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"Making wine is like having a house; you decorate it differently and live in it differently, as we’re all different people.”

Anders Frederik Steen & Anne Bruun Blauert

Anders & Anne are the kind of people who make you rethink everything you thought you knew about wine. Their way of making wine involves never making the same wine twice; and this approach makes us stop and think: why don’t more people do that?

They’re all about listening to the vineyards and helping them to build strong, natural defence mechanisms. And in the cellar, every year it’s a take-Nature-as-she-comes philosophy. It’s through exploring the character of every vintage that their wines have this beautiful simplicity. Just like in real life, you experience a moment, and before you know it, it’s gone.

Anne & Anders

Both Danes, Anders and Anne met in Copenhagen while serving beers in Tivoli gardens (this is as quintessential as a Danish love story gets). They subsequently crossed paths on the restaurant scene a few times; Anne wasn’t working in the industry—but a big foodie—and they fell in love. 

Anders decided to pursue a career as a chef, first working at Kong Hans in Copenhagen, and then as front of house at Noma. He says, 

“At that time, every young chef went to Spain to work at somewhere like El Bulli or Arzak for a while. I figured, if I was going to be a better chef than all the other guys coming back from Spain, it would be an advantage to know about service and about wine. It was just an idea to be different. But then at some stage, quite simply, the wine became too interesting and important. I couldn’t let go of it. So I never went back to the kitchen; I stayed front of house. Wines became too much a part of what I wanted to do.”

It was the year 2007 at Noma, and he was working with a very skilled Swedish sommelier named Pontus Elofsson. At first, he was learning about the classics, namely Burgundy and Barolo, but Pontus also had a strong interest in organics and biodynamics. Anders reminds us, 

“Natural wine as a category didn’t exist at that time, so we talked about it in a different way. But Pontus really introduced me to the notion of these wines, and it was the natural path to continue exploring these wines further.” 

This was before the era of natural wine had boomed. He continues,

“Without knowing it, we’d been working with what are now known as natural wines for quite some time at Noma, but it wasn’t talked about. We were drinking and listing the wines of Alexandre Jouveaux, Pierre Overnoy, Mark Angeli… and then in 2008 I travelled to Paris with a Swedish sommelier, Ulf Ringius. We had dinner at Pierre Jancou’s place — Racines — and Pierre was so into spreading the word about natural wine, and sharing his knowledge. He offered us to taste lots of wines.” 

Thanks to Pierre’s generosity, they found themselves drinking bottles that were hard to find elsewhere at the time, such as Bruno Schueller and the whole Courtois family. The new-wave Parisian dining scene and their way of presenting food and wine was unlike anything Anders had seen back home in Copenhagen. He says, 

“The wines were presented in a way we weren’t used to – they were served casually just like you serve a beer — not put on any kind of pedestal like traditional Michelin starred restaurants. The wines were also easier to drink, as they were in this casual setting. That really appealed to me; as did Pierre’s character; how he was sharing all this information about the wines. It was new to me; these natural wine people were open and willing to share what they knew, whereas back in Copenhagen knowledge had been guarded.” 

It was a trip that would change his approach to serving wine, and to restaurants in general. He came back with renewed energy and began to apply this philosophy at Noma. He remembers, 

“So, we started to do the same. We noticed that the more we gave away, the more people gave to us. Like this, people are more open; less protective. You’re equally happy for other people’s success, maybe even more happy for their success than for your own.” 

It was a penny-drop experience that felt like coming home. It also changed the way he saw wine, and would later come to make wine: 

“It’s a different kind of wine. The approach is different; the purpose of making the wines is different. For us, it’s a product we make to support our family; it doesn’t need to be more than that. We have no dream of building a big château. That doesn’t appeal to us. It’s not the kind of people we are, nor is it the life we want to lead.”

By the time 2011 had come around, Anders had opened Relae (2010) and Manfreds (2011), creating the wine lists for them and helping them to become the iconic natural wine destinations they are today, and putting Copenhagen centre stage on the map for natural wine.

But the call of the vineyard was beginning to be stronger than the call of the restaurant life, and a few trips and vintages in France kickstarted what would eventually become their own domaine. Anne recalls, 

“We’d been talking about doing something different in life, and it was the natural move for us to settle here in the Ardèche. But I don’t know how you first met Gérald [Gérald Oustric of Domaine du Mazel], Anders – how did that happen?” 

