Tag Archives: Riesling

Winemaker Interview: Anna and Martin Arndorfer, Kamptal, Austria

 

annamartin annamartinkids

Anna and Martin Arndorfer, Owners/Winemakers for Arndorfer Wines

Signature Wines: Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Neuburger, Chardonnay, Zweigelt; Riesling die Leidenschaft

Importer: Indie Wineries

I first met Anna and Martin Arndorfer in New York. My favorite NYC-based Austrian from the Austrian Wine Commission, Stephanie Artner, hosted a dinner party in Brooklyn to celebrate the Arndorfer’s arrival that day. Naturally, they had a slew of wines with them which kept us tasting and talking late into early morning.

What stood out to me about Anna and Martin was the not just the eagerness with which they poured and discussed their wines, but their inability to stop smiling and giggling all night. It reminded me why I love winemakers who actually love farming and winemaking. They spoke giddily about each bottle as though it were a loved member of their growing family, one not any better than the other, just babies with unique personalities they are only meant to foster not manipulate.

Like hands off parents, each wine picks its future. All juice ferments spontaneously; sometimes it finishes and sometimes it doesn’t. Whatever the wine chooses, the result will be its destiny for that vintage. The Arndorfers won’t force a dress on a little girl who wants to play in the mud.

They happen to also be parents of real children – two small girls, in fact, who help out around the vineyard, in the dirt, back home. I didn’t ask if they wear dresses.  Although the Arndorfers like to speak about themselves as though they are just a pair of aging, old souls who are mere stewards of the land, they have an unusual freshness of spirit; they view the world with wonderment that’s more grade school than grandparent. Jaded New Yorkers could rip a few pages out of their book.

Their winery is located in Kamptal, Lower Austria. It has been family-owned since 1770, and they are the third generation working with wine as a main business. Their first vintage together was in 2002. I attended Vie Vinum in Austria in June where I tracked down their table and tasted through their wines again, including my first ever Zweigelt rosé fermented on Grüner Veltliner skins (they explain why that’s logical, below).

Through an email interview, we touched on a number of topics including the benefits and drawbacks of working and living in Kamptal; whether winemaking in such a historic place can inhibit progress; and where they’d like to be traveling right now (hint: Denmark).

©Arndorfer

What philosophy guides your viticulture?

We think that the most important part of the vineyard is life and balance. Both things are very closely connected with our soils and the work/management we do with the soil. There are lot of little animals and partly very big mycelium in the soil which help the vine to get water and nutrients, but they need their “home” and food. So in our viticulture we try to provide them what they need so they will provide our vines what they need… if we assault our vines (fertilizer and herbicide) we will not have life and balance in our soil.

What philosophy guides your winemaking practices?

We think a lot about our work in the cellar, but at the end of the day, we just press good grapes, ferment the juice, age the wine, bottle it, sell it and get paid for it – usually. We try to give the wines a good environment and home to feel comfortable developing the character of the vineyards. The thing we use most in our winemaking is water to clean, and patience combined with a bit of risk and strong nerves.

What is your biggest challenge as a winemaker (e.g., volatility of Mother Nature, expense to income ratio, having to actually market your wine)?

Time is probably the biggest challenge. If some wines need longer to develop because of a slow fermentation, it would be nice to have more time. The problem is if your customers and partners need/want the wine. You see that you could be selling it right now, except that it is still fermenting in barrels. The situation does not help your expense to income ratio – especially in “expense-intense” seasons like summer and harvest. It would be very nice to get in the situation where you don’t have to worry about the market and we could just be worried about our vines and wines.

Next to time are two more things which are not really nice: lack of water and hail. All the other things are more or less manageable but if we/our vines don’t have water we are not very happy. If hail goes over our vineyards it is not nice either – of course you know why…

Describe some of the unique wines/projects you are working on?

Since vintage 2012, we have produced a Zweigelt rosé fermented on Grüner Veltliner skins. Why? To get a rosé with more structure, complexity and expression… sounds pretty logical, no?

There are centuries and generations of winemaking history in the Kamptal, and Austria in general. How do you feel that history impedes your progress, if it does? How does it help?

