Thursday, February 12, 2009

Austria Part II

Christian’s white whale forges onward to our afternoon stop at Michlits/Meinklang winery. The winery is actually named Michlits, or is it Meinklang? I don’t know why, but in the US the name has to be altered to Michlits for distribution.  The winery is ultra modern looking, but uses all natural materials.  As we approach the flat, winter brown fields I have no warning that my life is about to be changed forever.

"Graupert" is German for sort of uncombed hair. It was explained that as a little kid, if you came to the breakfast table, your grandmother would say you were looking “graupert” and you needed to comb your hair to look presentable. Werner Jr. takes us into the vineyards to see his Graupert Pinot Gris vines. There’s really no way to explain this other than someone has let their hedges grow wild. We are just east of lake Neusiedl, very close to the Hungarian border. The land is very, very flat and this is clearly not what we usually picture for vineyard country. In fact, Werner Jr. explains that winds swoop down into this flat plain and create havoc on the farms in giant gusts and actually drown people in the shallow Neusiedl lake as surprise 
waves topple boats. Between rows of perfectly manicured vines on both sides, the Graupert vineyard stands out like a punk rock spiked mohawk on the set to Leave it Beaver. In a deep spiritual moment with his vines, Werner Jr. thought that if he lets the vines go wild, eventually they will become self-limiting and reduce the stress of pruning each year which was hurting the vines. Essentially, if left to grow wild the grapes will be better. And you know what? It’s working. The vines unkempt look are criticized by his neighbors and he is accused of being lazy. In fact, last year some locals set fire to part of the Graupert vineyard to make their point. The proof is in the bottle and the Meinklangs remain committed. And, there is talk of letting all their vines grow Graupert style. Oy, the potential bonfire! You will see some Graupert Pinot Gris coming to Wine Authorities this spring.

Meinklang farm is a fantastic story. Post WWII, the family estate was in ruins and as borders with Hungary moved back and forth, the parents, Annalies and Werner Sr., made the decision to move forward and plant fields while working around the bombed out roads and the bomb craters in the fields, not knowing if tomorrow they would lose everything. At this time grapes were not the main product. About ten years ago the father converted the farm to complete biodynamic agriculture using Rudolf Steiner’s teachings, and embraced the philosophy of creating a complete interdependent closed cycle farm. They grow about 8 types of grains - wheat, barley, rice, spelt, etc., they brew really, really good craft beer, they maintain a herd of 300 Angus cows, they raise the rare Mangalitza pig breed, they make wine of course, and they make cider from their Topaz variety apple orchards. All this ag
riculture and children running around growing up on the farm paints a Rockwell-esque picture. With each family member taking on specific responsibilities, the farm is complete and each area is dependent on the next. This family, the parents, the three sons, their wives and the grandchildren, are organic, natural, down to earth, and clearly have found their happy place. There is an energy and a harmony in the air. You can taste it. Okay, I am ready to start packing the bags.

We visit the winery and get a fantastic explanation of what biodynamic farming is. I plan to release a video of this in the future showing Werner with his cow horns and manure in the cellar. We see the horns which are packed with manure and aged before being mixed with water to spread in the fields. The farmers refer to this stuff as “magic poo.”

We head underground to the wine tasting room and sit among the giant concrete eggs. The tasting starts with a frizzante style pinot noir rosé. This lightly bubbly, a touch off-dry, pink wine was actually first made for Werner and Angela’s wedding. We meet Angela and find out she is the actual winemaker in the family and appropriately named as she is a winemaking angel. Her wines are lovely across the table. All show balance and character. She greets us briefly before having to run off and chase their two young daughters who are peaking at us through the glass ceiling from their house above ground.  As the tasting moves forward we are treated to a selection of sausages made from the farm’s Angus beef and from their wonderful fatty Mangalitza pigs. I can’t stop eating. The center of the plate has a tub of rendered pork fat, which looks like hummus, and is spreadable like butter on bread. A little goes a long way. The Meinklang Gruner Veltliner is a stand out and absolutely atypical in style. They say other Austrian regions laugh about the thought of Gruner in this area, but the lip-smacking acidity and gulps of fruit are just right for me. I’ll take Gruner from Burgenland any day.

As we sit at this long, large table for 20 people, we are surrounded by giant concrete eggs. These eggs are wine tanks and I can’t help but feel like we are in a scene somewhere between Aliens and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The egg shape fits the 
"perfect mean" or "Phi" from Leonardo Fibonacci. Werner’s explanation details the concrete’s micro pores and as the wine ages in the egg, there are microscopic level oxygen exchanges which work the wine slower than using a wood barrel. In additional chemical chains form in the wine which get heavy and fall downward, forcing the wine to churn slowly up the sides of the egg to the top and fall back into the center, a sort of natural convection type movement. Using the eggs, they have learned that very little sulphur dioxide is needed as compared to their other wine making techniques. We taste the “Konkret St. Laurent,” and this is the best St. Laurent wine I have ever had, hands down. I am a believer. They started with a couple of eggs and now the winery looks like a chicken coop. The good news is that you can adopt an egg for just 3,000 Euros which gets you 2 cases of wine per year from your egg, over 10 years. That’s a deal!
I leave feeling like I need to put in a job application. I’ll take just about any job to be a part of this family farm. It speaks to my soul. The bus ride is quiet all they way to the the next winery. I clutch my Meinklang micro brew and savor every sip. Can we replicate this in Durham? Someone is probably ahead of me already. Meinklang will become a great addition to our store. They fit right in with us. Steindorfer winery awaits the whale’s arrival. - Salamanzar
(Thanks to Karen M. for letting me use a couple of her great photos in this posting.)