Roka means “hand” in Slovenian and is the name given to the winemaking project of Liam and Sinead Cabot. Their day job for the past 17 years has been working as Wine Importers distributing a hand-picked range of wines to hotels, restaurants and retailers in Ireland. Since 2011 they have added “Wine Producers” to their CV.
They manage 1.5 hectares of vines in the Stajerska region of eastern Slovenia producing wines from three varieties: Sipon (Furmint), Laski Riesling and Modra Frankinja (Blaufränkisch). All ferment spontaneously with natural yeasts and most in small 500L open wood fermenters.
Rigorous work in the vineyard and minimal intervention in the cellar are the two key principles behind the winemaking which they undertake entirely themselves. Overall volumes are relatively small.
Vine density is 4,000 vines per hectare, with very low yields – often just 1kg to 1.5kg per vine. Wild deer and rabbits roam freely in the vineyards – although the deer are not always so welcome! Soils are heavy clay that run deep, with pockets of sandstone and patches of limestone. Beneath these are the sediments of the old Pannonic Sea and it’s not unusual to find fossils and old rocks from the sea bed.
The region is on the same latitude as Piedmont and Bordeaux at an altitude of 300 – 325 metres. The climate is a variable mix of Alpine freshness and Pannonic heat. It’s not unusual for it to be cooler here than at the Adriatic coast. The microclimate of the region is also influenced by two great rivers that straddle the northern and southern tips – the Mura and Drava – both of which bring a cooling influence. Rainfall is 900mm to 1,100mm per year on average.
The wines have won numerous Awards and have been critically acclaimed both nationally and internationally.
White: Roka Furmint:
100% Šipon/Furmint. Bottle number 438 out of 600. Harvested by hand early in the morning, 7 October 2016. Vines aged 30‐35 years. Yield 1.5 kg/vine. Pressed and racked into 500-litre open-top, second-use oak fermenter, spontaneous fermentation with natural yeasts. Four-week fermentation on gross lees without temperature control. Racked into stainless steel and left on medium lees over winter with occasional stirring. One year on fine lees in stainless steel. No fining and minimal SO2 at bottling, 18 mg/l free SO2.
Lime peel and spicy hay is what it smells of, but in the mouth it has a pungency and rock-salt, white-pepper, and green-apricot ferocity that comes out of left field. Not so much the fruit, but the structure, the tension, seem to vibrate with intensity. There’s a wonderful ground-chalk texture, at once talc-powder smooth and yet resistant, something to push against, as if the wine has boundaries and challenges you to cross them. There is an understated glory to this wine that could be easy to overlook, because it’s speaking of earth, not fruit. I would love to taste this in a couple of years’ time.
Red: Roka Blaufrankisch:
100% Modra Frankinja (Blaufränkisch). Harvested by hand early in the morning, 13 October 2016. Vines aged 10-15 years. Yield 1 kg/vine. Pressed and racked into both stainless-steel tanks and 500-litre open-top oak fermenters, spontaneous fermentation with natural yeasts. 12‐ to 14-day fermentation then pressed in a small-basket press. Blended into a 1,000-litre cuve and then divided: 500 litres into a new Stockinger barrel, 500 litres into a second-use Stockinger barrel. Spontaneous, slow malolactic conversion in barrel the following spring as the cellar warmed after winter. No fining and minimal SO2 at bottling, 10 mg/l free SO2. Bottle number 494 out of 1,200.
Bounds out of the glass, bursting with dark-cherry and cassia-bark aromas. But much, much more controlled on the palate. Tang and tension dominate. Caraway-spiced, and a vertical, tight structure of fine, grainy tannins. Peppery, almost northern-rhône-like in its rocky restraint, as if you’re looking up at its black-stone walls. Vibrant and not sweet, although the impression of cherries lasts and lasts on the finish.