Michael Gindl is a winemaker, but first and foremost, he is a farmer and animal lover. His biodynamic Weinviertel wines have become world-renowned for the unique portrait they paint of their region, but when you visit Michael, you realise that these wines wouldn’t exist without the healthy farming model in which they are grown and made.
Michael’s new range, Michi’s Farm, celebrates the importance of planet-friendly farming, and aims to introduce more wine lovers to this world. The goal is to make delicious, easy-drinking wines, inspire dialogue on agriculture, and simultaneously enable him to bring his estate wines to a new level of complexity. We spoke to him to find out more.
You can also watch our documentary with Michael Gindl here.
LITTLEWINE: Hi Michael, great to speak with you again. We love the new Michi’s Farm wines, please do tell us more: how did you come up with the idea?
Michael: The idea actually began with good friends of mine. We were sitting together on the farm, discussing what we could do with grapes that I buy from friends. I said, I want to create a wine for those just starting to drink natural wines. But then, soon after, I actually had the chance to rent a 3.5-hectare vineyard 30 km north from my farm, where my girlfriend Theresa was born. So now, the Michi's Farm wines are a mix of grapes from this vineyard which I now farm, as well as some grapes that I buy from friends. Before, those grapes had also been included in my ‘Little Buteo’ and ‘Flora’ cuvées, but now the goal is for the estate wines to only come from estate-grown grapes. This means we can raise the prices of our estate wines a little bit, and those quantities become a bit smaller. Meanwhile, for Michi’s Farm, the idea is to create easy-drinking styles to introduce people to these wines.
LITTLEWINE: Yes, they are important gateway wines! This world needs wines that can introduce a new audience to the realm of organic and biodynamic farming. How do you make them?
Michael: For Michi’s Farm, we work with stainless steel, as well as some old wooden barrels, whereas for the estate wines I am now only using barrels. Also, for the white Michi’s Farm, we rack the wine once directly after fermentation, so it is only on the fine lees, whereas the estate wines will stay on the full lees. This means the Michi’s Farm is a bit fruitier, and more easy-drinking. The white is 95% Grüner, with a touch of Muskateller, the red is mainly Zweigelt with some Blauer Portugieser, and the orange is from Welschriesling and Chardonnay. The latter spends two weeks on the skins, and then ages in 2000L oak barrels. We bottle the white and the orange in spring, and the red is bottled in autumn. This gives me the time to be able to bottle ‘Little Buteo’ and ‘Flora’ later, whereas before we had also been bottling them in spring.
LITTLEWINE: So does that mean your style for Flora and Little Buteo is now becoming more serious, more concentrated?
Michael: Yes, for sure. I really like those wines when they are much older. For example, I was in Florida, where they are now serving the 2016 and 2017s on the market. I really like them when they have had more time. It’s like this for a lot of producers — on Saturday we had a course for working with horses here, and after that we had a small tasting. Matthias Weiländer, a horse trainer, brought some wines from his cellar produced by winemakers with whom he works with by horse. He opened a Grüner from Christoph Hoch from 2016, and I found that wine phenomenal. Just so good! So that’s my idea; to wait longer with all of my estate wines. But of course, in the past, we’ve had pressure to pay bills, so often we bottled our wines earlier than we really wanted to.
LITTLEWINE: So it’s like Michi’s Farm allows you to create different styles; an earlier-drinking, delicious bottle that introduces people to this world, as well as being the perfect mid-week wine, whereas your wines are now able to enter a new dimension.
Michael: Yes, and by leaving the Michi’s Farm wines on the fine lees, they are ready much earlier, and they also also a bit more gentle in style. On the other hand, the estate wines can now also have more time to find their balance, and then also be ready to drink. I always say that one month on the full lees in the barrel is more or less like half a year in the bottle!
LITTLEWINE: Wow, that’s really significant.
Michael: Yeah! I also don’t like to drink my estate wines when they are really young. They always have a high acidity, so when they’re young, they can come across as sour. If they haven’t been long enough on the lees, they can be a bit harsh. But if you have high acidity and they’re on the lees for longer, they find their balance with the tannins and they’re much better to drink. People understand the wines better if they’re on the lees for longer; they’re not as freaky anymore.
