Back in May The Drinks Buisness interviewed Nicolas Joly where they quoted him as saying, "The term natural wine is nothing more than a drawer in which to put all the winemakers who didn’t make enough effort to convert to organics and biodynamics.”
Back in May The Drinks Buisness interviewed Nicolas Joly where they quoted him as saying, "The term natural wine is nothing more than a drawer in which to put all the winemakers who didn’t make enough effort to convert to organics and biodynamics.”
When I saw Sagrantino -maker Filippo Antonelli last month he told me that our friend, Giampiero Bea was in a tempest. It seems as if Davero, (the brand that I helped out with the 2008 Sagrantino) had issued a wine by the name of Rosso Di Bea.
As it happens two weeks later I saw Giampiero at The Real Fair. I hadn't seen him since 2006 and was so happy to reconnect. He pulled me aside and sure enough, he asked me, "Can you do something?"
A name is everything in Italy. But to the Bea's, Ridgely's Rosso di B is way too close Rosso de V, but the real cause for angst, was the taking of the Bea name. There is only one Bea, and only one Bea connected to Montefalco, and the wines are Umbrian wines are both expensive in cost and princely in taste.
When I contacted Ridgely he confirmed what I had assumed. "We made the wine only once,(2007) as an homage to a great wine from a great winemaker that changed my life. No intent to use the name ever again. Really, really sorry they didn't understand that."
A few weeks back I was in Nothalten to visit Patrick Meyer, a man who's wines I'm constantly impressed by. There to do a story for The World of Fine Wine as well, I took a few days to write a piece for his New York importer, Katell Pleven. Stay tuned for some extra remarkable food, wine and cheese and Patrick observations in this spot.
Hank Beckmeyer is a vigneron in Gold Rush country, the Sierra Foothills. Though a winemaker for others, he entered the commercial wine scene with his La Clarine Farms 2007 vintage. At the time, he and his wife Caro balanced cheese making and wine. Now the commercial cheese biz is laid to rest, but the goats remain as well as the vines and wines.
I've been a supporter from my first taste of LCF. He was a reader of my blog and asked me if he could send me some samples. I was nervous. I liked this man but would I feel the same about his wines? They came. I gave them a week to settle. I sat on the floor and sampled.
To my taste, Hank, along with Duncan and Nathan (Arnot-Roberts) and Abe Schoener are among the finest of the new generation of US winemakers who are forging forward with bravery, talent and thoughtfulness. They are recasting the paradigm of modern Californian winemaking and so with this in mind, I posed some questions to Hank, and he was kind enough to send along some answers.
So far, I've interviewed more 'veteran' American winemakers in this series, but I started to think, a new winemaker from a new region. That could be interesting. Recently I wrote up my experience with a bottle from San Diego, Los Pilares and thought his experience could be enlightening, a new winemaker and a yet to be discovered terroir.
In reading over Michael's responses I saw why I resonated with that Los Pilares wine. In 1994 when Michael returned from France, he realized the wines of California had changed. This was the very same strike of lightening that inspired The Battle for Wine and Love.
So with pleasure, I present to you the newest peek into the winemaker's brain. I introduce you to Michael Christian of Los Pilares.
We are the opposite of winemaking veterans. Not only are we beginners, but also we have no education or training in viticulture or winemaking. However, for about eight years we have had humble backyard vineyards and have made six vintages of garage wine.
San Diego Fruit and Soils: What are you looking for?
Soil: in large measure, you take what you’ve got, if you’re committed as we are to making your wine with local fruit. For us, that means mostly granitic soils, and we are happy about that.
Fruit: southern European varietals, picked when ripe, not overripe. We don’t pick by brix; we pick by ripeness as indicated by the taste and look of the grapes, the feel of the clusters, and the color of the pips. For seven years running now, we have proven to ourselves that that this makes good wine here in San Diego.
Mentors? Where does the wine inspiration come from? Or, were you inspired by a kind of wine when you started?
A Chateauneuf in the old-fashioned style or just about any Gigondas makes me happy. They are sort of crunchy and juicy, rarely heavy on the palate. I love Grenache. We were also inspired by the DIY ethic of the many San Diego micro-breweries and by the commitment to authenticity of San Diego’s pioneering farm-to-table restauranteur, Jay Porter (The Linkery, El Take It Easy).
