The black ladies of Lis Neris

Located in the village of San Lorenzo, which sits in the centre of the famous wine-growing region of Friuli in the northeast of Italy very near the border to Slovenia, is the winery of Lis Neris. Friuli is very well-known for making some of the finest white wines in the country, and Lis Neris – which means “black ladies” in Italian – produces some of the best examples to come out of that region.

The winery oversees some 70 hectares of vineyards that are planted on calcareous gravel on an alluvial shelf that was in ancient times dragged down from the melting glaciers of the Eastern Alps. It also sits close to the sea so the typically Mediterranean climate – with wide-ranging temperatures for the slow ripening of grapes that bring about fruit with intense flavours and aromas – along with the gravelly soil helps create a terroir that’s perfect for white wine varietals such as Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc.

Lis Neris has been in the hands of the Pecorari family since 1879 – it had to be abandoned during the ravages of World War II – but its fortunes took a bright turn when it modernised its production for better quality in 1981, and when Alvaro Pecorari took over in 1982.

Lis Neris scion and winemaker Federica Pecorari – daughter of Alvaro – was recently in town to promote her family’s wines, and we managed to sit her down for a chat.

Tell us a little more about the the area where the Lis Neris winery is located.

The region that our family’s winery is set is called Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and the area in particular is called the Isonzo Valley. We’re four kilometres away from the Slovenian border, so we’re really the most north eastern part of Italy. This has been where my family has been living since the 1800s.

In the village of San Lorenzo they started planting vines from the middle of the 1800s. My family has always been producing wines, but not just wine – we’ve been changing our business until my father in the 1970s joined the business and decided to do away with all the other things we were doing to focus on producing of wine. We started with two hectares of vineyards at that time, and ended up having 70 hectares today. It is not the biggest winery in Friuli, but we are one of the biggest family-owned wineries in the area.

The area of production we’re in is particularly important to us, because it is perfect for the production of white wines, and especially aromatic white wines. The Isonzo Valley is a tableland that was formed by a melting glacier, and when the ice melted the stones from the mountain broke down to form some 50 metres of calcareous gravel. This means the area is great for producing wine with great structure and intense minerality, but also we get great aroma from the grapes because of the temperature differences between day and night thanks to what we in Italy call the ‘bora’ (the strong, cold, and dry northeasterly wind blowing from the upper Adriatic sea). So the grapes get strength and power from the soil, while the climate offers elegance and aromatics.

Is there a reason why Lis Neris doesn’t focus on indigenous Italian grapes? 

Friuli-Venezia Giulia is a region that has a very rich history; our region has been part of the Austrian-Hungarian empire for more than four centuries and so our style of wine-making is more of an Austro-German one. The tradition of naming the wines after its grape as we do is really typical from north of the Alps, not south of it.

Varietals that we use are international, but mainly because they were brought in by the Austrians in the 1800s as those with the greatest potential in our area.

lis neris

I’m sure you get this question a lot, but tell us how is it like to be a female winemaker in a very male-dominated industry.

When I started joining my father in the business, especially travelling around presenting wines, it was tough because I was young and female. Everyone was about 50 and male.

It’s starting to get better compared to a few years ago. Italy is opening up, and people is starting to realise that women do have the ability to make wine. There are quite a number of female winemakers nowadays. In some cases, they maybe even more artistic when it comes to making wine than men!

In a way we’re a winery that’s always been somewhat female-driven in the sense that the strongest figure in my family when I was born was my great-grandmother. She was the centre, the matriarch of the house, around which everything revolved. So while it was always my grandfather and my father who have been making the wine, women always had a strong impact on Lis Neris.

Do you have any words of wisdom for women aspiring to join the industry?

I’d say to never give up, to never give in. The wine industry is not an easy one because there’s always a lot of fierce competition. There’s a huge amount of very interesting wine being done and if you’re new to the business it’s not something you can learn to immediately deal with. It takes a lot of time and a lot of patience.

So my suggestion is to be patient but most important be stubborn in making your ideas stand out.

Where do you think Italian wines stand in the wine world today? How about in Singapore?

People are starting to understand how much Italian wine – and Friulian wine, in our case – embodies quality. I think there is an understanding that when they are trying our wines they appreciate that its a traditional Old World wine that is also a little bit modern.

I’ve been visiting Singapore the last few years and we’ve been working with Alfa International for a number of years now, and I must admit that saw an improvement towards Italian wines in Singapore. It’s a market which is very open-minded, and drinkers here are willing to test and try new things.

“The wines of Lis Neris are about terroir and intensity. 4 generations and more than a hundred years of vine and terrain management have seen the Pecorari family produce wines reflecting the energy of the gravel and clay soils of the Isonzo Valley accompanied with varietals both traditional and international. The techniques of production are ever innovative and consistently evolving over time, in a bid to produce the best from each and every single varietal in every single vintage and wine reflection.” – Gerald Lu, head sommelier at Praelum Wine Bistro

Any future plans for expansion?

We recently – although it’s still a little bit early to speak about – acquired some vineyards in Slovenia about five kilometres away from us, and have started producing Ribolla Gialla. It’s a white wine varietal that’s very typical of our area, and we’ve picked one of the most interesting vineyards in the area to produce for this new venture.

Hopefully my next visit to Singapore we’ll bring this wine!

You mentioned that you really enjoy pairing food with wine, and have said Lis Neris wines are made to pair with food. If you had to pick one of your wines to pair with a dish, what would they be?

That’s an extremely tough question, only because it’s hard to pick just one!

I’ll go with this – the last pairing that caught my attention was when I was in this very nice fish restaurant in Trieste, the main town in our region, and had our Confini with a beautiful cream of chestnut, sorbetto (sorbet) and a little bit of orange skin. When I first read the menu I was trying to imagine what it would be like, but that contrast of flavours with the wine was very exhorting in an amazing way. The dessert enhanced the softness of the wine, brought out its sweetness while its acidity lifted the dish up, while the aromatics combined very well.

This is the kind of pairing I enjoy.

 

A big thank you to Alfa International/eWineAsia.com, the official distributor of Lis Neris in Singapore and the region, for arranging this interview with Federica Pecorari.