Anders says, 

“We’d been serving the Domaine du Mazel wines at Noma, so we went to his place to visit. Later on, I was importing wines to Denmark, and I worked with another winemaker just next to the valley we’re in now. His name was Gilles Azzoni. He told me, you need to make some wine – you have more knowledge about making wine than many winemakers. I didn’t agree with that at the time – or now for that matter – but he knew that we knew a lot about winemaking, but had no practical experience, nor grapes. He encouraged us, and when I said I don’t have any grapes, he told me to speak with Gérald, as he always had a little to sell.” 

So that’s exactly what he did – Anders went to the Ardèche in 2013 for the third time, but this time he bought grapes and made wine at Gérald’s cellar. For the first couple of years, it was in collaboration with his friend, Jura winemaker Jean-Marc Brignot. 

“It was supposed to be a project—just one or two years—to try it out. But it became bigger than that, and it became part of what we wanted to do. We wanted to change our lifestyle, get out of Copenhagen and into the countryside.” 

It was a case of sliding doors.

The Vineyards 

And so, the flying winemaker lifestyle continued, but by 2017 Anders and Anne had decided to take the plunge to move to France permanently, and bought their first hectare of vines. Today, they have four hectares. Anne says,

“When we moved here, neither of us knew anything about farming, but we’ve been learning as we go.”

Anders adds, 

“I went from a sommelier who knew about wine, to now winemaking and farming together with Anne. We don’t have the knowledge that others have. We get a lot of help from friends around us, but it’s funny as in some ways we’re freer to do what we want. We don’t have pressure from a winemaking family or anything like that. That means we try methods that maybe aren’t always accepted as they’re not traditional. We have another background, which gives us another approach. It’s another way to search for knowledge.”

However, none of this would have been possible without the unwavering support of winemaker friends, who help and advise them about every aspect of their work. Anne emphasises,

“We have a deep respect for the winemakers we’re close to. We’re in an area with lots of farmers; and in some cases it’s not even them that began working organically, but their grandparents; something that goes back generations. So, they’re some of the people who have helped to change farming. And that’s important for us too; to work with these farmers with a respect for soils and for nature.”  

Even in such a small, rural area, there’s immense diversity of wine style. Anne smiles,

“Here in our village, there is no one way. There are four winemakers who make natural wine, and we all work completely differently, while respecting each other’s work and sharing advice. Making wine is like having a house; you decorate it differently and live in it differently, as we’re all different people.” 

The vineyards they purchased had previously been abandoned, and before that had been worked conventionally, so they wanted to wipe the slate clean and start afresh. 

“We take it season by season. It was important for us to find a way that meant we don’t have to work the soil a lot. We also want to use less copper and sulphur. We’d rather find a way to make the soil stronger, so it can help to prevent disease, which makes the vines stronger while also gaining quality in the grapes.”

It’s still early days for them on their farming journey, and they’re learning with every day that passes. Anne says, 

“The cycle of the year is so important: what we do in spring has an impact in winter. We’re reading a lot about permaculture with the idea of improving biodiversity and working the soil less; by incorporating things like seawater and essential oils. Diversity is the key word. The goal is to have healthy vines, and a soil that’s full of life.”

They’re acutely aware of the problems of monoculture. Anne continues,

“We want grasses and herbs to live here as well, and insects, birds and other animals, so we let the grass continue growing and only cut it right before harvest. It’s true that if you go through our vineyards, they look messy.”

They laugh together. Anders adds, 

“Yeah they’re not so beautiful.”

Anne bounces back, 

“They’re beautiful in their own way! There is a tradition in farming that if a field is mowed or well-kept then the farmer is doing their job well, but if there’s grasses, herbs and flowers, it’s because you didn’t do your work right. But I do think that attitude is changing. We don’t come from farming families—we don’t have this set way of doing things—so we speak with other farmers and combine what we learn with other knowledge, but we don’t really know!”

They are experimenting; intent on remaining as open-minded as possible. The only strict protocol they’ve followed thus far has been to prune very short, hoping to achieve higher quality in their grapes. Anders says,

“Yes, what Anne says is interesting. There are many things in viticulture that maybe haven’t yet been proven, but there are things we see work in other kinds of agriculture. To do less is to do more; it’s a little bit of a cliché, but it is actually what it is. To not work the soil—to interact less—helps to create a balance between the monoculture that exists in a vineyard with the environment that surrounds it. It becomes more balanced.”

Anne continues,

“But it’s also not just a matter of leaving the vineyards to take care of themselves. Working like this still demands a lot of knowledge. You pay a lot of attention to what’s going on. Even when there’s not work to do, we pass by every day to see if there’s anything we need to be aware of.”

