Tucked away in the rolling hills of rural southern Styria, it’s easy to feel a little isolated. When Roland Tauss took over the family winery from his parents, he did as they did — farming conventionally and making wines according to the common technological methods.
However, this changed when Roland and Alice, his wife, discovered biodynamics and made new friends with likeminded farmers. This alternative realm of farming changed everything for them, and the Tauss philosophy became centred around life: protecting life, promoting life, enhancing life, with the ultimate goal of capturing this life in a bottle to bring to winelovers around the world.
LITTLEWINE interviewed Roland for this piece.
Roland began making wine in 1991, and for ten years he farmed and made wine in pretty much the same way. There’s the old saying, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. With regards to agriculture, we see this a lot: growers have a recipe of sorts, which works, so why change it?
In Roland’s case, the change came from a place of restlessness — a feeling of not being entirely content with his work. He says,
“My thinking changed over several years. When you make wine, every year you give your best. I always tried to make a very good wine, but then when I saw that my wines were so similar to other wines, I decided something needed to change.”
He was also sick of working with pesticides and other agrochemicals. He was upset that he didn’t feel he was doing his best to promote life in the vineyards, and he was also convinced that this was why the wines themselves were lacking in liveliness. He began thinking outside of the box and researched if there were other methods available. Together with some friends, he discovered biodynamics, and almost overnight his farming and winemaking philosophy would do a complete 180. He remembers,
“For ten years, I worked conventionally, working with industrial yeasts, filtering, doing what they called modern winemaking. Then, in 2004 I discovered biodynamics and my philosophy changed. From the 1st January 2005, I began working biodynamically.”
Together with two local winemaker friends — Sepp Muster and Ewald Tscheppe (of Werlitsch) — Roland went to biodynamic classes led by Alex Podolinksy, an Australian of Ukranian heritage, who popularised the biodynamic way. As Ewald Tscheppe says,
“Alex spoke in such a practical way, and I understood it. It didn’t feel like a dream, or just like a nice talk, and nothing was hard to follow. That made me feel confident in using this method on the farm.”
It opened a door for this group of friends — here they had a new method to follow; one that made more sense to them, and which was easy to apply. Roland says,
“For those first years, I worked with Sepp Muster and Ewald Tscheppe, and then later with Franz Strohmeier and Andreas Tscheppe. It was a new area for my thinking, and for my mind. Everything I had known up until that moment had changed. It was a completely new beginning for all of us. A new start — a new world of winemaking — so we exchanged a lot. It was a new land, so it was very important for us to speak together, and also to taste the wines together. We had meetings, and we’d drink our wines and ask each other what we thought about them — is it ok? Is it not ok? That was so important for us all in those first years; to find our own way of winemaking.”
It was the birth of a group which would become known as Schmecke das Leben (meaning ‘Taste the Life’ in German) — a study-meets-support group of friends who could learn and share information together.
“We have the same idea of winemaking: the same mindset in terms of how we think about life and the land. Of course, we’re winemakers, so we make wines, but our connection is about life – and that goes for the wines, too.”
From the various courses they took, they began to build a network of likeminded farmer friends across Europe. Roland says,
“We have many meetings with other biodynamic growers — winemakers, but also other types of farmers — in France, Germany, Italy… so we have lots of connections, and that’s how we find the people from whom we buy our biodynamic preparations.”
Although he works with the preparations, ultimately Roland’s approach is as hands-off as possible, to allow the vines to find their own balance as naturally as they can. The soils are managed according to a no-till policy, meaning he never ploughs, so his approach is as much about regenerative agriculture as it is about biodynamics. He explains,
“We only cut the grass twice or three times a year, and we don’t open the soil. The soil is alive — that’s the reason that I don’t like to open it, to disturb it, or to destroy it. If you open it, it’s like cutting your skin.”
Even when it comes to cutting the grass, this is as gentle as possible — they only cut every second row, to leave the vegetation to thrive.
“Every plant brings something, and we have around 70 or 80 different plant species growing under and around the vines. Every plant works with the sun for photosynthesis and has microorganisms around the roots. It’s the circle of life.”