We’re absolutely proud to live and work in Kamptal, especially in Strass im Strassertale. There is a very long history of winemaking and viticulture, but we don’t feel it creates problems for our personal work. Talking with the older generation provides a way of learning and understanding about the vineyards of our village; to see pictures of the vineyards from the past is very inspiring.

For example, why was the vintage 1947 so outstanding? Maybe the sun, maybe the small crop, maybe the pruning, maybe the” trellising system”, maybe crushing the grapes in the vineyard, maybe not having a tractor, nor herbicides and fertilizers, or maybe a little bit from everything. Anyway, I think it is good to learn from our history and use the experience from older generations, but combine it with the knowledge of the present time. The cheapest thing we can do is keep thinking about our work and our decisions…History gives us a bigger background for this idea…

Is the region, or perhaps other winemakers, ever resistant to change or new ideas?

The question is: what are new ideas or changes? Most of the wineries want to produce wines that show the character of the origin – village or single vineyard – to show a very typical wine from the region. Sometimes people call it traditional. We have these kinds of winemakers in the region, which is good.

The region itself is not resistant to new ideas (we can’t avoid them). It would be a pity if it were like this, because of all the diversity of soil, microclimate, varieties, and individuals, it would be a loss of resources if we just did the same thing forever. It is necessary to have new ideas and changes…

What are the benefits and drawbacks of grapegrowing/winemaking in your region?

At the moment, Kamptal is a really nice region in which to work with vines and wines. Climate, soil, varieties…nothing to complain about! One little thing is that we can’t write on most of our wines Kamptal even if they all grow in Kamptal, in Strass im Strassertale. They don’t fit into the “system” or model expected from Kamptal DAC wines… It is nothing to complain about really, because it is our decision that our wines should taste like they do!

What excites you most about Austrian wines right now?

Thanks to the work of a few very intelligent people Austrian wine has become known and now we can go to the “next” level. There is still big potential in our vineyards and it will be very exciting to see/taste/enjoy these wines.

Which wine or grape (in the world) is the least understood or respected?

Neuburger.

What do you drink at home when relaxing?

Wines with personality, preferably a little bit cloudy. It does not matter from where or from whom.

How do you spend your free time (if you have any)?

I spend it with my family. Work and free time are always very closely associated. It is a question of definition, really. Is it work if our daughters join us for a little vineyard tour?  For us it doesn’t matter if you call it free time or work, it is something we enjoy!

If you could be traveling somewhere else right now, where would you be?

Copenhagen.

Give one surprising fact about yourself.

We have never been to Jura!

Leave a comment

Filed under Arndorfer, Kamptal

NYC EVENT: Death by German Riesling and Other Musings, Led by Paul Grieco

terroir
NEW YORKER ALERT!!
(or anyone willing to drive/fly/bike/run/skateboard to get in on small-group action with Paul Grieco):
Next Wednesday, July 30th from 7-8 p.m.,  Terroir Murray Hill is offering an “awesome, super affordable German Riesling tasting.”
The Terroir folks are still doped up on the natural high of Germany’s World Cup win, so to celebrate, legendary Paul Grieco, will host a tasting of eight Rieslings, from dry to sweet, for only $34.
Get yer tickets here and preview the wines here (hint: it’s the same link).
Terroir Murray Hill, 439 Third Avenue (30th-31st Streets), wineisterroir.com, @terroirny

4 Comments

Filed under Germany, Riesling

Pyramid Valley Vineyards, North Canterbury, New Zealand

Gorgeous lunch prepared by Claudia

Gorgeous lunch prepared by Claudia Weersing

After departing Pinot-centric Central Otago, I carried on north to the next New Zealand wine region of Canterbury, located about 45 minutes outside of Christchurch. One of my three winemaker visits included the eye-opening Pyramid Valley, known for being the first vineyard in New Zealand — and one of only a few in the world — to be established from nascency under strict biodynamic principles, as well as stick to a strong non-interventionist/natural winemaking philosophy.

