Sunday, January 17, 2010

Austria 2010, Second Stop: Michlits

One of the visitors asks Werner how many head of cattle he has. Werner says “350”. The visitor asks “Are they for beef or dairy?” Werner says “I use them for the manure.” He’s not joking.
An important part of the biodynamic philosophy is the “extreme” composting of manure, and keeping his entire farm biodynamic means he needs a lot of fertilizer. The farm is to be entirely self sustaining in this philosophy. It is a holistic farm with one crop helping the other to flourish without pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or chemical fertilizers.
     Fully biodynamic, with no additives in his wine which are spontaneously fermented, Werner Michlits has dozens of large agricultural hoop houses specifically for propagating predatory insects to use throughout his farm. He calls them “insect hotels”. Seeing them next to his vineyard, you realize his commitment to leading the biodynamic movement here. His resources committed to just these insects rivals most small farms and it's only a small piece of this farm. Young and passionate, with seemingly endless energy, excitement and curiosity, he pushes the limits of what can be produced naturally from his farm.

Many of the biodynamic producers I’ve visited do it strictly for the quality results they get in the end product. Studies have shown the soil on biodynamic farms has exponentially more microbic organisms, and its propon
ents show this as evidence that the process is less harmful for the environment, and therefore better for their crops. Werner is a complete believer in the entire philosophy and lives it with every ounce of his being. As he explained just the basics of the aging of manure in cow horns, creating a “tea” from it and very, very lightly spraying it in the vineyard (about a drop for every 30 square feet!) you could see a few of the visitors eyes rolling. But Werner could read his audience and knew when to cut it short before he got too in depth (plus our visit could not hold up the bus to our next producer). It didn’t prevent him from dropping tidbits of this information as we tasted the wines in his “egg room”.
His wines are lovely, full of fruit purity, elegant and balanced. Many of you already love his Pinot Noir Rosé Frizzante (one of our most popular wines in the store), his Zin-like Zweigelt, his lush Pinot Gris "Graupert" named after his unpruned vineyard, and his lovely Grüner Veltliner. He uses little to no oak, and has actually moved on to using “eggs”. These egg shaped vats are made of natural concrete with no reinforce-
ment from steel. “Steel is a cage” he says, and having these custom vats made very carefully without steel (if made improperly they will crack open!) shows how far he’s willing to push the envelope. The shape of the egg tank was adopted and updated by Werner for many of the same reasons that he follows biodynamics. Ask me in the store and I’ll give you a more in-depth version. It may sound like hocus-pocus, but the results are real... and the wines are fantastic. This year we’re going to offer 10 customers (plus Salamanzar & myself) the opportunity to “godfather” one of these egg shaped tanks. Each person will receive one magnum of the wine made in it for the next ten years for $300 and help this winery continue to progress. That ends up averaging $15 per 750ml for 10 magnums (1.5L). Interested? Ask us about it.
Coming soon: Juhfark, a Hungarian grape that Werner has planted in his vineyard just across the border in the Somlo region of Hungary (you reading this Century Club?). Tasty, and you'll love the pronunciation. Do I see another video coming?

I have to concur with Salamanzar's post from 2009 here, visiting this winery is inspirational enough to change your life.
- Grand Poobah Wine Swami

Austria 2010, First stop: Netzl

One thing I love about visiting small wineries is the fantastic hospitality.
A great example is Christine Netzl making a batch of her family recipe Hungarian
Goulash for us and a delicious mushroom soup for some of the vegetarians. Franz Netzl’s vineyards are between the Neusiedlersee Lake and Danube River, and these two nearby bodies of water influence the climate of his vineyards. This is red wine country in the Carnuntum region of Austria, and his vineyards are planted with Zweigelt, in the flat lands of his property, while on the hillsides are planted his Syrah (the most acclaimed Syrah of Austria), Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot. The family has farmed and lived on this property for 200 years. Franz changed direction of the family farm 25 years ago to focus on winemaking. They sold off much of their land devoted to crops and animals and used those proceeds to buy supplemental pristine vineyards and build a modern winery on the estate connected to their home.
Christina, his eldest daughter is now making the wine and she is clearly talented. She crafts the wines very professionally and is confident when she discusses what their different vineyards bring to the wines.

The whole family lives on the estate, Franz & Christine the parents in one part, young newlyweds Christina and her husband in another, and Christina’s younger sister Annemarie in another part. All are connected but have separate entrances. The wines here are well-made and modern (especially the reds), leaning more towards Californian in style. Their less expensive Carnuntina line is unoaked, friendly, accessible and great value (we’ve been selling their “Roseanna” Zweigelt Rosé whch is part of the Carnuntina line), while the upper level wines are rich, noticeably oaked and showy with intense flavor and little semblance to our image of classic, typical European wines. For more about this estate, visit Salamanzar's great post from 2009 here.

- Grand Poobah Wine Swami

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Austria & Germany: My Goals

Leaving for Austria and Germany today, I've been considering my goals for this trip. Certainly I'm looking forward to visiting the vineyards, wineries and homes of some winegrower friends who I've known for years but never had the chance to spend time with on their home turf. That will be great! But, I'm also an avid sponge of world cultures and hope to gain a strong appreciation of regional distinctions and quirks. I'm sure I'll eat too much!

The wine will be abundant, that's for sure. Traveling with friends will be neat. Charlie Deal (chef/owner of Jujube, Dos Perros), Bill Bowman (former co-worker from my Fowler's days and now an importer/distributor) and Ryan Fulkerson (a friendly sales rep and overall good guy) will make this a fun and dynamic trip. These guys are pros, but they also know how to cut loose and have a good time. Plus they're all fun & funny. I'm looking forward to the laughs.

It's also a great opportunity to document a little slice of my life that I can share with family, friends and the community that has developed in and around our store. Looking past this trip, it will be neat to look back and laugh and remember.
Yum! Shellfish display from a previous trip to Barcelona.

Of course the primary goal is to find new wines and taste new vintages of wines I already know. Wine education is an important part of my life, so getting my fingers in the dirt and being exposed to the "terroir" will greatly help my understanding of why these wines are what they are.

I also want to give our customers following this trip online a taste of the adventure. One of Wine Authorities objectives for 2010 is to expose our customers to the potential adventure that can be found in the world of wine on the shelf just down the street from their house. Much goes into that tasty liquid living in a bottle that you bring home tonight. What you uncork and pour into your glass can either be a beverage that packs a little buzz, or it can be the latest chapter in a family's long history that speaks of their deep cultural roots and tells tales of that year's weather and the craft of the artisan who made it. Is it something you drink for comfort, or something you've never had before that opens a door to the unknown when you pull the cork? The Century Club has several of our customers considering that adventure, and I'll surely let you know the many obscure grapes that I hope to check off of my list.

Check back, I'll do my best to keep this interesting and entertaining!
-Grand Poobah Wine Swami