Monthly Archives: August 2014

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!

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Postcard: Vineyard Hammock, Austria

HammocksintheVineyard

Hammocks strung across vineyards in Langenlois, Austria

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Discover the Drink Trails of Vancouver Island

SunsetFerryVictoria

If you missed my piece on the drink trails of Vancouver Island for Fodor’s, here’s a second look:

With its bucolic farmland, rugged wilderness, and cultural vibrancy, Vancouver Island tends to stun first-time visitors. Add the islanders’ enthusiasm for the art of the beverage, and Vancouver Island makes a strong case for itself. Whether you are a beer, wine, coffee, or tea lover—or a connoisseur of them all—you could spend a week on the island just drinking. Fortunately, there’s an abundance of fresh, local food to keep your stomach full, too. Here’s our guide to the best drinking trails of Vancouver Island and what to eat along the way.

COWICHAN VALLEY ARTISAN ROUTE

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This region sits northwest of Victoria and boasts the highest average year-round temperature in Canada. To access this pastoral valley teeming with drink artisans, take the scenic car ferry across the conifer-lined shores of the Saanich Inlet, from Brentwood Bay to Mill Bay.

Once off the ferry, head north for a superb view of the valley at Averill Creek Vineyard, the island’s largest estate winery. Proprietor Andy Johnston produces fine-tuned, cherry-scented Pinot Noir utilizing a unique growing method: He wraps his vines in plastic to create a pseudo-greenhouse effect. Before heading east to Alderlea Vineyards(appointment necessary), take a detour north. A curvy, country road leads to an oasis of organic tea plants. The owners of Teafarm start harvesting the plants this year; in the meantime, they source and sell organic, loose teas, handcrafted ceramics, and perform Moroccan and Japanese tea ceremonies in their garden.

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Circling south, grab a bite in the quaint fishing village of Cowichan Bayfrom the sustainable seafood purveyor of the same name, before sampling local fizz from Vigneti Zanatta Winery. For those with an adventurous palate, swing down to Venturi-Schulze Vineyards and taste their polarizing and puzzling “Terracotta” wine. Produced from 100% Siegerrebe, the production notes are a well-kept secret. They also craft terrific traditional Modena-style balsamic vinegar. Take a coffee and panini break at the island’s superlative Drumroaster Coffee: All beans are roasted on-site, and they offer multiple brew methods. Wrap-up the day with a sampling of unusual German grapes such as Bacchus, Ortega, and Black Muscat in Blue Grouse’s farmhouse tasting room.

BEER TRAIL IN VICTORIA

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Known as the “Craft Beer Capital” of British Columbia (although rapidly being surpassed by Vancouver’s recent surge in urban breweries), Victoria brims with a staggering number of breweries, brewpubs, and taphouses for a city with a population of 80,000.

For a brewery-focused circuit, hoof it to Phillips Beer, or take the ferry from the Empress Hotel to the Swift Street Landing and walk the last five minutes. Phillips’ friendly staff will take you through their rotation of offerings like the hop-infused Electric Unicorn IPA, or the Hop Circle, featuring four varieties of hops. A short stroll from Philips, Vancouver Island Brewery, in business 30 years, is one of B.C.’s original microbreweries. Pass through their storefront and growler station to sample their latest creation, the Sabotage India Session Ale. Another 15 minute walk and you’ll reach Hoyne Brewing Co. and Driftwood Brewery, two highly praised breweries within beer geek circles. Sean Hoyne honed his craft for 13 years at Canoe Brewpub, before finally opening his own eponymous outfit. Driftwood, conveniently next door, created the wildly successful Fat Tug IPA—a must-visit, just be sure to confirm they’re open.

Victoria’s brewpubs include the aforementioned Canoe, situated on the water in a stunning heritage building that once housed the city’s coal-fired generators. Score a patio seat and watch the sun set with a hop-heavy IPA. Swans, set in the ground floor of a boutique hotel, is another old-timer known for its litany of awards and live music. Take a picturesque walk across the harbor bridge to visit Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub; their line-up of beers includes cask-conditioned ales served with elevated cuisine—think a farm-fresh beet salad and a brett-inoculated beer. Finally, for a taphouse that serves everyone else’s beer, Garrick’s Head Pub, one of Canada’s oldest English pubs founded in 1867, offers almost 50 beers.

