing organic methods
Soil type: Marl Sandstone
Elevation: 180-270m
Grapes: Pinot Grigio
Method of fermentation: Grape clusters are de-stemmed, and the fruit macerates and ferments for eight days in barrels made from Slavonian wood. Then the wines age for a year in barriques, a year in stainless steel, and finally a year in bottle
Bottles made: 

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Sauvignon

Organic: Practicing organic methods
Soil type: Ponca marl sandstone
Elevation: 180-270m
Grapes: Sauvignon Blanc
Method of fermentation: Grape clusters are de-stemmed, and the fruit macerates and ferments for eight days in barrels made from Slavonian wood. Then the wines age for a year in barriques, a year in stainless steel, and finally a year in bottle
Bottles made: 

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Terpin Jakot Bianco IGT

Organic: Practicing Organic methods
Soil type: Marl Sandstone
Elevation: 180 meters
Grapes: 100% Tocai Friulano
Method of fermentation: Fermentation starts in stainless-steel tanks with wild yeasts and continues in French oak barrels for about 60 days. The wine ages 12 months in oak barrels, 12 months in steel tanks and 6 months in the bottle. 

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Chardonnay

Organic: Practicing organic methods
Soil type: Ponca marl sandstone
Elevation: 180-270m
Grapes: Chardonnay
Method of fermentation: Grape clusters are de-stemmed, and the fruit macerates and ferments for eight days in barrels made from Slavonian wood. Then the wines age for a year in barriques, a year in stainless steel, and finally a year in bottle
Bottles made: 

Also available:

Terpin Quinto Quarto Pinot Grigio

Organic: Practicing Organic methods
Soil type: Marl Sandstone
Elevation: 100-150 meters
Grapes: 100% pinot Grigio
Method of fermentation: Skins separated from stalks after harvest, macerations and fermentation happen in Slovonian oak barrels for 8 days. Aged 12 months in oak barrels, 12 months in steel tanks, and 12 months in bottle.


I spotted the “Terpin” sign on the fence while carefully navigating my little Italian vehicle through the foggy, rainy landscape. Daniella Terpin and their teenage daughter came out to greet me. I followed them to the cellar where Franco was waiting. The cellar is big and new and cold. Franco is a big, strong, gregarious man. Big smile, big hands. He and I were born in the same year. Life in San Floriano del Collio must not be so bad; he looks younger than me.

We sit down at a long wooden table and talk about the Terpin family operation. Just Franco, Daniella and their cousin, Eric, take care of their 10 hectares of vineyards and 25,000 bottle annual production.

They make three lines of wines. Qinto Quarto is the most affordable group. These wines undergo a three-day maceration on the skins prior to fermentation, and are allowed eight-months to mature in stainless steel.

Terpin is the eponymous mid range. They macerate for seven days in wood before fermentation. Post-fermentation these wines mature for one year in wood followed by one year in stainless steel. During my visit we tasted ’07 wines that were bottled in ’09.

Sialis are the estate’s top wines. They have an eight-day maceration on the skins. Slow spontaneous yeast fermentations in oak barrels last for then 30 days. The wines are matured for one year in barrique, one year in steel and then 6 months in the bottle before they are released.

Franco must be a man with strong ideas and no fear. His wines are an expression of this. They’re kinda wild. I love all of them. The colors are outrageous, the 2010 Qinto Quarto Pinot Grigio is pink, the Terpin Jakot (first I thought Franco taught me the word for Friulano in local dialect, later I had an “aha moment” when I realized he had been joking: “Jakot” is “Tokaj” backwards) and Chardonnay are gold, the Sauvignon copper.

At some point Franco walked off and returned with a plate of pancetta. It was very good, mildly salty and “porky”. I asked him who made it. With a big smile he motions for me to follow him to… his curing room! There are roughly two dozen salamis and a few whole pancettas and some other meaty things hanging in it, patiently. Yes, he makes those, too. The pancetta goes well with most of the wines. It was also a welcome snack at this time of day.

When we taste the Sialis wines he tells me that he’s been making his own wines since 1994. Before that, all grapes were sold. His vineyards range from 15 to 40 years old.

This was a very pleasant visit though I am about as cold as I’ve ever been. It’s time to say goodbye and hit the road, direction Udine.

January 2015 update

In the magical wine realm I inhabit, Franco Terpin is universally known. It’s true. For example, his name came up when I was talking to a wine shop owner in Vienna. I’d popped in to avoid incessant snow… and to see what the local experts/guys in aprons thought was cool. The proprietor warmed to me considerably when I mentioned a recent stop at Franco’s house. Back in Italy, when I show up on a random farm, Franco Terpin is the farmer that for some reason offers assurance to potential new business partners that the strange American knocking on the door is not a wine charlatan. It’s intriguing. I can’t imagine Franco marketing himself with any deliberate strategy at home or abroad. He seems more interested in farming. And his estate is, literally and stylistically, out there. On both sides of the Slovenian border he is making satisfying, textural, ripe, alive bottles, in a phrase “orange wine.” The wines taste out of time. I find them immensely enjoyable and virtually indescribable. Even visually they present a reminder and of how blunted by commerce widely available wines are. And maybe these wines throw down a challenge. Hazy brilliant copper, rose, honey, it’s what happens when you let wine be uncensored.

I’m not quick-to-find Terpin’s place. It’s around a horseshoe in the road from where I think it should be. There’s a sign, but it’s small, high up a wall. I turn around seven times in a quarter mile, two old men idling around a car with its hood up look blankly at my non-progress. I speak with an old neighbor to get credible directions: it’s my move. When I get there Franco is out in the fields. I kill time with his family in my favorite way: eating.

The simple lunch served to me by Franco’s wife was a great first foray into the local flavor universe the Terpins inhabit. Sauerkraut, carrot, potato and white bean stew, served with bread and gorgonzola cheese: I loved it, the flavors were solid country food, wintry and intense, ready for that glass of Ribolla.

The estate was founded in 1994. Today they farm 12 hectares, spread around. Franco grows some Chardonnay and Merlot close to his house, the Ribolla Gialla is just up the road, across the Slovenian border. Tasting in Terpin’s cool cellar, my favorite wines of this visit are the Jakot Friulano, a honey-scented rich white aged in botte sized barrel, the comparatively clean and light Sauvignon and the Sialis white blend with its amazing orange-pink color. The Cabernet is great, too, a very faintly herby subtle medium-weight red with the right kind of tannin.