My lovely host for the afternoon, Brittany Thompson, Assistant Winemaker and Production Manager, picked me up in her truck full of energetic dogs. Our visit started not with a traditional winery tasting, but rather a picnic on top of a nearby hill with wine box “baskets” prepared by winery co-owner Claudia Weersing, who dabbles, quite effectively, in cooking. Apparently, I was the guinea pig for the wine box-cum-picnic basket concept, and I wholeheartedly gave it a green light, suggesting they make it available to future customers. The box included a clever dessert in a jar, smartly wrapped sandwiches, and the elusive greengage plum–my first. I was also introduced to the country fun of sliding down a hillside hay field on one’s belly or back, an activity apparently never endeavored with journalists — until meeting me.

Set in Northern Canterbury, Pyramid Valley Vineyards, was founded in 2000 by Mike and Claudia Weersing. They spent ten years working to find the perfect tract of land with the ideal limestone and geology make-up for the vines they wished to plant. They knew they’d hit proverbial paydirt when the consultant back in France reviewing their soil sample asked where they were in Burgundy. After pulling the hay from my hair and out of my shirt, and socks, and pants, we sat down at the tasting bar to go through their entire line-up of wines. I had a hard time holding back my surprise at how characterful, how evocative of place each wine was. Certainly no poker face could I project. I was particularly fond of the Cab Franc — it was the best I tasted in all of New Zealand. I recommend tracking down their Pinots, Chardonnays–frankly, anything from this winery.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

THE OWNERS MIKE AND CLAUDIA:

Mike and Claudia Weersing came to New Zealand in 1996, when Mike began making wine with Tim and Judy Finn at Neudorf Vineyards in Nelson. After a long and intensive search to find a site for their own vineyard, they purchased a farm in the Pyramid Valley, near Waikari in North Canterbury, in 2000.

Mike studied oenology and viticulture in Burgundy, beginning at the Lycee Viticole in Beaune, and continuing at the Universite de Bourgogne in Dijon. He has worked extensively in the vineyards and cellars of Europe, for producers such as Hubert de Montille, Domaine de la Pousse d’Or, and Nicolas Potel in Burgundy; Jean-Michel Deiss and Marc Kreydenweiss in Alsace; and Ernst Loosen in the Mosel. He has made wine in France and in Spain for Randall Grahm of Bonny DoonVineyards, vinifying in the Rhone Valley, the Languedoc-Roussillon, and the Navarra. New world vintages include apprenticeships with James Halliday at Coldstream Hills in the Yarra Valley of Australia, and with Russ Raney at Evesham Wood in Oregon’s Eola Hills.

Claudia was born in Schleswig, Germany.  A fashion student and skilled clothesmaker by trade, she  is now a committed biodynamicist which guides her approach to the land.

WINEMAKING PHILOSOPHY:

Wine to us is a genie, genius loci; our job is to coax it from its rock to bottle. Every gesture we make, in vineyard and winery, is a summons to this spirit of place. Biodynamics, hand-based viticulture, low yields, natural winemaking – these are some of the means we’ve adopted better to record and transmit this voice.

For example, all of our wines are fermented with their own yeast starters, cultured every year, from the vineyard itself. If wine is meant to be the bottled breath of a certain place, from a certain moment in time, then we feel that working with yeasts from that site, of that season, is an important step towards transparency and authenticity. Our cultures allow very long, very regular ferments: most of our whites ferment for more than a year. During this time, the wine is protected, so no sulphur is necessary. After so long a ferment, the wine is stable: thus most of our wines are bottled unfiltered, again with little or no sulphur.

Each wine is allowed to flower as it wishes. If the Pinot Blanc stops with 4 grams RS, so be it. If the Gewurztraminer ferments to dryness, that is its choice. As my friend and hero Edmond Vatan once replied when I asked him about malolactic fermentation, “Pwah, le malo, si ca se fait, ca se fait.”

So, at home we’ve sponsored a marriage of clay-limestone soils to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, hoping to bring to the wine world a special, new place-voice. With the Growers Collection, we are allowed to work with admired colleagues, and with sites, soils, varieties different than those at home. All of our wines are devoted to people and place; all bring rich rewards of community.