What is your attitude towards Sulfur?
I don’t really know. When I can actually smell it in wine, I don’t like it. I don’t have an anti-sulfur dogma. On the other hand, I hate what the whole technical toolkit (of which sulfur is an important part) has done to wine. There are two sides to the coin: “stable”/dead; “reliable house style”/boring. I understand that industrial-scale wineries want a lot of control, but it’s just wrong in small wineries. And then, of course, the unsulfured wines, when they are successfully made with good fruit can be spectacular in ways that are not available from sulfured wine, at least that has been my experience. A good example is the nose on a bottle of Cornelissen’s MunJebel Rosso 6 that I drank a year or two ago. Insanely interesting -- burnt, candied orange; cinnamon, rose and lemon blossom. I think a big part of that is the natural oxidization that occurs without sulfur. Okay, never mind, I convinced myself -- the less SO2 the better. The Los Pilares 2010 we added SO2 lightly at bottling. That’s all.
What is your philosophy towards using other additions or modifications in terms of extreme process (RO etc.) in winemaking.
When you grow your own fruit and make your own wine, you want to taste the vineyard in every bottle that you make or buy. I am opposed (not philosophically but as a matter of preference and curiosity) to everything that gets in the way of tasting the vineyard. When I say “taste the vineyard,” I mean everything about it. The weather of that vintage, the varietals, the age of the vines, the fruit set, the green drop, the time of harvest, etc.
As I said, we have no professional wine-making education -- don’t know squat about reverse osmosis, micro-ox, spin cones, or “approved additives.” Those are things we don’t need to learn -- the opposite of tasting the vineyard.
Our garage-wine “process” for what it’s worth started with the kind of recipes you find in books for home winemakers. From there we immediately began removing ingredients and steps from the recipe until, two or three vintages before going commercial with Los Pilares, we were down to nothing but picking, destemming by hand (and sometimes not at all), sometimes crushing by hand or foot and sometimes not crushing, lightly covered vessels with a little CO2 on top while waiting for the native yeast to get going, punching down during fermentation, and pressing. No sulfur at all ever. No other additions at all ever. No inoculation.
Do you ever think of 'tannin' management?
Only in the sense that I want more tannins. I don’t really care about favoring “soft tannins.” I like vegetable tannin, as opposed to wood, and want more of it in Los Pilares. You’ll see that in 2012. We are going to extend the alcoholic maceration. In 2011, the wine was pressed as soon as primary fermentation appeared finished. 2-4 weeks. But in 2012 I intend to leave the wine on the skin, pips, and stems for at least a month after primary.
In the garage, I did it for FIVE months with Mourvedre this year. No sulfur at any time. It came out extremely tannic and still delicious, to me anyway. Tart, bitter, chewy, spicy, and still fruity (but only after the swallow, not on the attack). Tasted like something that would last for 30 years in the cellar. Left it in an open decanter on the kitchen counter for six days, room temp. It was still utterly fresh and the nose was just opening up. Why don't people do these kinds of macerations all the time? I'm confused, and I'm just making it up as I go along.
Another way to get good tannins into San Diego-grown Rhone varietals would be to add Mourvedre, but we have yet to find the right fruit in the right quantity.
Curious that you decided not to inoculate for alcoholic but you do for ml. Could you expound?
Sure, for know-nothing mavericks, we were a little timid. We were afraid of getting secondary fermentation in the bottle. So far we have not inoculated the 2011 vintage for ml, and I don’t think we will.
In your short time as a winemaker, what were the techniques you've tried and abandoned.
I have only done the basic stuff, and I have given up on most of it. Sulfur, yeast food, and cultivated yeasts. Our partner, Jay, has done a lot more with his garage wine: enzymes, wood chips, staves, etc.
Do you see yourself as part of the next generation of 'New' American winemakers? And if so, what does that mean to you?
Yes. When I’m feeling expansive and ambitious, I hope to make wine that transforms San Diego as a viticultural region. I hope to make one of those bottlings that people look back on in 15 years and say, “oh yeah, that’s when San Diego found its way.” People are going to hate me for saying this, but come on, really, why try to make a Napa cab in San Diego? Doesn’t the world have enough of that already? San Diego is a perfect place to do something great: no recent legacy to live up to as an appellation, varied terrain, Mediterranean climate, granitic soils, high-altitude vineyards, and mostly small wineries. It’s easier for small wineries than for big ones to experiment and take chances. In San Diego we don’t have to break the mold, because there’s no mold to break. What is this wine region known for? Nothing. Yet.
