Obscure vines in frontier regions!

Obscure vines in frontier regions!

I reached into my bag and pulled out a bottle of Souvignier Gris, by Pravis. “Here you go, as promised,” I said to the owner of Laurel Vines.

Two weeks earlier I’d been in north Italy, in Trentino, visiting a family winery that I’ve worked with for over 10 years. Their vineyards are spread over small plots on steep, sunny slopes in the Valle Dei Laghi, surrounded by the photogenic Dolomite mountains.



Over the last 40 years, Pravis have worked with international varieties like Sauvignon, Syrah and Pinot Nero, but they are passionate about local vines and lesser-known varieties that thrive in their mountain environment. Grapes such as Kerner, Nosiola and Franconia (Blaufrankish) do very well here, and it’s also a great place to experiment with PiWi hybrids, such as Souvignier Gris, Solaris and Johanniter.

PiWi is a handy abbreviation for the much harder to pronounce (and spell!) name of a set of hybrids that were bred to be hardy and disease-resistant - Pilzwiderstandsfähigen Reben.

As climate change continues to impact vineyards around the world, it’s exciting to see these new varieties being embraced and be a witness to their evolution.



It's not only Pravis who are working with PiWi varieties in Italy.

Also in Trentino, you’ll find the charismatic duo Mario Pojer and Fiorentino Sandri, who make an ancestral method sparkling wine, called Zero Infinito, from Piwi grape Solaris. The name of the wine refers to the zero impact on the environment, plus the many vintages of experimentation before they were satisfied with a final wine for the market.

Having tasted their first release of Zero Infinito, from the 2014 vintage, when it was packed full of tart, citrus fruit, I’ve enjoyed tasting the development of this label towards a rounder profile of warm pears, apricots, and peaches. It is still a unique and surprising frizzante!



I find these PiWi wines fascinating and it’s fun to share them with wine lovers here in Singapore, who usually have no prior experience of these rare labels.

At tastings it’s helpful to suggest how these wines share characteristics with more famous varieties. In the case of Souvignier Gris I’ve suggested a similarity with Sauvignon Blanc. It is a high acid white with crisp citrus notes, delicate floral aromas, and a touch of pleasing salinity on the finish.

In the summer of 2022, I took a quick trip home to the UK, to surprise my mum, but she turned the tables on me with a surprise visit to a nearby winery called Laurel Vines. Although I’ve known about PiWi grapes for many years, the last thing I expected was to wander past a planting of the Souvignier Gris variety in north England, in a Yorkshire vineyard.



I have been a big fan of English Sparkling Wine from the south of England for years, but even I wasn’t expecting still wines from the north of England to show so much potential!

Champagne’s famous Kimmeridgian limestone soils are part of a ‘chalk seam’ that extends under the channel to large areas of southern England. Until recently I didn’t know that this desirable soil stretches as far north as the Humber and Yorkshire. This geology might not have been quite enough for a vine growing success story, but as temperatures rise in Europe, the grapes are ripening better. Winemakers with an eye to the future are planting more rows now, to reap the rewards of mature root systems in the future. 

We took a tour around the vineyard and walked past rows of varieties I’d come to expect in English wineries, such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir plus Ortega and Rondo. What caught my attention though was the plot of Solaris ripening very nicely in the unusually hot summer, and the new planting of Souvignier Gris.



As we headed back to the picnic tables, outside the cellar, I asked if the estate owner had much experience with the PiWi grapes. It turned out that the Solaris vine has been doing well for a few years, but those plantings of Souvignier Gris would be a complete lottery. The small team at Laurel Vines had decided to take a chance on this obscure variety, despite never having tried a wine from this grape.

Well, that would need to change!

I vowed to bring them a bottle of Souvignier Gris on my next visit so they wouldn’t have to wait years until their own plantings would be mature enough to make their first vintage and taste the wine.

That’s how I found myself, in late September 2023, back in the Yorkshire countryside.

Having just spent two weeks driving the full length of Italy, from Trentino to Sicily via Sardinia, it was a wonderful end to my trip to taste the wines from my home country and see how the winery was evolving as they learnt more about their vines.



We tasted a white from Madeline Angevine, then a rose and a red from blends of Pinot and Rondo. The red reminded me of a mountain wine or even a youthful Bardolino or Valpolicella (the tannins coming from the thick-skinned Rondo grape). We also tried their Solaris and noticed some similarity with its Italian cousin.



As we swirled and sipped, we chatted with winemaker Nick who has the challenge of writing up tasting notes for the back labels. We offered our thoughts and as the sentences grew more and more lyrical with every new wine, the time slipped by way too quickly.

For now, the bottle of Souvignier Gris would have to wait. I left it with Nick to enjoy with winery owner Ian and his entire team. A little bit of inspiration for one of their future projects.

I’ll be watching their progress with interest and am excited to taste their first vintage of Souvignier Gris when it’s finally ready.

That’s the thing about wine - patience is key. The more wines you try, and the more you discover about rare varieties or styles of winemaking, the more you want to explore. It’s the ultimate in delayed gratification.

Good thing there’s always a bottle ready to enjoy while you wait!