BACKGROUND ON THE VINEYARD:

The home vineyard has been established according to rules that Mike grew to respect and inherently to trust during his time studying and working in Burgundy: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay have been planted, on clay-limestone soils on scarp slopes, at a density of 10,000-12,000 vines per hectare. The vineyard has been biodynamically managed from inception.

Each block is planted to reflect a specific soil type hence the somewhat irregular looking blocks. In total we have only 2.2 hectares planted in 4 separate blocks. The differences you can taste reflects the soil and climatic differences between each block, which is never more than 400 metres at most. We vinify each block and variety separately but identically in a mixture of old oak and clay amphorae so  the outside influences on the grape are minimised.

The blocks themselves were named by Claudia after the weed varieties predominant in each, which also reflect the different soil. The Angel Flower is a more exposed block, north facing that reflects a lightness, delicacy and an ethereal scent. The Lions Tooth with its golden dandelions and obvious lime rich soil shows a rich golden colour with a toasty sulphite nose. The Earth Smoke is a heavier clay, with a denser, wild, gamey outcome. The Field of Fire slopes away to an eastern aspect and into the heaviest clay and makes typically a green-hued delicate wine.

Leave a comment

Filed under New Zealand, Pyramid Valley Vineyards

Friday Night Flights: Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

roofofnkmip

This past Friday, an Australian wine importer friend came by and we decided to open wines we can’t get readily get our hands on here in NYC. I’ve stocked my wine fridge from travels abroad, so our drinking options ranged from wines like Plavac Mali smuggled out of Croatia; Furmint slogged back from Hungary; and a Roussanne from a small producer in Australia.

However, we decided to dip into the case of wine I brought back this past June from the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia. The Canadians and U.S. have a very cool alcohol import/export relationship; thus, these wines are wholesale, unavailable in the New York market, and, I think, most of the U.S. Such a shame. The Okanagan whites, in particular, the Rieslings, are outstanding. There’s also growing Pinot Noir production up-and-over there (there being the far west of Canada, but still a 5-hour drive east of Vancouver).

The Canadian government handles all wine sales; thus, I gathered my assemblage of vino at the VQA in Penticton. The shopkeeper professed intimate knowledge of the local wineries and wines, so I asked him to help me put together an all-star kit of under $30 bottles, showcasing producers and a variety of grapes. I have nine more bottles left, so I will post commentary and photos once those make their way into my glass. For now, I’ll address the three we consumed. And for you, readers, the best way to enjoy these wines is to visit the source. Between snow-dusted mountains peaks, arctic blue lakes, friendly locals and organic, local food scene, the Okanagan Valley is one of the most beautiful wine regions in the world, setting a lofty bar for the wines to reach. Fortunately, they arc high above it.

PoplarGroveWinery

What we drank: Tantalus Vineyards Riesling, 2012; Moon Curser Viognier, 2011; and Stoneboat Vineyards Pinot Noir, 2010.

TantalusRiesling

TANTALUS RIESLING 2012: YIKES. Scary delicious. Both ripe, yet nervy, full of bright, saliva-inducing acid, citrus-y lemon-lime, but plump full of tropical notes, too. Layers and layers of flavor. 2012 was a warm vintage, and maybe that shows, but there’s plenty of structure to keep this wine focused. And what, exactly, does a “warm vintage” mean in Canada, anyway? Although the Okanagan is one of the northern most winegrowing regions in the world, it’s still an arid, desert-like zone, experiencing warm to hot summers.

MoonCurserViognier

MOON CURSER VIOGNIER 2011: Gorgeous bottle, eh? Frankly, my photo doesn’t honor the colors nor art since it’s in black and white; the actual bottle shimmers with golden highlights as though treated to an appliqué of delicate gold leaf (see pic below). The juice inside is equally striking. Compared to 2012 (see above), 2011 was a cooler vintage, which probably helped tip this wine away from the ripeness scale, into a leaner, delicate style that’s uncharacteristic, but wonderful, for the grape. An obvious note of candied ginger pricks the tongue, followed by white peach, white flowers and a lemon-chiffon finish.

