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Christian Tschida — Interview

Christian Tschida is somewhat of an enigma. He is the creator of wines that are synonymously classical and experimental; wines that are entirely their own creatures. It’s a common saying that winemaking starts in the vineyard, but when it comes to Christian, the vineyard is also the birthplace of his ideas, and the place where he reflects. 

As vintages go by, and Christian has more cuvées under his belt, he has become more reflective, particularly when it comes to his farming methods. So, it comes as no surprise to us to discover that the wines become more and more striking with every release, as Christian’s farming and vineyard approach becomes more thoughtful. Through his laissez-faire thinking in the cellar, he translates the nature found in his vineyards transparently to the bottle. 

We caught up with Christian on his last visit to London.

LITTLEWINE: Hi Christian! It’s great to see you again. What's new?

Christian: More and more, I want to bring the vineyard into the bottle. That is my goal. Many people say that of course, but I feel that we’re getting closer every year. Relaxation has become more and more important to me. I’m lucky to spend so much time in vineyards; it’s grounding. I must learn to switch off properly, to not think about the glup glup of the fermentation bung.

LITTLEWINE: How has your work in the vineyards been evolving? 

Christian: The goal is to bottle wine that’s really 100% enjoyable. To do that, the work must be done in the vineyard. You can’t take f&^ked up grapes and do hands-off vinification, bottle it, and say, this is a natural wine, please love it. People will not love it, because it’ll be volatile or f*&ked up or whatever. I’ve been making wine for more than fifteen years now, and I’ve tried just about everything that you can do in the cellar and in the vineyards. I can tell you — to grow good grapes, it’s all about the balance between growth power and reduction power in the vineyards — between being a wine garden, and having cover crops… it’s all about balance.

LITTLEWINE: Speaking of balance, we’ve heard that the climate has been rather off-balance in recent years in the Burgenland. How’s it been for you?   

Christian: It’s becoming more specific, and we need to watch the microclimate. The weather is more and more intense, and crazy. We’ve had no rain, then lots of rain, wind… just last week we were spreading 300 tonnes of compost. That’s a lot, it’s a very big project! If there’s a lot of rain coming, compost is one of the parts which ensures that the soil can absorb it, and if there’s no rain coming, well it’s good for the vines. This will be the future. We’re learning how to react to extreme weather conditions, like 40+ degrees. I was speaking to Tom Lubbe from Matassa, who had experienced 50+ degrees — it was so hot that his leaves were burnt because the sun was so strong. I had thought about the possibility that this could happen, so I’ve been planting according to a special system with a guy from the university, so that the vines shadow each other depending on the time of day. To create this, you need to calculate angles. 

LITTLEWINE: Wow. There is so much thought and planning that goes into incredibly hard work. 

Christian: Yes. Then you have grapes that are only in the shade, some that are in the sun… the ones in the shade will save your ass in hot years. 

LITTLEWINE: Can you tell us a bit more about the vineyards’ locations and the microclimates? 

Christian: Ten years ago, we moved up into the hills. There, we have 8.5 hectares of vineyards just below the forest, and the forest gives its water to the vines. Forests are so important. You have to experience it to understand it. I also think the forest helps the vines to better defend themselves. It also has an influence on temperature — if you walk up the hill towards the forest, you can feel the temperature difference of two degrees. When you work there in the mornings in the summer, it’s around six or eight degrees, but in the middle of the day it’s 35. That difference is responsible for fine aromatics and the fruit profile; and it keeps the acid fresh. 

LITTLEWINE: We can imagine that there must be so much life, too, being so close to the forest. 

Christian: Yes. When I was in the Stockkultur parcel, I was very upset as I could see that deer had eaten some of the grapes. I turned my head towards the forest and saw three deer running from one direction to the other — right past me. Then I heard something else coming; a wild boar running after the deer! It was just five metres from me, it was crazy. That’s when I thought, a vineyard with pesticides and herbicides doesn’t offer a habitat for animals. If it’s a wild garden, where they feel comfortable — if I offer a house for them — of course they live here. 

LITTLEWINE: And how about biodynamics, do you follow any of those ideas? 

