Bottles of Conversation
Tilia Estates is run by Melita and Matjaž Lemut. Educationally trained in all things wine, they have made the Vipava Valley in the South west of Slovenia their home, and a House of Pinots.
Matjaž walks into his cellar and exclaims “I realized I am not a normal farmer!” Likely the only wine grower with his own face hidden in the labels of his bottles (10 points if you can find it!), there is a certain method to the madness.
The rain pours outside, and wine is poured into my glass. This is a cellar where hours could be spent, and it seems they are. Before we can begin our chat, workers on the estate are to be served lunch and it is insisted that we must also partake. Matjaž jokingly asserts that if he fails in wine, he has a future in soups. Humble but proud, his euphoric state is honest and supported by the simplistic spread of a quality lunch on the table.
Where other farmers in the region are focused on the strange, believing the more unique a wine tastes, the better their selling point, Matjaž has become an expert in all things Pinot. Given the widespread presence of this varietal, it may seem a difficult market to enter, but in this valley of views in both sight and opinion, what other farmers believe adds value in product diversity, Tilia Estates diversifies in availability. Not a typical wine of the region, the hook lies in this very point. The taste when this pinot hits your lips is what confirms this initial curiosity.
But, it is under contrasting weather conditions that this wine is born. Spend enough time in the south west of Slovenia, and you’ll be sure to encounter a special wind from the north east that can reach up to 150km/h on average. Usually identified by locals staring in the distance with an ominous pause uttering “Burja”, this wind has the power to wreak a deadly havoc, and has wrecked one too many crops in it’s fury. While this force of nature can strike anytime, it teaches a lesson in adaptability. The 20 days of Burja can make or break a season, which is why Matjaž emphasizes always having a reserve on hand. Decisions for wine are made in July, and if this blowing force brought more soil, then it can be lauded for the freshness and fruitiness of whites and the pronounceable deep colour of reds.
With three times the rainfall and three times the sunshine of the Rhine Valley and Bordeaux region, the Vipava Valley has a unique climate ranging from mediterranean to continental, and a sneaky position that borders Italy. You could be wine tasting in Italy, but that in itself is already a little cliché. Wine tasting in Vipava? Now that’s something worth exploring.
This is a valley that is distinct first by a history of land ownership dating back to the 1800s when farmers received tiny plots of land, becoming independent very quickly compared to other regions. In 1902, a progressive cooperative was established and set a scene focused on self-consumption and individual sales. This cooperative structure made it easier to move wine to other former Habsburg territories.
When asked the advantage of being a Slovenian winemaker, our host is quick to respond “I can tell you the advantage of being Matjaž as a winemaker”. He has no tradition. Unlike other winemakers in the valley, he started from ground zero. Without any inherited property or capital, this means no rules and no father to tell him what to do. He highlights only spirit and education as the reasons behind his success.
Time spent away from the country have strongly influenced his approach. Tainted by a bad burrito, California taught him what he didn’t want to be: too big. Despite this, a Cali mentality of simplicity and open-mindedness gave him perspective on the endless possibilities for red wine.
Inspired by the form of farms, Switzerland then taught him what he did want to be and he still applies the small details learned from these experiences into his cellar today.
A mind set on philosophy, what is important when it comes to producing Pinot comes down to focused ideas, technology, and decisions. A specific grape that must be treated precisely with respect to the variety, he aims to bring wine as close as possible to the final consumer. He explains that he will never venture into sparkling wines because he doesn’t have the facilities to do so. He uses the knowledge and experience that he has, and hopes that an honest approach to winemaking will stand out amongst the rest.
Focused on sharing his experience and soul, he highlights the conversations he has with his customers and guests as supporting what goes into his bottles. They know who is making the wine and what he will and will not do. To Matjaž, this means everything. “I became a farmer because I want to make good wine and sell to people who want to drink good wine.” And with that, good wine will be drunk.