3rd June 2016
Interview: Killian Fox
Photographs: Yousef Eldin & Dan Dennison
3rd June 2016
Interview: Killian Fox
Photographs: Yousef Eldin & Dan Dennison
A winery has existed on this spot since the 17th century, but production under the previous owner wound down in the early 1980s. Eduard and Stephanie took over the 13-hectare vineyard in 2007 and released their first wines – cultivated according to biodynamic principles and produced with minimum interference – the following year. As Stephanie greets the first guests, Eduard takes us into the cellars where we see a 200-year-old tree press which he still uses to crush the grapes. Further down, he shows us his biodynamic preparates: a cow horn containing manure which is buried for the winter, then recovered, diluted with water and sprayed over the soil to transmit good energy into the vines.
Whether or not you share their belief in biodynamic principles, what’s not in doubt is the quality of Eduard and Stephanie’s wines. Over lunch, a sumptuous spread of cold meats, smoked fish, fresh and pickled vegetables, cheeses and homemade sourdough bread, followed by two types of cake – all prepared by Stephanie in the kitchen and laid out on a long wooden table in the courtyard – we try one incredible bottle after another. Each one brims with attitude and verve but, unlike some natural wines, they are well-balanced and beautifully structured too. Leaving Gut Oggau at 3 in the afternoon, having sampled most of their range, we are neither of those things. But we are happy. As Eduard says when I ask whether drinking wine, for him, is work or pleasure: it’s always pleasure. To which Stephanie adds: “It’s only pleasure”.
Eduard: Yeah I come from a wine-growing family from Styria, in the southern part of Austria. But we used to make more modern, conventional wines. I had no experience with the biodynamic, natural approach.
Stephanie: No, I was studying photography. After, I went to Switzerland to study hospitality management, but I was more in the kitchen. But now I am here and it’s nice.
Eduard: She’s a very good one but…
Stephanie: Now my passion is totally for wine.
Eduard: At a wine tasting – surprisingly – in Vienna. A mutual friend organised it. It was funny: neither of us wanted to go, but in the end we were both too reasonable to cancel.
Stephanie: We got engaged after three months.
This is a very special part of Austria. Everybody is thinking about mountains and Mozart, but here is just landscape, food and wine
Eduard: We knew we would create something together, but we had to decide whether Stephanie would come to the southern part of Styria or I would come to Burgenland. She persuaded me – and it’s good. We could start pretty much from scratch here.
Stephanie: I grew up 5km from here in Schützen, the next town over. My parents started the restaurant Taubenkobel [see Address Book].
Stephanie: Yes. It was long nights helping all the time, since we were eight years old. On the weekends too. My father was the chef, my mother did the service. I loved it because my parents were all the time at home and we met interesting people – they had a really nice crowd, artists, writers… You grew up fast because you’re sitting at the table till 2 or 3am, watching them talking.
Stephanie: What people say now about the philosophy at Noma, regional food: my parents were doing 25 years ago. The fish from the lake, the herbs from here. Because in Burgenland, we have a lot.
Eduard: There’s even watermelons growing on the other side of the lake.
Stephanie: Everything. Saffron too. My mother was very open-minded – even 25 years ago she had a really amazing wine list. Maybe they were too, how do you say, ahead of their time.
Stephanie: Yes now my sister is doing it with her husband, since a year ago. Now my parents have a small restaurant on the Hungarian side called Haus im See, 50 minutes from here, which is also amazing. It’s right on the lake.
Eduard: This is a very special part of Austria. Everybody is thinking about mountains and Mozart, but here is just landscape, food and wine. When we started, I talked to an old winegrower from the next village and we were discussing how Burgenland is very underestimated. He said: “In the regions with the highest potential, God will place the laziest marketeers”. There’s a certain truth to that.
Eduard: Here on the west bank of the lake, it’s mainly vines and grain. On the eastern part there are lots of vegetables, tomatoes, peppers, rice. Here also there are forests with very good mushrooms in season, and herbs everywhere, and wild asparagus in the vineyards, garlic. The potential for wine-growing here is amazing. It’s a perfect combination of warm southern climate and some cooler influence from the eastern part of the Alps. So we have ripeness but also lots of freshness, and also the strong personality of the soil. Wine-wise, we are in heaven.
Sometimes he’s coming back at 7am and I’m in the kitchen doing the breakfast, before I’ve even brushed my teeth, and he’s saying, “Here, taste this wine”
Eduard: It changes a lot depending on the season. The earlier the sun rises, the longer the day is for us. In the summer, I usually get up at 4.30am and start working at 5. I come back at 7 for breakfast and then the kids go to school in the village.
Eduard: Stephanie makes a wonderful muesli the day before, with apple and grains and everything. We have boiled eggs – there are chickens here – and the children like to eat yoghurt as well.
Stephanie: I make bread. We have coffee, tea and that’s it.
Eduard: No champagne during the week.
Eduard: More or less, yes.
Eduard: It’s always pleasure.
Stephanie: It’s only pleasure. Yesterday was the first day in a long time where I said, “Okay I’m not drinking”, but then I was drinking a glass at one o’clock because I was like, “Come on, please, why should I not drink?” [laughs]. I’m not a doctor.