StoneBoatPinot

STONEBOAT VINEYARDS PINOT NOIR 2010: I wanted to love this bottle after my enchanting encounters with the first two, but the Pinot tasted just a bit too green for my palate. I can normally get behind more delicate wines–this bottle actually reminded me of a red Sancerre from the Loire I had recently–another region that struggles with Pinot Noir ripeness.  I know Stoneboat is an excellent producer, so I will give them another shot when I head back to the valley in the spring. Not all was lost, however–this wine had lovely notes of savory wet leaf, a bit of spice and earthiness, with a tea-like quality. The fruit played hide-and-seek, but when it popped out, I tasted a bit of currant, pomegranate and sour cherry. This might be to the taste of some folks out there. Interestingly, I found a number of other Okanagan Pinots swung too far on the richness scale, many of them overoaked (I heard producers are moving away from that style), so kudos to Stoneboat for not resorting to such masking measures.

Mooncurser

Above is a photo of Moon Curser bottles, taken this summer near the winery in Osoyoos.

Leave a comment

Filed under British Columbia, Okanagan Valley

Vin du Lac LEHM Riesling 2010, Lake Chelan, Washington

vindulacriesling

Vin du Lac Winery, LEHM Riesling 2010, Lake Chelan, Washington

Vin du Lac winery sits perched above Lake Chelan in Washington State. This sliver of 10-year-old wine country in North-central WA puts out a handful of excellent Rieslings, Gewürztraminers and Cab Franc, amongst other varieties planted and currently being experimented with. Founder of Vin du Lac winery Larry Lehmbecker, a former lawyer (they always are), arrived with the very first wave of winemakers seeking to replicate the success of their Canadian cousins’ vineyards around Lake Okanagan. Larry decided to test the theory that great wine could be made from the sloping sites around Lake Chelan and the results are conclusive: yes.

Vin du Lac 2010 LEHM: The moderately aromatic nose for a Riesling belies the burst of tropical fruit salad that washes in on each sip. Waves of juicy acidity deliver additional doses of apple, apricot and tart-lemon. Bright and refreshing, this is a perfect afternoon wine to enjoy lakeside as we did. Our companion during this tasting, a Sonoma resident and marketing director for a well-known winery, bought a case to take home. Maybe that says something. Unfortunately, this wine isn’t available in the New York market. Visit the tasting patio and pick-up in person.

Leave a comment

Filed under Lake Chelan, Washington

Gotham Project Wines on Tap @ Michael Skurnik Tasting

Gotham Project Tap Wines

Gotham Project’s 2013 Wines on Tap

A few months back, I addressed the growing number of wines-on-tap in restaurants around New York City. The problem with the trend was that many of the wines stunk–particularly the ones sourced abroad–and they weren’t priced like tap wines! I thought the savings were to be passed down to consumers? At least that is one argument being made for the use of kegged wines, yet NYC restaurants still charge a ridiculous $9-$14 a glass for not very good wine.

In my opinion, the first goal of a wine-on-tap program should be a focus on high-quality, local wines in a sustainable package, as the Europeans have done for thousands of years. The trattorias of Chianti certainly aren’t serving up Côtes du Rhône alongside a plate of pappardelle al ragu di cinghiale. Not only was it natural due to isolation and travel cost considerations to develop a culture of eating and drinking locally, but they had great raw ingredients and made good wine, so why go elsewhere?

Nowadays, food and wine are shipped from every corner of the globe, overnight. The energy costs are high, but consumers are curious and demand both local and international options. Thus, if they are going to drink Austrian wines anyway, why shouldn’t they also be served-up in “green” packaging? Foremost in sourcing international wines for kegs is the Gotham Project. Although their first, flagship wine was a Riesling from the Finger Lakes, they quickly began adding overseas options to their line-up. Unfortunately, I found those wines awful–a Moschofilero from Greece and Garnacha from Spain, undrinkable and seriously overpriced. Perhaps maintaining their position as industry leader was more important than the wines themselves?