LITTLEWINE: We completely understand; it makes a lot of sense to separate the styles in this way. How many friends are you working with now to buy grapes?
Michael: Not many anymore, I used to buy more from different colleagues and friends in the past, but now it’s more or less one good friend in the neighbouring village who runs a winery with 10 hectares. I buy more or less all from him, and a couple of others. All of their grapes are Demeter (biodynamic certified), so Michi’s Farm is ‘only’ organic as the 3.5 hectare plot up north isn’t certified Demeter yet. They’ve been working organically for even longer than I have, but not yet biodynamically.
LITTLEWINE: That’s great, so the principles of farming are very close to that of your own farm. Do you think you’ll convert the vineyard up north to biodynamics?
Michael: Not right now, as we want to first get to know the vineyard, and it’s an hour by tractor to get there, and so of course that makes spraying a bit more complex. But in the long-term, I think so, yes.
LITTLEWINE: We suppose it’s probably also a but less urgent, as it’s been organic for so long already, so we imagine very healthy?
Michael: Yes, those vineyards are totally in balance. The idea of the lady who owns it has always been to farm in more or less the same way; a lot of crops, not opening the soil… like all my vineyards here, but just not spraying the preparations. That’s just a small step. For an entry-level wine it’s more important to make sure you’re winding the shoots on the top of the vine (not cutting them), to have cover crops throughout the year, to not open the soil, to not cut the grass too often (maximum one time per year). We’ve also started to bring our sheep into the vineyards to bring more life. If I didn’t have the feeling that the vines are already very balanced, I wouldn’t have rented the vineyard.
LITTLEWINE: Please tell us more about the role that winding the shoots plays in the overall balance and harmony of the vines?
Michael: For me, it’s one of the most important things to protect the acidity in the wines. In July, after the summer solstice, the plant changes from vegetative growth to generative growth. They more or less stop putting energy in their shoots at that stage and start to focus on the fruit. You can really see that the shoots don’t grow as much anymore. This is the same time when people often cut the shoots on the top, as they get long. But if you cut the shoots, you’re saying to the vine that it needs to produce new shoots. Then, the vine starts to grow strong vegetative shoots again — young shoots on the top — and the effect is that you then also get young leaves. They produce a lot more sugar than the old ones, so the photosynthesis starts again, and that gives more sugar in the grapes than if you were to wind the shoots.
The other effect, which I don’t quite understand, is that you have less sugar if you wind the shoots —it’s logical as you have less photosynthesis — but the sugar content goes up very slowly in autumn, and the acidity content goes down very slowly. With the addition of biodynamic farming, the physiological ripeness is a bit earlier, and that combination means I can harvest grapes that are really ripe physiologically — yellow skins, dark brown seeds, really perfect — so this allows me to harvest early, when the grapes are low in alcohol and high in acidity. Also, the sugar content doesn’t go high as quickly, so you’re less stressed during harvest! I don’t need to harvest as fast — I can go slowly and we can be selective, and we don’t have to worry about the alcohol levels going up too fast. In a very hot vintage, the highest alcohol we will see is 12.5% or 13%. So winding is so important, it influences the type of the wine a lot. This is also something that we can do against climate change. There are many people here in the Weinviertel that have acid levels which are too low, so they have to add acid in order to have cool climate fruity and fresh styles. My yields might be lower, but I have fruity, lighter wines. And that’s what I like to produce. The Weinviertel is getting hotter and hotter but it is a cool climate region, and that’s important to me.
LITTLEWINE: And how about the expression of the fruit from your vineyards versus the new plot? The new plot is further north, do you think that influences the taste, or is it too early to say?
Michael: It’s just half an hour by car, but the vineyards are later ripening. The microclimates change a lot here. Someone that’s just 15 minutes from here might be in a much warmer area. This new vineyard is much cooler, and the soils are different. It’s a bit stonier, the soils are a bit lighter, but I can’t yet answer your question. To really have the feeling of a place I think you need to work there for three, four… even five years. We’re just in the second year! But we harvest the grapes even later than here, even though our aim is to create an easy-drinking style of wine. Also, the grapes are mainly Grüner Veltliner, but they taste very different to mine. But it’s hard to say if that’s due to terroir or biodynamic work… we don’t know what creates the difference, and why (yet). I’ll be able to answer that question much better in a few years’ time!