They strive to work preventatively in the vineyards, as opposed to needing to find a cure by the time it’s too late. Anders explains, 

“Salt water from the ocean and various herbal extractions cannot kill any disease, but it can work as a preventative treatment. The pH level moves in favour of the vine, but not for the fungi. That helps to make a natural balance. When you add sulphur or copper, you not only kill the fungi that’s causing the sickness, but you also kill the bacteria that works against the sickness. So, the problem is the natural immune system of the vine is weakened, and then you need to treat it to combat sickness. Then, the vines are naked. It’s like as a person — if you take pills to not get sick in the winter, and then when you feel good you go out naked, you get sick again, because you didn’t put on clothes. It’s the same with the vines. If you treat them, and remove all the grasses and herbs around them, then they’re alone and naked. And once a problem arises, they cannot resist. So, by working the soils less and leaving the vines wilder, we find them to be stronger.”

So far, so good. Aside from a small amount of powdery mildew, they’ve had no disease issues. But it’s hard to quantify which part of their approach is helping, as Anne explains,

“We can only say that maybe our methods are having an impact. Our vines are very isolated from other winemakers, so perhaps that helps—there are so many factors that influence the vines. It’s so hard to say, ah yes – this is why – as all the factors have an impact on each other.”

They’re ok with this though. It’s not about finding the solutions to the problems, but rather it’s a case of trying to comprehend the various avenues available to prevent the problems. Anne says, 

“Often, if there are diseases, people make more and more treatments. But how can we avoid being in that situation? If you’re in a position where you have to treat continually and more often, then somewhere in the process, you’ve done something wrong. Again, it’s like with people: if you start to take too many pills, then you have to take more and more pills to get away from the pain. It’s like that with nature, too – if a vine gets used to treatments, it needs them again and again to avoid getting a disease. We notice it in other vineyards — even if the farmers are treating more, the vines are getting sicker.”

This is the baseline principle of permaculture: to create a self-sufficient ecosystem. It makes us reflect…this is the true definition of what it means to be sustainable: no band-aids required. 

A hand-destemmer

The Wines 

Anders and Anne never make the same wine twice. Ever. Their reasoning? It’s not one of creativity, as you might expect, but rather one of logic. Every vintage is different: so why not take what Mother Nature gives, and then adapt accordingly? Anders explains, 

“The idea of not making the same wine twice was quite a logical choice. We never have the same vintage twice. With a cooking background, I find it more interesting to taste the grapes and follow the flavours. If a wine needs acidity or spiciness, or if we wish to dilute a certain flavour, we can add another variety. When we’re making wine, we often talk about it that way. We have an end goal of making something we like to drink, and by blending the grapes and the juice during harvest and through the maceration period, we can help the wines to move in this direction.”

It means that there’s constantly new combinations (or lack thereof), and hence the wines are their own beasts. They are never looking to replicate a cuvée: this is ultimate vinous freedom. Anders explains,

“To have the same wine, from the same grapes every year, from the same vineyard… for me that’s boring. It’s an illusion that you’ll have the same results every year; that’s not possible. So why not just set yourself free and make the wines you wanna make? Else it’s like a musician who makes the same album every year; with the same 16 songs. In the end that would be quite boring, even if they recorded the song in a new way, or sang it in a new way, it would be the same song every time. Rather we hope when you drink our wines it’ll be like hearing different music from the same musician.” 

They remark that the wines represent a certain moment in their lives, and that moment is in constant flux. Anders continues, 

“Our personal tastes change, too; some years we taste some wines we like; and we follow those tastes through intuition. Other years, we’re tasting other wines and follow those flavours with intuition. It’s the simple way to approach wine, and that’s why we name the wines differently, as we feel it’s the only logical way. Every single wine tells its own story. We know it’s complicated for people to follow what’s going on, because every year we release completely new wines, but people are also curious and enjoy following that path. We knew it would be a risk, of course, but people seem to be receiving it well.”

It also means they’re better prepared to tackle extreme vintages. They explain that 2015, for example, took them by surprise: it was the first heatwave vintage that Anders had experienced as a winemaker, comparable to the rocket-high temperatures of 2003. They adapted quickly, doing longer macerations, but with more direct-press juice and fewer grapes, to counterbalance the richness of the fruit with acidity.

“Every vintage is interesting and brings something very unique and very good, you just need to look for it. You just need to taste the grapes and the juice, find the aspects you like, and then follow your intuition. That’s why we use cooking terms in wine, as it’s similar to a chef; a good chef doesn’t follow a recipe. They taste the vegetable and decide whether to cook it for 10 seconds, 20 seconds or 30 seconds. They choose between olive oil, citrus, vinegar, butter or whatever. You need to taste to be able to cook. You can never say a dish needs the same amount of salt. That’s never true. I think winemaking is the same. Not many people do that; many people have a recipe that they follow; and it turns out well every year, but that doesn’t suit our way of working.” 