Yesterday I attended Michael Skurnik’s Grand Portfolio Tasting. The first booth I ran into was the Gotham Project, so I started there to see if they might change my mind about their wines. The first pour was a Grüner Veltliner from Weinviertel, Austria. The wine crackled and popped from bright acidity and a little CO2 spritz, showing green apple and flinty minerality. For the right price, I would certainly order this in a big carafe on a hot afternoon with a group of friends. The next two wines were NY State: Empire Builder White and 2012 Riesling.  The Empire Builder is a Chard/Riesling blend from the Finger Lakes, perfectly serviceable, although not as immediately satisfying as the Grüner. Their latest version of Riesling from 2012 is supposedly a lot sweeter, although the acidity kept the sugar in balance and thus I found it more appealing than past incarnations that lacked backbone.

Next up were the reds. First, we tasted a rosé called Schnieder & Bieler made from Finger Lakes Cabernet Franc. Not sure what was going on with that wine–the hue reminded me of a rusty screw. The wine offered barely discernible berry notes, although it was rather crisp. It wasn’t terrible, but lacked identity. We moved on to the El Rede Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina. The pleasantly fruity wine was overwhelmed by a bitter finish. So far, not a great start to the group. Unfortunately, before we got to try the Empire Builder Red, Sangiovese and Cab Sauv, the tap pooped out.

My conclusion, having tasted half the wines, is that the whites were promising. The grüner in particular. Hopefully Gotham Project found reds that can compete, and will also encourage restaurant partners to sell them at competitive prices. Otherwise, why would consumers buy an average wine on tap without the benefit of the savings, given there are plenty of great by-the-glass options in this city that come from bottles.  Either find better wines or sell them for less!

Leave a comment

Filed under Gotham Project, Wine on Tap

Australian Riesling Round-Up: The Exciting(?) Conclusion

Wakefield and Grosset Riesling in a bike basket

Australian Riesling Round-Up

I felt like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day every time I wrote an Australian Riesling tasting note.  “Minerals, acidity, lemon-lime, dry as a Brit’s sense of humor”—yes, most of the wines had some or all of these qualities.  If you like this taste profile, try these wines.  I found them to be very good to excellent in quality, and aside from one bottle, extremely reasonably priced.  If any of the wines are sold-out through my links, try wine-searcher to check for bottles around the country, or the next vintage if the one I reviewed is no longer available. Unfortunately, I have looked back on a few bottles I tasted and discovered they are now tapped out completely in the American market.

After tasting 9 Rieslings, I conclude they offer the following:

  • Reliable quality and flavor profile.  Across the board, these wines are very consistent in palate.  For the wine buyer who doesn’t like to purchase brands they don’t know, this is a good thing. I was a little surprised not to find more variation between the wineries or even Clare and Eden Valley, but at least you know what you are getting yourself into if you can’t find the specific bottle you want. This is also good for Australia—their wines need to achieve regional identity to attract more admirers, and this is aided by consistency.
  • Good value.  I found many of these wines on sale, most likely because the American wine drinker doesn’t value them.  Very few people are storming the stores looking for Australian Rieslings, as evidenced by my inability to find them in local shops. I also imagine the casual wine buyer searching online, for say, white wine on sale on wine.com is not aware that for Australian Riesling, older vintages are better—this goes against the norm of white wine; shoppers may be disinclined to order them, mistakenly thinking they are over the hill.  Which brings me to the next suggestion:
  • Look for older vintages.  The fresh-out-of-the-vineyard wines are full of acidity and could use a year or three to even begin to mellow.
  • No need to drop a lot of cash.  You can reap the rewards of Australian Riesling in the lower price bracket, as they are well-made wines.  If you do splurge for prize wines (Grosset), get the oldest vintage you can find or hold it for several years, to really get the most bang for your buck and enjoy the qualities that make aged Riesling special.

I hope this enlightened some of you to the joys of Australian Riesling.  Comments or suggestions are welcome, particularly if you have another bottle to recommend or an idea for the next Untapped Region Series!

Sunglasses reflecting a wine glass in the Hudson Valley

Leave a comment

Filed under Australian Riesling, Untapped Region