How is the 2011 progressing?
It will have some close similarities to 2010, because it was another long, cold growing season, and we got the same fruit in the same proportions from the same growers. But 2011 wasn’t as long or as cold, and the fruit ripened much more evenly. Honestly, both the Grenache and the Carignane looked picture-perfect, super clean. I don’t think we will get that bit of funk you liked in the 2010. In exchange, tank tastings suggest that it will have more elegance, a fuller mid-palate, better acidity, and bit of honey in the nose that is not in the 2010.
What is your feeling about all of this talk about natural wine, and is it relevant?
Sure it’s relevant. I think about it all the time. I mean, it’s vague, ill-defined, disputatious, and often conflated with other ideas like organic, biodynamic, and low intervention. But it’s relevant, because it’s part of a backlash against boring industrial wine and food. I think the best response to the arguments about what’s “natural” and even to the arguments about whether natural wine making is a good thing is disclosure. Winemakers should do their best to tell consumers, critics, and journalists everything they might want to know about every bottling: all the ingredients and processes. The virtues of disclosure in wine making are many. Let the debate rage on about whether you can add SO2 at bottling, or use grapes from an irrigated vineyard and still be “natural,” but tell the truth! The truth helps consumers. It might, for example, reveal to a consumer that she loves wine made with heavy-handed additions of oak extract. Let her drink them. Let her easily find more to her taste. In the same way, the truth helps writers to know which differences in ingredients and processes make a difference in the bottle.
It’s not practical to put all these disclosures on a label. Therefore, in the interest of disclosure, I would like to help start a voluntary association of winemakers who pledge transparency and publish their disclosures on a web site available to everyone for free. The association would invite all wineries to participate. If I find like-minded people to help me get this going, I would hope that journalists and consumers would encourage all winemakers to add their disclosures to the site.
ADDITIONAL NOTES AND BACKGROUND
All of our wine-making ideas and projects started with our perspectives and preferences as consumers, not with the class “consumers” but rather with our own tastes as consumers. My tastes were affect by travel in two ways -- one was exposure, the other was absence. I’ll explain.
Personally, I have been drinking seriously (and seriously drinking) since the late 1970s, mostly Californian wine. From 1983-1985 I travelled all over Africa and Western Europe, getting some exposure to French and Spanish wines. I lived in France from 1988-1994. During my travelling and expatriate time, not only did I drink a lot of French and Spanish wine, but also I adopted their way of drinking. To traditional Spaniards and French, wine is not a cocktail and rarely an aperitif; it’s food, consumed as part of a meal, and a meal is a social event.
By the time I got back to California, the wines being made here had changed. They had gotten very alcoholic and woody and fruity. It was very noticeable to me, because I was gone during that period of time when “Parkerization” really took over the new world. It was like not seeing your nephew for five years; he used to be cute, but now he glares at you and has acne and an ugly Adam's apple. After just a few months living back in California, I realized that I really didn’t like my nephew, and it didn’t matter whether he was wearing his Cab clothes or his Zin clothes or his Pinot clothes or his Chard clothes; he was still ugly. He looked the same.
Coleman, my wine making partner who is our vineyard manager and fruit hunter, had similar experiences travelling and living abroad and a similar evolution in taste. So we decided to make our own wine. We both love the brush-covered hills east of San Diego. They look and smell and feel so much like the Vaucluse. We both love Rhone wines. So, we planted red Rhone varietals in Coleman’s backyard which is composed of decomposed granite and is very typical of our backcountry.
My garage became our winery. By the time we had finished five vintages, we were absolutely certain really good Grenache and Mourvedre could be grown here. There were bumps along the way, but the quality of our garage wine was more than encouraging to us.
We don’t need to mess around with the fruit. It ferments by itself. Seems never to get stuck. By the way, sometimes that means very restrained alcohol. The 2010 Los Pilares is at a true 12.5% with no watering back. This need not be uncommon in San Diego, because the days are shorter here during the growing season. The hours of sunshine are less. But if the brix is high when the fruit is ripe, then that’s what we will pick and vinify, and we will not water back.
