The new project ‘Kamptal Kollektiv’ aims to unite grape growers by creating a sustainable economic model for the future, while simultaneously producing delicious, easy-drinking and honest expressions of the Kamptal wine region.
We spoke to Alwin Jurtschitsch to find out more
LITTLEWINE: Hi Alwin, thanks for chatting with us. We’re loving the Kamptal Kollektiv wines, and have already drunk more bottles with friends than we can count. Please do tell us how it all began?
Alwin: The idea essentially already started when I returned to Austria to take over my parents’ winery. I didn’t want to grow the size of our vineyard holdings, but I still had responsibility for the grape growers that even my grandparents had been working with. There’s always been this system in the Kamptal where all family wineries have relationships with long-term grape growers, because there wasn’t traditionally any kind of cooperative here, like there is in the Wachau, for example. I always had a problem with ‘small is beautiful,’ versus ‘everything big is not cool.’ I compared this to the way that plants grow — when something grows and becomes bigger, and cells become bigger, they split. I liked the notion of having many small things — but together, they are good and stable. I sat down in 2019 to finally write this concept down, and to think: how can we support the local growers? Because looking at the way in which the trend is currently moving… well, they will stop producing. Many of them are selling their vineyards, and this is also the reason why it's easy for the big players to grow – everyone buys their neighbours. There’s a possibility that in 20 years’ time, not many independents will be left. The market will be dominated by a handful of big players, but all this ‘small diversity’ will die.
LITTLEWINE: That’s very bleak: it must feel like you’re at a pivotal moment.
Alwin: Yes. What I loved very much about coming back to the Kamptal was the small structure, compared to Australia for example. The Kamptal is a tiny place. You see the vines growing in different directions: there are no huge vineyards. This loveliness — this beauty — was cultivated by many people who worked on a small scale. They had another job, and yet also farmed their five hectares with their family. Everyone had a small cellar, a small press, and they could sell their wines locally. But all of this will be gone. You compare it to small shops and growers versus Amazon. First, the growers stopped bottling, as it’s expensive, and they had no contact with local customers anymore. But they kept their vineyards. It’s their land, I think it’s hard for anyone to sell their land, so people kept farming their vineyards and selling their grapes. But then, as soon as their tractor breaks down for example, and they have no money for a new tractor, they rent or sell their vineyard. But I really would love for this small, structured landscape to stay like it is. So the idea was – how can we create a project where we can guarantee this? I can be the guy who does the pressing and fermenting, and look at how we can sell the wine. So, I was talking to growers, telling them that they don’t need to be scared. We can make some kind of guarantee for them if they bring us their grapes. Many of these people have been doing this for much, much longer than I have. But with Covid times, many people had become afraid, as demand for grapes had lessened, and the market was uncertain. But I had a feeling that we could create a bigger project, but with one with a handcrafted vision.
LITTLEWINE: Yes, the most important aspect must be fostering and growing an atmosphere of support.
Alwin: Yes. We know the vineyards, and we all know one another… one person’s tractor broke down last vintage, and of course he could then borrow ours. That guy then also helped an elderly lady who wasn’t able to harvest. It’s a tiny community still; we are seven growers right now in the collective.
LITTLEWINE: Do you see this model inspiring more growers to turn to organics?
Alwin: There are growers who bring incredible grapes to us. I ask them, how did you do it? It’s incredible! And they’ll say, oh… this comes from a person who has been working organically forever. He only has a tiny tractor. He has no heavy machines, he’s never used a big plough in his vineyards… yet he always brings the best quality fruit. It’s incredible. One other guy has taken over two more hectares which he will convert to organics. I’m very lucky with him, he wants to do this as a full-time grower: to have a living by growing grapes. Wow! In Champagne you maybe only need two hectares to make a living from it, but here you probably need 10. But the trend here is going strongly to organics.
LITTLEWINE: Do you have many people coming to ask for advice?
Alwin: Yes, we have a Whatsapp group! This year we were the ones reaching out to everyone to say, ‘take care, it’s dangerous out there, it’s flowering season and there’s mildew pressure – get out into the vineyards.’ But some of those growers were actually in a luckier situation than we were, as they are on rockier soils and had less problems with water drainage, and hence didn’t have as much mildew pressure. Then, at harvest, the growers come with samples of the berries so we can do analysis. There are lots of logistical hurdles — which grapes will fit together? It’s a very intense exchange in the run-up to harvest. I try not to be too much of a dreamer, I know we’re living in this world where we have to survive somehow, but I want to prove that you can work in a cooperative way and be successful; that it’s not all about capitalism or having to cut down on your costs. It needs to be a sustainable growth, also socially and economically.
LITTLEWINE: How have you been learning about the business side?
Alwin: During Covid I took seminars on ‘Common Good’ – ecogood.org — I think we’re the first Austrian winery to be a part of it — and that was really important for me to gain the theoretical knowledge on how to run an agricultural company where you really consider what you buy, how you sell, how your relationships are with your customers, etc. It was really amazing.
LITTLEWINE: It sounds great, you’re an inspiration. Maybe in a few years from now we’ll be seeing collectives pop up in other regions, too. Please tell us a little more about the winemaking, too?
Alwin: It’s pretty simple, actually! We didn’t even use our cooling rooms this year. For the reds, the grapes came in, we destemmed one third in the open fermenter, and we put whole bunches on top. We make a pied de cuve, so the fermentation starts the next day. Eventually we changed to destemming, as I was a little worried about working without sulfites, and didn’t want to risk volatile acidity. The longest period of time on the skins was around five days, and then we pressed into stainless steel, as we didn’t have any spare barrels, but they will soon go to barrel once there’s space. I’m looking for a juicy Kamptal style. I went to Beaujolais last spring, and I love that style with partial intracellular fermentation. I have the feeling that Zweigelt can do this. I think so much of Zweigelt is done wrong. It can become a great Beaujolais-inspired wine, but you need to be careful not to wait too long. Everyone in Austria wants deep colour and tannins, but if you macerate Zweigelt for too long, you get this beetroot, green, earthy smell which I don’t like. We discovered that when you macerate for only three to five days, you don’t get that, so that’s what we’re working on now. You still get structure and verticality from the acidity: I think Zweigelt is a bright, light variety which needs to be handled in that way. I don’t think it needs punchdowns, or anything like that. No focus on tannins, just on cool climate Kamptal fruit!
LITTLEWINE: That’s exactly how it tastes: Beaujolais, inspired, but with Kamptal spirit and soul How about the white?
Alwin: The white is mainly Grüner Veltliner, with the rest being Weissburgunder [Pinot Blanc], Müller-Thurgau and Riesling. Some was directly pressed, and some parts saw a short time on the skins; around 3-6 hours. It fermented naturally of course, and aged in stainless steel and old oak barrels.
LITTLEWINE: Well they’re both delicious, and so drinkable!
Alwin: Yes. These are the wines we like to drink! I want to get away from the old thinking of ‘the bigger, the better.’ I really think these are some of the most delicious wines to drink — they are wines that we ourselves love to drink. They are wines that I can communicate, with deep belief, these taste like Kamptal.
LITTLEWINE: True to the Kamptal they are indeed. We can’t get enough of them. Thank you so much for all of your efforts, we can’t wait to see how this Kollektiv continues to flourish and grow in a positive, sustainable manner. Onwards and upwards :)