‘’Wine Growers since 1559’’
Rocca Bernarda is steeped in history and has long been a point of reference in Friulan enology. It is among the first wine estates, dating back to 1559, and considered one of the finest in Friuli. Situated in the superb location of Rocca Bernarda, it enjoys a unique microclimate and boasts spectacular terraced vineyards protected by the Julian Alps. The soil, formed over 40 million years ago, is a mixture of sandstone and marl that yields complex wines which reflect the region’s character with an unmistakable minerality. Rocca Bernarda has contributed greatly to the awareness of and appreciation for its native grapes, particularly the Picolit, revitalized by the illustrious Perusini family who owned the estate. (Total property: 220 hectares, 38,5 under vine)
Rocca Bernarda is one of the oldest wineries in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and features the most magnificent panorama in the region. It is set in a traditional Italian landscape of ancient cypress trees and breathtaking scenery overlooking the sinuous, elegant slope of the vineyards where the winery is situated. It was in this ideal setting in 1657 that the counts of Valvason Maniago erected the residence, an architectural masterpiece.
Though the construction is often referred to as a castle, it is actually a large villa, a refined family residence with the simplicity of a country house open to nature. An impressive access road lined with ancient olive trees and rose bushes leads to its sophisticated, elevated courtyard. There, instead of the expected dark, medieval space, lies a beautiful terrace. It features a small Italianate garden bordered by boxwoods and overlooked by the elegant windows of the lovely orangery. The courtyard, defined on two sides by residential buildings, opens onto a beautiful view of the countryside, extending from the surrounding hills to the city of Udine.
Rocca Bernarda’s vineyards are situated at the top end of the hilly zone in the Colli Orientali – a perfect location and the site of the cru for which the winery is named. Here the estate has been producing wine since 1559, when viticultural practices were limited only to the finest terroirs. The vineyards are terraced into the hillside descending from the villa, contoured around graceful curves that hug the land. Behind them rise the Julian Alps, which protect the grapes from the cold Bora winds, allowing the grapes the warmth they need to ripen. This, combined with its sandstone-marl soil, created over 40 million years ago, the excellent drainage, and perfect exposure, shows that terroir is truly fundamental in creating great wine.
The vineyards were planted in a precisely chosen spot in 1559, at a time when position dictated a winery’s location; with today’s technology, grapes can be grown in almost any environment, but in the sixteenth century the factors of sun, soil, and drainage drove the decision. With its perfect mix of sandstone and marl, an ideal exposure, and a unique microclimate that produces superb grapes, Rocca Bernarda’s wines are proof that terroir still matters.
Vineyard - Friuli Colli Orientali
Total property: 220 hectares, with 38,5 under vine
Altitude 235-350 m above sea level
Planting density: 5,500 vines per hectare
Grapes: Red grapes and Picolit are located on the southern slopes, while the eastern or western exposures are assigned to aromatic varieties.
Grapes cultivated: Ribolla Gialla, Friulano, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pignolo, Picolit
A Passion for Picolit The noble Perusini family, owners of the estate until the 1970’s, were scholars far ahead of their time. They dedicated years of painstaking study and selection to the grape in the late 19th century, and Giacomo Perusini’s comprehensive Il Piccolit (later updated by his son Gaetano), was published in 1906 by the Associazione Agraria Friulana. Countess Antonini authored an extensive cookbook of Friulan Cuisine in the early 1900’s, and it still considered a reference today for culinary traditions of the area. They believed in the value of their original, low-yielding Picolit and Pignolo vines, and retained them despite many difficulties and contrary trends of the time. In fact, the Picolit vines were facing extinction, and it is only through the dedication of the Perusini family that the varietal was saved. Any existing Picolit vines today were cloned from these plants, which are considered very difficult to grow; they are extremely fragile, with genetic instability in their area of cultivation, and require a perfect site with nutrient-poor soil, good exposition and ventilation. The variety is also low-yielding because of its tendency to shatter during flowering, possibly due to pollen sterility. Additionally, many vines were damaged or destroyed by phylloxera, and even today annual Picolit production is very low, around 130,000 bottles. But it was with these grapes that Rocca Bernarda created one of the most spectacular wines in Italy, winner of Gambero Rosso’s ‘Best Sweet Wine of Italy’, in 1999. American wine writer Burton Anderson summed up its reputation, saying, "By the mid-19th century, Picolit was undoubtedly Italy's most prestigious wine."
The age of the vines, some now up to 80 years old, combined with the terraced structure of the vineyards, creates difficult conditions for grapes to grow; this in turn means low yields and fruit of great quality. In fact, the Picolit vineyard is the oldest in Friuli, with a yield of less than 15, which is extremely rare. Add to this the superb microclimate and a sandstone/marl composition soil formed over 40 million years ago, and the result is wine of an astonishing minerality, with extra complexity that comes from this rich ter roir. As Veronelli, Italy’s finest wine critic in the 1960-70’s writes “Picolit is to Italy as Yquiem is to France”,