Christian: We’ve been certified organic since 2004. We also use different teas, like chamomile, and plant rye as a cover crop, as well as some peas and other things. We can eat the peas, which is nice, and can harvest the rye, but it’s not the focus — I’m a winemaker, not a rye farmer. I believe more in the power of a self-developing system. If it’s already in balance, don’t doubt it or touch it. 

LITTLEWINE: And how about your wines? Can you tell us a little more about any recent evolutions?

Christian: The best wines are still to come — the vineyard work that we do now will reflect in the wines of our future. When it comes to Grüner Veltliner, it can be from zero to hero depending on who’s making it and where they are. The Non-Tradition 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 were made in the same way. Two big barrels; one with whole bunch pressing, with a very light press — the maximum amount of pressure that the press reaches is that of a handshake. The second barrel was made with skin contact for two years, and in the end, the wine came together. Then, I could feel myself wishing for wines that are more linear and vertical; my taste had developed too; I no longer need that big mouth/tongue feeling, and instead search for that verticality. The quality of the grapes also allows me to do less. Now, the grapes just go into the press (with the same very light pressure), and then into barrel. And now, for me, this is the absolute — I don’t know how the wine can feel more mineral than this. 

LITTLEWINE: And how about for the reds? 

Christian: I have a basket press. I don’t use a destemmer [if he destems it’s done by hand]. We’re thinking about energy of the vineyard. Without jumping too much into the esoteric part… when you hear the sound a destemmer makes, the noise, and the kinetic energy that is created in a destemmer — it’s so fast. My theory is that there is a little bit of energy in the grape. I think if you use a destemmer, then you lose that energy, and then you’re at point zero. Plus, the stems help the pressing — they lead the juice out like a funnel. 

LITTLEWINE: And how do you think your farming impacts the wines? 

Christian: You either do the work in the vineyard or the cellar. The concentration of aroma processes happens in the vineyard either through the soil or competition. I prefer it coming from the soil, instead of coming via the competition from other plants. If the soil isn’t the best, then people create impact through cover crops, but the more concentrated your soil is, the more impact you have — I think by having more concentrated soil, you get closer to great wine. When I say great wine, I don’t mean great wine in terms of ratings or anything like that. For me, the better wines are the ones without big influence — I think it’s about trying to protect our wine from ourselves. The possibilities in the cellar are never-ending… If you don’t have power from the vineyard, then I think people like to give power to their wines from their decisions in the cellar. But really, when it comes to the wine, everything is about acceptance. You like it or you don’t, but you must accept it for what it is. Wow… we’re getting pretty philosophical for this time in the morning!

LITTLEWINE: Well, you’re a great thinker, and we love to hear your thoughts. Your philosophy is also something that shows itself in some of your wines’ names. Can you tell us more about the thinking behind the name of your cuvée 'Non-Tradition'? 

Christian: Austria is traditional, and many labels are about tradition. People talk about tradition in several ways, but in the past, tradition hasn’t always been the best. I wanted to do something that wasn't traditional. People were upset and angry that I named the wine this, but it made people think, and I’m ok with that! 

LITTLEWINE: How about 'Hokus Pokus'? 

Christian: I once said that all I needed to make wine was a bathtub, no hokus pokus. Everyone says that you can’t mix Riesling (the holy grape) and Grüner (the national grape), it's like an unwritten law. People were really upset that I was doing that.  But it was my palate — I was tasting the grapes and thinking about the acid and the flavour, and how that could lead to the wine. I thought, maybe Grüner needs Riesling to save the wine or vintage. Every vintage has a challenge, it’s never easy-going. The question is: how can I find balance? Then, it’s about not being afraid to put things together from one parcel or from another. 

LITTLEWINE: How do you make it – do you co-ferment or blend after? 

Christian: I think co-fermenting is better than blending, as the chemical structure leads to more complexity. It’s a natural gathering, and it’s more complex and unique. I don’t like the idea of having a master cellar blender. The calculation of blending isn’t 1+1 = 2. It can be 1+1 = 1, or 1+1 = 3. I’ve tried blending in that way, but I’ve never been as content as I have been with co-ferments. I believe that nature can always do better than we can; I trust more in nature’s complexity than in humankind's palate. 

LITTLEWINE: As always, much food for thought. Thank you so much for taking the time, Christian.  

Christian: Thank you!

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