"That must be it," I said to Jonathan Wurdeman behind the wheel. Since my arrival in Paris a week before, I'd been hanging with the guys from Pheasant's Tears--driving, eating, drinking, visiting vineyards (Puzelat and Clos Roche Blanche) and talking. Jonathan's wine partner, and winemaker, Gela Patailashvili, was gallantly squished into back seat with the bags and baguettes. They were weary from their debut at La Dive, and I was weary from my three weeks on the road and headcold. But no time for that. We were hunting down a man who's wines have always impressed me, Reynald Héaulé.
There are some wines that greet you with a smile, then you don't exactly have a make out session or get into bed, but you slip into a long enduring, satisfying friendship/ flirtation. That's exactly the way I feel about the wines of Reynald Héaulé. Which is why when he said, and you will stay to lunch and I don't care that you are four and two of you are vegetarian, I rearranged plans and delayed my arrival in Paris. Oh, my other three friends was Philippe, a nearby film/winemaker who always wanted to meet this supposedly reclusive Reynald, and my two Georgian friends.
We arrived in Saint-André-Cléry, not far from Beaugency, that used to be t a ritzy wine area in the 17c. But now, it might as well be the Canary Islands, (what? they make wine there?)
Philippe had just parked his van, in front of some dreary, British Isle like houses. Reynaldemerged from his vines, in back of his father's house. He is a compact, firm man, bursting with a nervous fervor. He has the quick, fierce movements of someone who's body language speaks even more than his words. There's a tremendous amount of emotion packed into that man. After introductions, we followed him to his vineyards nearby, in the deep freeze that was coming into France.
He has 3 hectares or a few parcels, and a chunk of one in old river bed, with whatever geological matter had been washed in it: pebbles, tuffeaux, silica, silex. So the flat is way more interesting that you might at first think. In his plantings he's followed his mentor Claude Courtois; planted to a variety of grapes. Amongst the chardonnay and pinot meunier (which he is known for) is romo and the sauvignon are some hybrids like marechal foch and seibel (planted in the 1950s), all in extremely high density.
New plantings in the snow, soil bursting with life. Much silex down below. As with his others, extreme high density and along the neweset plantings is a hedge, that will grow up and provide shelter from nearby chemical farming.
I knew that I had been charmed by Reynald's wines but would my fellow travelers? So far I'd become sensitive to Gela's taste. Having rarely been outside of Georgia his ability to sample other wines has been limited. But his palate is very sensitive and specific. He likes strong reds even though I saw him warming up to gamay, but what I mostly saw him cleave to was that nerve inside of a wine that spoke to life.
Tasting through the barrels, he had one, a chardonnay from 2004 that he keeps just for himself. Complex, wildflowery, layered. Then there was the old vine chardonnay: exreme, mint, herbal and lively.By this time, however, the Georgian's were already convinced, it was the 2010 white blend, romo, sauvingon, chardonnay and whatever, which at that point had 2.5 years in wood that provoked the bThe wine really was electric. Gela's eyes said it all, then he said to John in Georgian, it was the best wine he'd had. Like Reynald. The young vigneron smiled has a smile, as if he is packing a lecture inside of it. Even though he's inclined to blurt out comments through the smile such as "2011 was a bad year, I had a hernia operation and my wife left," that smile and the wines, his generosity, were what really spoke for him.
Wines to look for: Contre Courant 2009 (pinot menuier)
Insoumis de Village (field blend)
Rive Droit (chardonnay)
Early that morning Becky sent me out into the day with a strict warning. "For God's sake, don't ask Jean-Charles about Aligoté!" In the moment, hanging the left out of her drive, I feared that if I didn't heed her, I'd live to regret it.
Perhaps J-C harbored a dark secret--an Aligoté living in the attic, or illegal vines on Corton, or perhaps more likely, she was afraid I'd bore him to death, and she liked him too much to suffer the loss. But the largest landowner on Corton going BioD was big news. I'd keep my mouth shut and focus on the 505 and other preparations at hand. Leaving Claire Naudin in a hurry, not wanting to be late,
I rode the ten minutes into the rabbit warren like village of Pernand.
Best intentions and all of that, I got my times screwed up. Jean Charles le Bault de la Morinière of Domaine Bonneau de Martray had been waiting for me for thirty mintues.