Note: For an in-depth look that serves as a practical guide to Victoria and Vancouver’s beer scene, pick-up a copy of Craft Beer Revolution, The Insider’s Guide to B.C. Breweries by Victoria local Joe Wiebe.

VICTORIA’S CAFFEINE CRAWL

Roasterat2%Jazz

 

Coffee enthusiasts are spoiled for choice when it comes to choosing the perfect cup, with as many as 11 independent shops dotting the island. Local favorite roaster Bows & Arrows, founded in 2011, doesn’t run a café, though you can visit their operation to sample coffee. They supply seven cafés in Victoria, plus shops throughout Canada and the U.S. Their beans are exclusively carried by Habit, its owners champions of sustainability: they purchase carbon offsets and transport supplies by Dutch cargo bike. Habit has two locations, the original in Chinatown, and a second at The Atrium, with floor to ceiling windows and sleek, modern design. Another roaster-cum-café called Fernwood was opened by a chef-journalist duo, and the adjacent café Parsonage sells the espresso-based drinks, hand brews, and a full breakfast and lunch menu. Other honorable mentions include Heist (727 Courtney St.), a small shop oddly located in a parking lot, which sources its beans from multiple roasters around North America, and 2% Jazz (2621 Douglas St.), a roaster and café open late in the evening and known for unusual coffee-based specialties like coffee-flavored cotton candy and foie gras ice cream affogato.

Mainland tea lovers heading to Victoria should replenish their pantries at Silk Road Tea (two locations), stocked with a range of teas from green, to white, to Yunnan province specialty Pu-erh. If you’d prefer to participate in the traditional British ritual of afternoon tea, served in delicate china on sterling silver platters with cakes and scones, reserve a table at grande dame The Fairmont Empress.

WHERE TO STAY

Vancouver Island has a wide range of lodging, from farmstays to ocean front inns, but for short visits, Victoria and the Saanich Peninsula function best as a base. For urban digs, consider downtown boutique property Magnolia Hotel and Spa. Rooms furnished in a cool palette of grey, lavender, and sand, soothe travel nerves, as does the attentive, informed staff. If you prefer to sleep where you drink, book one of the modern suites at historic Swans Hotel & Brewpub, located in a beautifully restored 1913 heritage building. Nestled in a serene setting near a small fishing village, Brentwood Bay Resort &Spa boasts two on-site restaurants, a spa, spacious rooms (and bathtubs) with water views, and quick access to the Cowichan Valley ferry.

Photo Credit: All photos by Lauren Mowery

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Postcard: Winery Dogs of Alexander Valley, Sonoma

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Dogs of Munselle Vineyards, Alexander Valley, Sonoma

 

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The Austrian Cure for Vinous Discontent

Selection of Austrian Whites. All Images by Lauren Mowery.

Selection of Austrian Whites. All Images by Lauren Mowery.

It’s mid-summer, I’m steeping in city heat, and thus reaching for a bottle of chilled wine when evening refreshment hour rolls around (which seems to creep up earlier in the day as the season stretches on). By now, most New Yorkers have probably guzzled the last of their Wölffer rosé allotment, dumped out enough wretched Pinot Grigio to fill a kiddie pool, or developed the Sauvignon Blanc overdose blues. The antidote for such vinous malaise: Austrian wines.

The country is home to a wonderland of unusual, high-quality grapes; the whites, in particular, offer a diverse array of styles and regional origins. And as New Yorkers with access to the world’s vast wine library, we can track down many of them.

You’ve probably seen Grüner Veltliner hanging out in your local wine shop or offered by the glass at the wine bar, or perhaps you’ve schlepped a bottle of Grooner to a potluck in Park Slope. Monika Caha of Monika Caha Selections, in conjunction with the Forstreiter family of Kremstal, developed the Grooner brand specifically for the American market, in part to provide our palates training wheels to discovering the country’s more serious wines.

Statistically, Grüner Veltliner dominates Austria’s white grape vineyard acreage and Americans’ knowledge of Austria’s wines. The rise in its popularity, however, has overshadowed the other fascinating grapes that make up the country’s catalogue of wines.

