Livio Felluga, the founder of one of the largest wineries in Italy's Friuli–Venezia-Giulia region, died on the night of Dec. 21, at the age of 102. His death, announced after a private family funeral two days later, was met with sadness by those who knew him. But it also triggered happy remembrances of a man who spent his long life helping put his region and its gorgeous wines on the map, from his headquarters in the town of Brazzano.
"Livio was a really great winemaker," said Giorgio Colutta, owner of Colutta winery in neighboring Manzano and former president of the local grower's consortium. "But more importantly, he was a pharaoh for all of us!"
Felluga was famed for his role in re-establishing quality viticulture in Friuli after World War II. After two wars and a rocky transition from the Austro-Hungarian Empire to part of Italy, Friuli was downtrodden, and much of its population had left their farms in favor of greater opportunities in local factories and nearby cities.
With five generations of winemaking in his blood, Felluga recognized the potential of abandoned hillside vineyards. Beginning in the 1950s, he started buying and replanting them with a goal of making his family's first estate-bottled wines.
"He was a pioneer 60 years ago in climbing the hills of Rosazzo, in the far east of Friuli, to recover the extraordinary land and vineyards abandoned by farmers moving to the cities," said Mattia Scarbolo of the Scarbolo winery.
Over the years, Felluga's vision, his hard work and the force of his personality paid off. He helped re-orient Friulian winemaking from a red wine–dominated industry based on Cabernet Franc and Merlot to a white-wine focus, elevating the local Friulano grape (formerly Tocai Friulano) and Sauvignon Blanc. Those varieties were better suited to the climate and helped introduce the region to the growing global market.
In a savvy marketing move, Felluga made his winery's label a “carta geografica,” or geographic map, depicting the local Brazzano area, which would tell the world where the wine's vineyards were located. He also encouraged members of the region's younger generation to stay on their family land to farm grapes and make wine. "He was a major contributor in bringing the world’s attention to Friuli, for which I and every other winemaker in Friuli are thankful," said Scarbolo.
From its humble beginnings, the Livio Felluga winery has expanded to nearly 400 acres of vineyards today and produces roughly 800,000 bottles of wine each year from estate and purchased grapes.
Colleagues also remember Felluga's vivacious personality. In 2009, he was awarded an honorary degree in viticulture from the nearby Università d'Udine. Colutta remembers that when a faculty member congratulated Felluga, but wouldn't share a toast with him because he abstained from alcohol, Felluga quipped, "Incredible. I always supposed you were an intelligent man."
Felluga is survived by his wife Bruna, brother Marco, children Maurizio, Elda, Andrea and Filippo, and several grandchildren. He is also commemorated by the winery's Illivio label, a Pinot Bianco–based blend first created to mark the patriarch's 85th birthday.