One of the few methods they use across all of their red wines is to destem by hand; a technique inspired by Jura winemakers. In contrast, however, although they love carbonic maceration, they decided not to use this method themselves. Anders had learnt how to do this while making wine at Domaine du Marcel but wished to respect their style. He explains,

“I personally find that doing carbonic maceration [with carbon dioxide gas] is one of the most elegant ways to make red wine, but we never did it. I didn’t want to copy their way of making wine, with their grapes, in their cellar. But we were looking for a similar elegance, so we macerate the berries directly in the juice, meaning we have some fermentation both inside and outside of the berry, as the skins remain intact. It’s very delicate, and with a similar result to carbonic maceration. It was also a matter of practicality. We have a very small cellar and a very small press, so by destemming we can have more grapes in the press, and it’s easier for us to manoeuvre. So, what began from a philosophical and idealistic way of making wine also became practical.”

Anne laughs, 

“We’re not the only ones who make wine out of practical issues! Often, it’s a question of: what’s possible today? How many people can help us? Where is there space?”

Anders grins, 

“Yes! It’s the side of the story that’s not often told, but it’s true!”

Along with their own grapes, they still purchase some grapes from Gérald, as well as from the Bannwarth family in Obermorschwihr, Alsace. 

Hand destemming

Even apples have made an appearance. La Femme à Qui? is half cider/half wine. It was made not for experimental reasons, but rather to try to make a better drink from two components: as always, practicality and quality is key chez Anders and Anne. Anne explains,

“We were supposed to make a rosé and a cider, but it also became a question of practicality. Neither fermentation was going in the right direction; we had too little sugar in the apples, and too much in the rosé. Anders calculated that if we mixed them, then there’d be exactly the amount of sugar that we wanted. So, we decided to do that.”

Anders says,

“Yep! The cider was fermenting too fast and there wasn’t enough acidity, and the rosé was fermenting too slowly, and even starting to have some problems. So, we decided to put the two together and bottle them with the sugar level that creates bubbles – so the fermentation finished in bottle.”

Voilà: happy winemakers, and happy customers. 

Wine is never just about the label, we know, but the unique phrases and words used for each cuvée are as eye-catching and thought-provoking as the wines themselves. Anders says,

“Often the names are small poetic lines, or even political statements. We make wine but we also like to say what we think. So, we print what we think and then send those wines off to many countries in the world. They end up on tables, and we hope people start to talk about what they see written on the labels. We don’t know that—but we hope!” 

La femme à qui? Means whose woman?! It’s a statement that had made us nod on first sight. In French, by using the ‘à,’ women are actually referred to as possessions, but it’s become so ingrained in the culture of the language that it more often than not goes unnoticed. We ask them about it. Anders says,

“We saw graffiti saying la femme à qui on a wall as we were getting on a coach to go down to the coast to swim. In French, you can say ma femme, but you can’t really say mon homme. You could as it’s grammatically correct, but nobody uses it. But we think there’s an extension of that: the whole discussion of not just ‘who is the owner of the woman’ — but newspapers and media using certain language which removes the focus of what’s important. Language-wise and culture-wise 50% of the population is being taken for granted, and women are being put in a position next to the men that’s incorrect. Now I keep talking, it should be you talking, I’m sorry Anne!”

They smile at each other. Anne adds,

“Yes. Why is it even a question? A woman is not owned. That’s why it’s such an interesting question: as it’s a question that should not exist; it’s a question that should not be asked. We’re in 2021, and women are still not paid as much as men. You think: is that because the woman is owned by someone? That’s why it’s so important to have these discussions, so we can start the education of our children. So that our son can grow up in a world where it’s normal not to question who’s making dinner at night. Of course, in a lot of families in Denmark, France — or wherever — it’s not like that, but still you often hear the phrase used in sentences: the woman’s place is in the kitchen. When we keep saying it, it becomes a reality.”

They bounce back and forth together, in unison:

“If we can take things we’re discussing now – just us three people – and if we can spread those ideas… It’s perhaps not a revolution, but it does bring more awareness to subjects that we think should be discussed.”

We could have stayed on Zoom for hours with this couple: there is so much food for thought. There will always be people who say wine is just wine, don’t bring politics into it, but Anders and Anne are not those people, and nor are we. Wine is not just wine; it is politics, social justice, climate change, science, and so much more. And these winemakers are doing their part in bringing beautiful wine to the table, but with the addition of something to contemplate: message in a bottle.

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