Michael, a 12th generation winegrower from the Burgenland, Austria, always dreamt of continuing his family’s legacy. When he attended wine school in the late 80s and 90s, he was taught all about the latest methods that came from the new generation of technology. At the time, like so many of his fellow peers, he thought that this was the way forward. However, fast forward to the early 2000s, and he realised that something was amiss.
It was around this time that he had a sudden realisation: he didn’t need to use all of these additions and techniques in his wines. Rather, he could return to the methods of his grandfather, learning by doing — and taking things vintage by vintage. And so, the current generation of Wenzel wines were born — a fresh interpretation of ancestral methods.
People: Michael Wenzel & Sonja Priller
Place: Burgenland, Austria
Varieties: Furmint, Gelber Muskateller (the German synonym for Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains), Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Blaufränkisch, Pinot Noir and Merlot
Wines: Click here
Did You Know? It is Furmint, in particular, that his family has become so renowned for. Due to decades of war and turmoil, the grape had been all but lost in Austria during the 20th century, but Michael’s father, Robert, was convinced that Furmint held great potential, bravely smuggling suitcase cuttings across the iron curtain from Hungary in 1984. The vines that he planted first bore fruit in 1987, and already by 1988 had the variety been announced by the Austrian Wine Board as a quality grape for wine production. You can read a detailed account of his efforts and the grape variety here
Having been inspired by his grandfather’s organic methods in the vineyard, he also asked more questions about how he worked in the cellar. This further encouraged him to ditch the hyper-technological techniques:
“My grandfather had a very down-to-earth approach to winemaking. He actually started to foot stomp the grapes in the vineyard, as he didn’t have enough containers to bring the grapes back home. Fermentation started outside, and the juice would stay on the grapes overnight, so I guess he did what we’d call a ‘controlled skin contact’! But it wasn’t done by research, just by feeling.”
He tasted some of the older vintages from the estate, and realised that these wines were still remarkably stable, despite having very low sulfite levels.
“They were fresh, fruity and complex. I started to understand what low intervention winemaking really meant. It was an evolution that brought us to where we are now.”
So, he himself begin working with lower sulfites — despite never having been taught this was an option. He says,
“It’s been a fantastic journey. There’s so much disinformation out there when it comes to sulfites. At wine school, I was trained to believe that after fermentations wines must have 70mg/L of sulfites added. Nobody questioned that: after all, we thought that this was state of the art winemaking.”
However, once he began experimenting, he realised that with his balanced grapes, he could drastically reduce these levels.