With a high forehead and the tame side of wild steel-wool eyebrows atop of mirthful eyes, a lanky, lean frame, J-C also has a high school boyishness that will keep him forever youthful.
He speaks his English with an accent as aritsocratic as Grand Cru as the vineyards he took over from his father in 1994.
So, with Claire's vibrant wines still singing in my mouth Jean Charles asked me what brought me to Burgundy this time. I on auto pilot blurted out, "I''m writing a story on Aligoté for the World of Fine Wine."
So much for my ability to follow instructions.
"I should very much like to read this," he said.
We quickly fell into the quagmire of what is terroir and the fate of Aligoté, and he didn't seem to mind one bit. At one time Aligoté roamed as freely as earth worms in those vineyards, but slowly were ripped out because they were poor girls who couldn't afford their rent. As it turned out, his father ripped out the aligoté from Corton, it's last vintage was 1973. They were replanted. And ever since Jean-Charles realized something was wrong, they are being treated to some very fine agricultural finery.
Domaine de Martray has been in Jean-Charles family for two centuries, and as a result they have phenomenol holdings, the largest of any other (on Corton-Chuck and Corton), around 27 acres of Grand Cru. But when Jean Charles took over the domaine in 1994, he saw a disaster waiting to happen.
"We were under threat of erosion. There was no sign of life in the top soil. It was normal to use the post World War 2 techniques for quantity; mechanical and chemical work. We were encouraged by consultants to make wide use of chemicals to resist pests, insects and control the weeds. We are subject to erosion on this side of the (west-facing) hill. I also saw the creeping of moss as well (sign of death in the vineyard). This was not acceptable. This would be the end to great terroir if I didn't take measures. How is it in less than the life of one person, you can turn a vineyard into a disaster?"
He had been certified for organic since 2003, but there was still the erosion problem. He needed the healing of the earth to go faster. He thought about Biodynamics and a visit with Humbrecht in Alsace convinced him. "I would do no harm to the land and it could do some good, so why not try?"
He started to work 1/2 of each vineyard in organic the other 1/2 in Biodynamics. His aim was to be as scientific as possible using the different techniques on same slope and soil types.
They picked and vinified the sixteend different parcels separately.
"The first thing that we saw were the soils," he said.
Jean-Charles is a self-doubter and he was eager to see what other people could see, just in case he was fooling himself. When Martin Gold of Martin Scott came to visit in 2010, J-C took him to the vines in the rain. "Look at the soils," he said.
Martin saw the difference. Jean-Charles said, "He saw that the perfumes were richer and deeper in the Biodynamic vines. The soils under the Biodynamic vines absorbed the water better. The soil was not as clumpy as in the organic, the moisture was quickly absorbed. and the soil was not clumpy but absorbed."
In the end, the soils have better structure and better ability to resist erosion.
Another difference he saw besides the soil were the leaves interpretation of light. "They were in a saucer-like form instead of hanging flat. Light danced through the leaves and the canopy. "Light," he has observed, "is at least as important, or more important than temperature, but few people ever talk about it."
That remains to be seen, he's seen none of the increased acids, but he thinks there's more vibrancy. He would rather other people taste the samples he's set aside of vinifications from the same plots from different cultivations to decide, and that will happen. But for now, his focus is totally on the healing of the soil, curbing the erosion and maintaining the health of a land that was almost lost.
He anticipates his Demeter certification in 2013 and has been reticient about any articles stating his estate is Biodynamic until then. Why certification?
"It is important to do what we say and say what we do," he said. And until then, I can talk to you and tell you our process but I won't go around saying we are Biodynamic until we are certified."
His notion of patrimony to the soil and place to be the prime motivation. "We must be the best farmer we can be. We are obliged to give the next generation a vineyard better than we started with. We need to allow our vines to express their origins and vintage. The idea is to interfere as little as possible. The artisan, the farmer is trying to express something true. Then you have the industrial growers going for taste and consistencey. This would be the end of fine wine. This is my position."
