The Kras (Slovenia), Carso (Italy) is appropriately Europe’s first cross border appellation. The famous red Teran or Terrano made from Refošk (Refosco) that hail from its ferrous soils have long been hailed for their health giving properties. Among smart drinkers Kras is gaining a reputation for idiosyncratic single minded producers making personality driven wines that also exemplify the local flavor and local sorts. Štemberger is a largely unknown self taught producer making faceted original natural wines with finesse and function.
Sebastijan Štemberger’s father passed away when he was just a boy. Some of his earliest memories were the sunny days they spent together in the family vineyards. When it came time to determine a career path Sebastijan decided on wine. This was in the mid 80’s so his only option for an education was to attend the State school. The curriculum was focused on high volume conventional production models standard of Yugoslavia at the time. It was always his desire to work closely with nature to make special wines, but this was something he had to teach himself.
For more than 10 years he worked to understand how to really make wine. Not in a technical way but through sensitivity to the plants and the wine in the cellar. He rarely bottled anything because it deserved to be and instead sold everything locally as open wine to be served on tap. During this time he also met his wife Loredana who is also from the Kras. They decided they would start a winery and raise children but their resources were quite limited.
In the town of Šepulje, equal distance between where Loredana and Sebastijan grew up, was a big old farm house. Something that could support a large family with a large farm. It was rather famous as it was home to the oldest known Teran vines in the Kras. The vines being well over 200 years old. It was owned by two sisters without children, or parents who never married and it was mostly abandoned. They wanted to stay, but also wanted to fill the farmhouse with life again and ensure that these historical vines would be properly cared for. In early 2000 the Štemberger family moved in and the estate was born.
Sebastijan is personally restoring the building with local and antique materials. They are also raising pigs and besides wine grapes growing numerous other fruit, vegetable and grain crops. Their three boys are in close contact with this typical, but dwindling, Kras lifestyle. Today the farmhouse is again full of life and the sisters are happy. Similarly the Štembergers are restoring vineyards in an old way. Buying up or planting small plots of Vitovska and Teran that they are actively rejuvenating through organic and biodynamic cultivation.
They farm two primary locations. The vineyards near the farmhouse in Šepulje which is dominated by the iron rich terra rossa soils the Kras is famous for (3ha) planted mostly to Teran (Refošk and Vitovska) and a remote hilly position to the north on the border with the neighboring appellation of Vipava that is terra rossa over flysch (5ha) planted mainly to Zelen and Malvazija. This combination of terra rossa over flysch is unique in the Kras as most of the land is terra rossa over limestone. This difference lends the wines from this location something equally unique. The distance between the farm and the hills make it difficult to treat the vineyards in a 100% biodynamic manner but this is the direction Sebastijan works. All of the vineyards are certified organic and they purchase no fruit.
Sebastijan feels strongly for the biological activity in and around the vineyards and draws direct connections between this and the wines. While he has made some stunning wines from French varieties like Merlot and Chardonnay he has come to understand that these sorts cannot endure the inhospitable conditions of the Kras and so is removing them all. It is not enough that good wine can be made from the grapes, the plant must be in sync with the land.
This sensitivity carries over into the cellar. The elevage is simple but sophisticated. All fermentation is spontaneous. He recently purchased a horizontal basket press he is quite proud because of the control and visibility of the pressing it gives him. Grapes are destemmed, or not or partially. Maceration can be 100% or 30% days or many months. He vinifies in a combination of concrete eggs, stainless steel and used barrels of varied size and pedigree. Always adjusting his methods to the lot of wine. In the end Sebastijan wants maximum expression of variety and vineyard without synthetic adjustment and with as low sulfur as possible, but he also wants to make wines that are enduring and stable. In order to do this he is not able to make every wine every year and the quantity produced can vary drastically. The majority of the production is structured skin contact white wines. This is not to say big tannic orange wines. Despite all the wines undergoing extended skin contact during and often after fermentation they are more delicate and intricate than power.