We had time to talk on the long journey to Balf. We argued about biodynamics, lunar phases and natural wines. It soon became clear that it’s one of those subjects that’s like football: everybody has an opinion about it. Then, in Balf and in Horitschon, we chatted and tasted with Petra and Franz until late in the evening about their experiences with biodynamics as a winemaking family that stretches back several generations.
Franz: The family has been working the land here for generations, but in our heads we distanced ourselves greatly from our predecessors. Now, we’ve started to work in the same way as my grandfather did, and as his parents did. In the 60s and 70s, Burgenland wines didn’t have their own identity, but were based rather on international trends as the local winemakers followed the Bordeaux benchmark.
After having visited the most important wine regions, I returned from California in 1997, and I could taste the wines of Provence-style, Burgundy-style and Bordeaux-style wineries situated just 2 kilometres from one another. At home, me and my dad decided that the only way forward is to build on local traditions and grape varieties. The real turning point came in 2000: since then we haven’t added yeast to the wines and set out on a natural path. The first problems also emerged and the fermentation of some wines stopped. Seeking the solution, we ended up in a lecture about biodynamics whereby it became clear to me that the problem is with the soil. Healthy grapes can only grow on healthy soil.
Biodynamics for us is much more a way of life than a winemaking school. It aims to create a natural, healthy balance between ourselves and nature. It was easy because we were living like that by then – first it came with healthy eating with Petra, and the lifestyle. We searched for what was good and we found it. Then it was with wine as well. I don’t believe in power. Instead, we focus on wines that are rich in detail, the ones that talk about their places of growth. More soil, less oak. More minerality, less tannin.
Petra: The biodynamic approach is a method with lots of good elements, and the vineyard is like an orchard. For example, we don’t use the lunar calendar, but the moon unquestionably has a defining role. If you go out into the garden at full moon, the plants do photosynthesise. At the time of grape flowering, the night after a full moon, it is paradise itself.
Here, in Burgenland, everybody is an aunt or an uncle, we’re a huge family and something good grows at everyone’s place. There is someone we buy the cheese from, another one we get the chicken from or the vegetables. For good white bread and ground paprika, we go over to the Hungarian side.
1. Who cooks at home?
Petra: Me, and it’s better if I do the shopping as well.
Franz: I’m only in charge of pancakes.
2. Favourite music?
Petra: I’m omnivorous.
Franz: Contemporary Austrian bands, if possible a transistor amplifier, Bakelite and Bilderbuch.
3. The latest memorable wine?
Petra: We taste together a lot. I really liked Michael Wenzel’s Austrian Furmint.
Franz: These days, I like Johannes Zillinger’s wines a lot from here. From abroad it’s Clos Rougeard’s Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley and Pierre Overnoy’s white wines from Jura that spring to my mind.
4. The favourite of your own wines?
Petra: The Kalkofen Blaufränkisch (Kékfrankos) is the closest to me. I have a special relationship with this vineyard, where it’s only ourselves who still cultivate grapes. I often go horse riding there.
Franz: I’d choose the Steiner Kékfrankos. We are one, we’ve been shaped together over the years.
5. The most difficult thing?
Petra: Administration on both sides of the border. It’s not easier here either, but I have an assistant as of this year.
Franz: Ageing. After fermentation, I fill up and close the barrels, and for a year, or year and a half – the wine rests tilted, ages and changes. The most difficult thing is not to touch the wine during this time – neither to taste it or fiddle with it. The wine appreciates this.
6. What’s the most important consideration for you in 2017
Petra: The boys, Paul and Peter, are getting bigger, so there are new challenges, and we would like to travel more.
Franz: I’ve written a list. Petra hasn’t even seen it yet. The thing in first place is that we shouldn’t waste our time, we shouldn’t be afraid of making one or more tough decisions.
How to taste them?
We do also argue about Weninger wines in-house. They are divisive. Franz’s only reaction to this is: “I don’t make average wines. Wine is about background, soil, thought and surroundings, and one has to give it the opportunity to speak in its own voice.” For this, the most important consideration is to give the wine time after opening, and taste it from a good glass, in a relaxed and open-minded way.