2009- Honey and depth, but quiet on the nose and a little shy right now, on the palate. Marked by salt and slate and still too young, but the wine is starting to come into focus, almost embryonic. (around $100)
2007- Beautiful aroma yet also quiet, chalky, florality, orange and lime and some cholrine and caramel with a lite delicate whisper finish that belies it's specific finish, like someone with perfect pitch hitting an A. (around $120)
I was just musing about whether it was true, whether Aligoté was a little wine, whether it could never have the greatness of chardonnay, even though I rarely yearn for it from any appellation, from grand cru on down (except, hello blanc de blanc!), when Bernard showed up in the tasting room with a dusty bottle that would confirm what I expected, that Aligoté, is a defender of Burgundy terroir like no other white grape in town. And Becky will just have to forgive me.
Want to piss drinkers off? Hand them a wine like, Sebastien Riffault and tell them the wine they sip is Sancerre.
But get them to try the wine without telling them it is grown in Sancerre. Go ahead, it's a trick but it works. The wine made without any added sulfur or anything else, is the grape in its natural state, as it wants to be. So, if they don't come to it with preconceived notions of the grape, if they don't have their reality fucked with because there's no cat piss or cut grass, well they might love it. If they are listening very carefully, they might sense and correctly identify its soil, place and using their noodle,they might even get the grape.
To Sebastien as well as a growing number of vignerons, the earth and terroir, that thing that is debated by scientists as existing or not, is much more important than the variety. Of supreme importance is the correct marriage of the two that makes the difference.
After weeks of hanging with winemakers this past June, from Burgenland, to Styria to Mont St. Denis, a repetitive theme came into microscopic focus. The moment of revelation hit when standing in the Morey St. Denis vineyard Clos Mont Luisants with its owner, that rascal Laurent Ponsot.
The Ponsot monopole, Clos des Mont Luisants is planted with century old aligoté. In past decades the vineyard had flirted with some chardonnay and some pinot gouge, but now it's back to aligoté all the way, because Ponsot believes the oft considered lowly grape with enough acidity to naturally block malo, is the best vehicle to deliver the soil to the glass.
"It's the place that matters, not the grape." He didn't yell at me, but he might as well have added, you idiot.
"Look. You have many elements side-by-side that makes the wine what it is. In Burgundy we have 1500 different appellations we don't have a wine named, pinot noir or chardonnay. This is Burgundy. The land has to be the victor. From the New World came the fame of naming a wine according to the grape. In the past, people would plant the best grape to extract the location."
So why did this wisdom get lost?
"People had time and committment, now they make money."
His disdain for the world of labels was apparent. "In Burgundy we have Burgundy, not a beverage called chardonnay and oak. It is Burgundy. To label a wine by the varietal is like a man holding up his pants with both belt and suspenders. No confidence."
You might well wonder why I bothered to ask how he was going to label his Corton Charlemagne, which is aligoté from Corton-Chuck? (before phylloxera there was mostly aligoté on that famous hill). Will he give some clue to the drinker that it's aligoté?
"Why would I do this?" he said, getting testy, but tempering it with a, okay, a somewhat superior laugh. "Forget the name! It is the place not the grape that matters."
That's all well in good for a region mostly is run by two grapes. After all, one can assume (though not safely) if it's white it's chardonnay and if its red it's pinot. But many drinkers (self-included) have an intellecutal curiosity to know the grape(s) inside, so some info on the back might be welcome. The goal, however to respect a piece of land so much that what matters is that the right grape is matched to the soil, and not a grape matched to a market, is extremely appealing. After all, when is the last time I reached for a bottle that screamed gamay? But show me Py, and I'm there.
In light of the new labeling laws in which we will see more grape names on the label, as if that meant anything, this is the ripe time for a vigneron push back.
I don't know, when is the last time you had sex with someone who wore both belt and suspenders?
Once a seabed, this verdant countryside, somewhat reminiscent of the Jura, Lower Styria, is not the place for mono-culture. All around Ewald Tscheppe's vineyards are cherry trees, fruits, vegetables, forest and even his brother's mountain bike. Ewald is long and lean, almost kid-like and gung ho on biodynamics. He started to make wine with bro, Andreas, but they decided even thought they worked the same grapes the wines they made were entirely different, so Andreas moved over the hill, the brothers still share winemaking equipment and affection. They are also both members of the little group of five vignerons who call themselves, Schmecke das Leben.
Ewald's got his 8h of chalky marl. He says because of the breakdown of the old shells, there is always some petrol aroma and taste in his wine. He says petrol, I say wild carrot, but yes, when we later tasted, I saw what he meant.
