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Schioppettino – A surreptitious affair with a long-lost grape

Vineyards of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia

Image Credit: Wine Cooler Direct

Pronounced – Skee-op-eh-tee-no and also known as Ribolla Nera, the Italian red variety Schioppettino is one of our most sought-after Billy Button wines.  Made in tiny amounts, this wine has quite a following through our Billy Button Cellar Doors and the wine club members love it – consistently selling out not long after bottling!  Schioppettino – means “gunshot“ or “little crack”, which is in reference to the variety’s punchy black peppercorn flavours. Read on and learn all about this special red grape varietal.

Where does Schioppettino come from?

An Italian grape variety grown predominately in Friuli Venezia Giulia region in the very North Eastern corner of Italy, close to the border of Slovenia. Schioppettino has a long history in Friuli and is documented as far back as the 13th century.  It was a popular variety up until the mid-1800’s when vines were decimated, first by the arrival of powdery mildew from America in the 1850’s, then by the phylloxera epidemic in the 1860’s.  Unfortunately, the devastation of this twin epidemic and the difficulty of vine revival was then intensified by the world wars, with post-war economic and social impacts devasting viticulture.

By the 1960’s there were less than 100 individual Schioppettino vines scattered across eastern Friuli.  Around this time, many vineyards replanted French varieties such as Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot as they were easier to grow and sell and were recognised internationally.

Paolo and Dina Rapuzzi – the saviours of Schioppettino

In the early 1970’s Paolo and Dina Rapuzzi founded the Ronchi di Cialla winery and led a search for native Friulian grape varieties to cultivate in their vineyards. By this time, Schioppettino was not recognised by the Italian wine authorities, and it was so long forgotten that many failed to identify it.  A search unveiled 70 individual vines in the Collio Oriental del Friuli region, most of which had been kept for tradition rather than winemaking.  Although the Rapuzzi’s faced several challenges in their plight to revive Schioppettino they persevered, propagating vines in secret. Rapuzzis’ first production of Schioppettino in 1977 garnered instant success, winning many awards.  Soon, many producers in the region followed suit planting this lost variety Schioppettino. It’s now a major source of fine red wine in Friuli.

What does Schioppettino taste like?

Perfumed, complex and medium bodied, the wines are elegant, with high acidity and smooth tannins.  Naturally high in rotundone (the compound found in black pepper) wines often display characters of distinct peppercorn paired with floral and green notes.  High acidity and lifted red and blue fruits layered with savoury undertones come together to offer complex wines that are compelling and lively.

Sometimes described as a cross between Syrah and Cabernet Franc, Schioppettino can display measures of fresh cherries, strawberries, cloves and white pepper balanced with good structure, fine elegance and brilliant acidity.

Ronchi di Cialla (the esteemed winery of Paolo and Dina Rapuzzi) is considered a benchmark for Schioppettino.  They produce age-worthy, elegant, and complex red wines. Their Schioppettino undergoes prolonged maceration for 4-5 weeks, is matured in French oak barriques for 14 to 18 months and then undergoes further aging in the bottle for 30-36 months before release.  This is a serious wine with potential aging in the bottle of 20-25 years.

Where is Schioppettino Grown in Australia?

Billy Button sources Schioppettino fruit from the Greenacres Vineyard in Merriang South located in the Alpine Valleys. Brian and Linda Lewis are one of only a handful of Australian wine producers growing this variety, planting half an acre in a trial block back in 2012. The vineyard is elevated from the valley floor on undulated sloping land.  The site benefits from early morning sun, however loses the warmer part of the day as a result of a high ridgeline, which provides an early cooling off period. Schioppettino prefers cooler climates and is perfectly suited to this Alpine Valleys site.  Lower temperatures bring out the crispness and savoury characters for which this wine is praised.

There’s a tiny number of different producers making this varietal in Australia:

  • Bike and Barrel – Also made by Billy Button, is Greenacres Vineyard’s own label. If you are after an example of a Schioppettino with a bit of bottle age you can currently grab a 2016 Bike and Barrel Schioppettino at our Myrtleford cellar door.
  • Chalmers, located in Heathcote are responsible for importing new varieties and clones from Italy into Australia and produce a Schioppettino.

At present, these are the only other producers we are aware of in Australia but we wouldn’t be surprised if there are a number of growers out there in different regions, .  It is a variety that is very tricky to grow, thus there may be a bit of trial and error behind the scenes, whilst growers get a grasp of this fussy variety. We believe it is very much a case of “watch this space” and are sure there will be more Australian Schioppettino on the market in the not-too-distant future.  Have you come across a Schioppettino we don’t know about?

Billy Button Schioppettino

BB Schioppetino wine

This is a tiny parcel wine but one that we really enjoy making at Billy Button. There’s quite the following, and it’s one of the most anticipated releases each year.

  • Winemaking

The fruit is destemmed directly into open tubs, then cold soaked for 3 days. During fermentation, the caps are gently plunged twice a day, once fermentation is complete the wine is pressed directly into Flexcubes. The wine is then matured on lees for 8 months prior to; blending, crossflow filtration and bottling.  We bottle our Schioppettino in January and release the wine in April for our Easter wine club shipment.

The Alpine Valleys makes for the ultimate climate to make Schioppettino. The volume made of this wine is slowly increasing each year, as the vines mature.

  • The Surreptitious Schioppettino

We’re delighted to share that our 2022 The Surreptitious Schioppettino, was awarded 93 points in the 2023 Halliday Wine Companion. Evidence of our commitment and consistency to making wine with this grape variety,  each consecutive vintage (2022, 2021, 2019, 2018 and 2017) has scored 93 points and above.

You’re in luck, as there is still availability of the current release available. As well as the glowing review from Halliday this wine comes with the seal of approval from the winemaking team. It is definitely delicious drinking now, however if you can manage to hold onto some, we also recommend putting it away. We recently checked in on the 2017 and it looks incredible and as the vines mature, the ability of this wine to age will increase.  We are excited to continue sampling past vintages in the years to come and watch this evolution.

Other varietal information you might be interested in: