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Michael Gindl, in Hohenruppersdorf, in the north east of Austria, just 20 kilometers from the Slovakian border, runs a Demeter certified biodynamic farm, complete with thirty hectares of land for animals and agriculture and ten hectares of vines. It’s an understatement to say that it’s unusual in the area. The Weinviertal is very fertile and there are huge fields of grain and vines. Most vineyards are managed by machine and the grapes are sold in bulk for a very low price. So, when you are looking at Gindl’s vines, it’s obvious. Neighbors may think that he’s crazy and that he’s abandoned his vineyards, the grass is long, the vines are not trimmed, and he’s planted vines at 1.5-2 meters apart compared to the norm of 3 meters in the area. What he is doing is not so crazy – this is how people used to farm. They had grain, vegetables, hay, animals and vines. Perhaps we could make the argument that he is traditional!
Michael Gindl’s grandfather used to run the family winery and Michael was always by his side. They had a special bond. Unfortunately, when Michael was seven years old, his grandfather passed away. When that happened, Michael’s dad needed to take over, but he works for the government and was not into winemaking. His dad did not know which wines were in which barrel, and at seven years old, Michael knew where each parcel was aging in the cellar and helped his dad through that first vintage. His dad continued with the vineyards and cellar work, but with the agreement that Michael would take it over as soon as possible.
Gindl never trained at another winery and discovered his philosophy on his own. He started making the wine while he was a teenager and now, he’s one of the most riveting winemakers in Austria. Inspired by the wines of his grandfather, which were made with nearly no manipulation or intervention, he converted his winery and vineyards to Demeter biodynamics, certified as of 2014. It was a meandering road, full of trials and he had the full support of his father to not fear making mistakes. A definitive moment came in 2003, when he was at a family party and he pulled an 02 Gelber Muskateller that he had made and a 1979 from his grandfather. The 1979 had more life and energy than his own 02. This was the moment that Gindl decided to stop with everything that he learned in school. Changes happened slowly over the years – using less sulfur, working with skin contact, and not filtering the wines. It was a shift for the family, but ultimately, they grew to love the new style. When teaching his family about this new style, he asked his family, “Would you rather have the apple juice that is clear and filtered, or do you want the one that is pressed and cloudy? Of course you want the cloudy one – it has more flavor and character, why would it be different for wine?”
His 10 hectares are planted extremely densely, with 7,000-10,000 vines per
hectare (compared to the average 3,000 vines common in the area) growing in loam
and loess soil. This forces the vines to behave highly competitively, resulting in low yields of highly concentrated fruit. He uses cover crops to keep down weeds and pest control is handled by the buzzards (buteos) that roam the vineyards. He tucks his shoots instead of cutting them off at the top so that the energy of the plant goes to the fruit, rather than the stress of making new shoots at the cut end. All vineyard work is done by hand or horse - Michael currently has three horses for work on the farm. Interestingly, Gindl pointed out that you average about 40% more yields by working with horse because tractors compact the soil and reduce your crop.
He harvests all grapes by hand in three passes. The first pass goes into the Little Buteo and he keeps a higher percentage of the fruit from the loam soil for Little Buteo. The second pass goes into a cuvee called Buteo and has more from loess soils that is similar to the Little Buteo, but with more fruit and body and aged in oak. The third pass goes into Buteo ‘Twelve”, which gets more skin contact and is made in an oxidative style. The oldest Grüner Veltliner from 60-year-old vines goes into Michael’s top cuvée, the Sol: it is 60% old-vine Grüner and 40% Weissburgunder from sandy soil.
In the cellar he uses only native fermentation, extended aging on lees, some maceration on the skins (the length of time depends on the cuvee), and the wines are bottled unfiltered. For aging and fermentation he uses a mix of stainless steel and large wooden barrels. The barrels themselves are made using oak and acacia harvested from Gindl’s own land. His friend is a local barrel maker and he makes the
barrels for him.
A good story is an excellent thing but what is most impressive is the wines. We’ve tasted a lot of Grüner Veltliner and nothing like this has ever crossed our path. Complex, rich, and fascinating, they defy expectations and express a side of the region and terroir that previously went unspoken.