He took over in 2004 and here is planted to chardonnay (morillon here) and sauvignon and muskateller, never used synthetic fertilizers and only briefly flirted with herbicides. And what's more I can't believe how boring I'm making this visit, because it was not. The high points included going to his vines with a shovel, passing a shit load of cat nip growing wild, instant valium for redheads. We sat down in between the vines as if it was smoking zero summer and a picnic was on the way , instead we dug up the earth,
applauded his earthworms and wild carrots, wild sage and general health, and I swear I have never been in vineyards that had more birds.
Werlitsch is the label.
The wines? Quite good. More than good, interesting. They would fly in the states. And then there's that anfora wine. Everyone here seems to be influenced by Gravner. I've not seen one anfora NOT buried. And here is the crypt.
I'm not going to give a run down on the wines because why bother. What is important is Ewald's wines, great, and part of the group's philosophy that the grape is utterly unimportant, what is important is the terroir. Also important are his thoughts such as, "Sulfur gives the wine a shape. It's like the bones in the body."
I'm snatching seconds on the road to write, so as I make all sorts of mistake, I also invite comment, correction and illumination, especially from all of you Austrian wine geeks.
The riesling was just this minute in flower
when I met with Peter Malberg, who made his first solo domain effort in 2008. He is a lean man with Intrepid airplane blue/gray colored eyes that almost matched his hair, and originally from Saltzberg, he farms the far western area of Wachau, high up where no one sane makes good wine, in coop country, crappy farming country, dusted with mica-schist and faerie dust.
Funny thing, lots of folk out there say with respect how he cares for his 4 hectares (spread over 20 different parcels) with utter care and then? Overheard and translated from the German he makes great wine, but he'll soon find out he can't make a living that way. I suppose if he wanted to get rich, this previous advertising guy, would have avoided farming. Especially the kind of vineyards he's after, old terraced ones. I love old terraces, you can taste them in the wine, he said.
All work here is done by hand. He's given up biodynamics, mostly because of a Steiner distrust, he does use several of the preps and farms, for lack of a better term, organically. He makes wine, he says, for precision, which is a term I have no idea what to do with. Perhaps something gets lost in the translation because the wines are very, very fine indeed.
We prepared for battle, he opened bottles (with a twist) and poured water into green short glasses. "We have no wine culture in this country. My parents used to drink out of glasses like these!" he said, with certain disdain. Then he glugged, glugged and gave a hissy smile, in imitation of the way his folks used to drink wine. "There was either the very high end or the low end. There was no wine culture."
I said it is this way throughout the world, no? Even in France.
When we tasted, I kept on chiding him about that comment. No, I can't taste the terraces, but I certainly can taste the effort in the farming. In the processing it's minimal, as a general rule, no additions except some sulfur, which generally happens at racking. Much lower than usual for Austrian standards. He also is not afraid of skin contact or stem contact, and presses slowly, finding that pressing with stems makes for a more gentle pressing. I believe this pressing makes a huge difference in his wine, and at least in one cuvée is quite tannic, which I loved. And I am happy when I hear a winemaker say they aren't afraid of tannin.
He doesn't want oxidation in his wine so he's got this theory: keep the must (pre-fermentation) exposed to air so it oxidizes, so there's nothing to oxidize at a later date. (note to self: must talk to Tom Lubbe of Matassa about this.)
Most of the wines had been open for ten days or so, few seemed worse for the wear.
2010: Kreutles Gruner: this is the only wine he makes on the flat. Lots of life and chamomile.
'10 Hochrain (Loess soil) 1/2 of this went through malo, yellow plum, juicy, nutmeg.
'10 Weitenberg Gruner: his oldest vines and an old vine of gruner, planted on gneiss. Small leafs, closer to riesling. Lots of apple strudel, and a bit of high carbon steel. Vin de gard. Excellent structure.
'10 Bruck: tart, very new, more yellow plum and a bit disjointed with underlying funk and mint.
'10; Buechenberg: this is near the more famous RiedKlaus vineyard and costs a hefty 58 euro, but why not? Woah! Tannin and tangy, fresh! Apple, acid, balance, long, long notes.
Off again. Soonish.
Peter in his vineyards with plenty of clover.