He explains that the first few years were a bit trickier, whereas now the vines have found their balance:
“Plants need the guidance of human beings — over thousands of years they have changed, and they have lost some of their natural energy, so they need the human. So those first years in particular were harder for them to adapt — it was a big change for them — but over the past five years we’ve had a very good harmony in the vineyards.”
Since converting his six hectares of vineyards to biodynamics, he saw change happen quickly. He says,
“The vineyards changed a lot during those first five years — both the plants and the structure of the soil. We had moved away from pesticides, and I felt we were healing the soils and the plants. Then, in 2009 — four years later — I really began to notice the change in the taste of the grapes. These days, the change process is somehow finer.”
“My work outside in the vineyards is what’s important — working for life. Then, in the cellar, the same goes — as we’re looking for that liveliness in the wines. My philosophy is to find that in the glass — to have that life in the wine when we drink it. I’m looking for the natural aromatics from the variety, from the soil, from the vintage and from the human being.”
Since striving towards health in the vineyards, Roland knew he also needed to change something in the cellar. He wanted to harness the newfound energy in his vineyards, and quickly realised that adding lab-cultured yeasts and filtering his wines would stifle or remove this energy, rather than preserve it. He muses,
“You could say… Everything you drink and eat is for your body, and you get an energy from it. But there’s a difference in this energy — does it give you energy, or do you lose energy? If you’re eating or drinking something of low quality, then you need more energy than you’re getting from it. This is very important for me — that wine has enough energy.”
He explains it was only possible for him to achieve this status of energy in his wines after converting his farming:
“In 2006 and 2007 — those first years — there was less liveliness in the grapes and wine than now, but there was more life than before.”
During those first years, he stopped filtering, and lowered his doses of sulfites from 100/120mg per litre down to 50/60mg per litre. He noticed that it became easier for him to work in a hands-off manner, as his fruit quality was improving year on year. He says,
“The reason behind lowering the sulfite additions was because I was outside in the vineyard, and saw the liveliness in the soils, the plants, the grapes… it became much easier to work without sulfites. So, in 2012 and 2013 I began making some wines without sulfites, and added 10mg to others, and for five years now I use nothing at all. We don’t have any issues as the wines are in a good harmony.”
It’s not only the process that’s natural, but also the materials: for Roland, his wooden barrels are crucial:
“The reason that it’s possible to make this kind of vinification — and the reason that you can get this energy from the wines — is also because of the wooden barrels. Trees are part of nature; they do photosynthesis, and have energy from light, so that’s why I work only with them. In the wooden barrels we have these energies, and that’s also why the wines can age for so long.”
All the wines are fermented naturally, aged in barrels, and bottled unfined, unfiltered and without sulfites. The only intervention is racking. The Opok range is macerated overnight and gently pressed and then left in oak barrels to naturally ferment and age for one year, whereas the skin contact wines are macerated for 10 – 14 days, then pressed, and aged in barrels for two years, as they have more tannin from the extended maceration period and hence Roland feels they need longer to find balance.
It’s simple winemaking, but these aren’t simple wines — there is so much depth to them, and such brightness of flavour. They are the sort of wines that feel soothing; mirror images of the nature they come from. Roland nods,
“In the vineyard, there are the plants you can see, but there’s also an energy from the other living organisms that you can feel. That all exists, working together in nature, and then there’s also me — and that all comes together to create the vineyard as one. Their energy and my energy is very important. When I’m doing my work, what I’m thinking is also important — where my mind is, what I’m saying and what I do. Everything that happens throughout the year — what’s growing, what the sun does, how the wind is, how much rain we have, what the human does… if you drink the wine, that’s what you find — everything that has happened that year.”
It is a beautiful, pure way of looking at wine. When we speak with Roland, it’s almost like we’re not discussing wine, but rather nature. It’s about what Mother Nature — when treated with respect and love — can give us in return. It’s a way of thinking about the mind, body and soul that reminds us of yoga, so it comes to no surprise to us when we discover that the Tauss family’s Bed & Breakfast also offers yoga retreats throughout the year.
It’s a little piece of holistic vinous heaven. Who’s coming with us?