Not to dismiss Grüner Veltliner; the vines share an electric chemistry with the soils of Austria akin to the charged on-screen energy between Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz. It doesn’t taste as profound when grown elsewhere in the world (that’s terroir). I’ve tried Grüner from California (dull), Australia (bland), New Zealand (lacking spice). None come close to the complexity, stony minerality (a debatable term, but with no other descriptor available, I’ll use it), and characteristic white pepper notes that define both outstanding and modest Austrian versions. It’s a bit like Nebbiolo in that respect.

WachauTown

Wachau Region of Austria

So far, I’ve only addressed the “international” grapes. To help me track down esoteric varieties like Roter Veltliner, Rotgipfler, and Neuburger, I had dinner at Seäsonal with Austrian native and NYC restaurateur Wolfgang Ban. Co-owner and chef, as well as partner at Edi & the Wolf and cocktail den The Third Man, Ban stocks a lot of the wines I hoped to find back in NYC.While in Austria’s Wachau region, I drank exceptional terroir-transmitting Riesling. The wines were dry and structured, focused and lively, yet routinely overlooked in favor of neighboring Germany. I came to love, when tended by careful hands, Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) and Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris). I’d previously erroneously dismissed these two grapes as bland and neutral when grown outside of Alsace, but they are transformed in Austria, developing rich character and body, and nutty complexity with a few years of age. (They didn’t name Weissburgunder after white Burgundy without reason.)

I asked Ban which whites he liked to drink; turns out we both shared a fondness for Gelber Muskateller, a grape that delivers generous, exotic aromatics of flowers and nutmeg. “It’s a light, floral wine that’s easy on the alcohol and easy to drink in the summer,” Ban explained. He recommended chilling a bottle for a picnic, and suggested looking for a Gelber Muskateller produced in storybook-pretty Styria, a region known for the finest versions.

“Gelber Muskateller is one of the rare grapes fortunate enough to see plantings increase with increased consumer appetite for it. Our dollars do vote,” he added, commenting on the trend of converting good land otherwise suited to local grapes into Grüner vineyards. (Wines of Austria estimates Gelber Muskateller has seen a 267 percent rise in vineyard plantings as it has grown in popularity.)

I’d heard about the Grüner takeover while in Austria. Production of grapes like Roter Veltliner (the original variety of the Veltliner group), considered the oldest native variety in Austria, has dwindled because the best soils for the grape grow great Grüner, too. Grüner’s international success has tilted growers’ planting decisions in its favor; winning the economics war, and thus soil war, has ironically led to cannibalization of the wine industry Grüner helped introduce to the world.

HammocksintheVineyard

Hammocks in the Vineyards of Krems

The trend is unfortunate, as Roter Veltliner can make elegant, supple wines with great aging potential, and no one else but Austrians will likely plant it. However, California has an interesting historical footnote that mentions the rare grape: In the late 1880s, E.W. Hilgard, charged with determining which vines to plant in California, published a report recognizing Roter Veltliner as highly suitable for the state. Perhaps Roter will have a renaissance — in California. In the meantime, Ban says he likes the grape for its harmony with Viennese dishes, and recommends producer Franz Leth.

Another loser not yet lost is Neuberger (a cross between Roter Veltliner and Sylvaner). Ban keeps this wine on his list because he likes the “robust, full-bodied wines that show spice and flowers in youth, and deep, nutty flavors with age.”

More delicious oddities include Zierfandler (aka Spätrot), the yin to Rotgipfler’s yang. These grapes grow almost exclusively in Austria’s Thermenregion, as it has the magical balance of climate and calcareous soils for them to excel. They often combine for a happier marriage than as single varietals; Rotgipfler brings the weight and aromatics, and Ziefandler the tart citrus and acid structure, to create the fun-to-pronounce Spätrot-Rotgipfler. Stadlman, a small producer represented by Monika Caha Selections, produces happy expressions of all three.

Austria runs a small risk of being pigeonholed as a country of Grüner growers, which can be a double-edged sword; just ask non-Sauvignon Blanc producers in New Zealand about the shackles of consumer thirst for the gooseberry- and sweat-stinking grape, and you’ll likely get a long rant.

However, the difference that may preserve Austria’s indigenous varieties lies in the fact that they not only have them, but that most producers and estates own very small parcels of land — the large, commercial wineries found in New World regions don’t really exist here. For now, however, take a break from Grüner — and ubiquitous, international whites — and try something as fun to drink as it is to pronounce three times: Spätrot-Rotgipfler.

WienVineyards

View of Vienna from Nearby Vineyards.

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