Eduard: Yesterday we were sitting at a table with a doctor…
Stephanie: And she was drunk too.
Eduard: She was actually encouraging us to drink wine.
Stephanie: Sometimes Eduard’s coming back at 7am and I’m in the kitchen doing the breakfast, before I’ve even brushed my teeth, and he’s saying, “Here, taste this”. I’m like, please!
Eduard: It’s the best time. Your taste buds are most active in the morning.
Stephanie: We call it heuriger. Historically, people would come to a winery to try the wine and you’d serve cold food. Nobody’s doing it anymore but we thought it would be nice, because we have a nice place, so why not open the doors? So it’s all cold stuff and only from the region. Blood sausage, cheese, leberkäse, which is a famous type of sausage in Austria. Normally it’s horsemeat with cheese served warm, and normally it’s not good, but we found one that’s amazing.
“When we go, we tell Eddie to bring us whatever he wants. I’m happy in any restaurant where I don’t have to make decisions myself.”
Eduard and Stephanie on their favourite local restaurants – see Address Book
Stephanie: It depends. In winter we cook every day. In the summer there’s almost never any time to sit down and eat together.
Stephanie: Yes it’s the only time where we all five sit together at the table, chat, talk about the day, then everybody is doing what they need to do.
Eduard: I love to cook traditional Austrian stuff, like stuffed peppers, chicken with red pepper, rice with meat. Also Steffi loves to prepare some spicy Asian food.
Stephanie: With the kids, we’re not like, “Oh you have to eat this” – you just take whatever you want.
Stephanie: Yes. The smallest, she loves snails and oysters. In the winter we went to France and she was every day asking in the car, “Okay the next restaurant I get snails again, hah?” Once the restaurant didn’t have snails and we were like, “Fuck, what should we do?”
Eduard: During Easter week, we went for three days to Copenhagen, three days to Oslo and three days to Stockholm with the kids, to visit friends and restaurants and do tastings.
Stephanie: Because they ask us all the time, “Why are you never at home in winter, always travelling, why are we not with you?” I’m like, “Okay, you come, but you know we’ll only be sitting in wine bars, eating and drinking.”
Eduard: They fell asleep in every restaurant. We could do a guide, not for quality of food but quality of sleeping [laughs].
Eduard: It was mainly for quality reasons: we tasted lots of wines and the ones that really struck us were biodynamic. Also we had the old vines to take over here and we wanted to preserve them. It started as a quality idea, but if you get into biodynamics, if you take it seriously, it changes your mind and you get a new perspective on many things. Now we couldn’t go any other way.
Stephanie: At the beginning it was very important to go for certification. We had no clue about what’s going on. In the cellar we didn’t touch the wines and sometimes they get weird and it makes you nervous. You might be tempted to interfere, but committing to [the biodynamic process] gives you the courage to stick it out.
We said, “Okay we have these living personalities in the cellar, why don’t we describe the wines as if they were persons, and then transfer the personality to the labels?”
Eduard: No. The vines here had been neglected for a long time, which was good for us because there was no fertilisation of the soil, hardly any chemical treatments, so for conversion into biodynamics it was really good. The average age in the vineyard is 40 years. Some of the vines have been there for 60 years, which is quite old by Austrian standards.
Eduard: That’s always something we forget, because we are not really into grapes in the end. Most of the wines are field blends1, so for us it’s not really important which grapes were planted on these vineyards in the 60s and 70s, but what’s the potential of the soil, what’s the personality of the vineyards? It’s mainly six different varietals, but we have a few others as well. In total we have a wine family of 10 more or less regular members.
Eduard: It happened to a certain extent because when we started in 2007…
Stephanie: We were drunk [laughs].
Eduard: It was really exciting for us, during fermentation and afterwards, that the wines were so alive, especially compared to what I knew from before, and also each wine was very strong in character and had a really unique personality. We said, “Okay we have these living personalities in the cellar, why don’t we describe the wines as if they were persons, and then transfer the personality to the labels?”
Eduard: No they’re fictional, referring to the character of the wines.
Stephanie: People often think it’s really our family.
Eduard: So we had this idea, then we realised it with friends of ours who had a marketing agency. They approached a Dutch designer in Berlin and we sent her a profile of each wine. She turned them into characters: three generations of one family.
Eduard: The young generation is mainly vineyards on the plain area at the edge of the hills. There isn’t direct sun exposure so usually the grapes are ripe but with lower sugar content, so there’s more youthful energy. The parents come from the vineyards on the hillside, there’s more direct sun exposure, more ripeness in the grapes.
Eduard: On the contrary, I want our wines to shine in any situation and compete with any kind of wine. In the end, good wine, whether natural or conventional, is just a decision for the grower to make. For me there’s no right or wrong.
Eduard: We have to accept we can’t control nature; instead we follow it and humbly take what we get. That’s the exciting approach. You have to let go. You lose control and that’s good. In the end, the most beautiful thing on earth is the natural thing.
For more about Gut Oggau, visit www.gutoggau.com. The winery is at Hauptstraße 31, 7063 Oggau am Neusiedler See, Austria, and you can go there for heuriger between 12pm and 10pm Thursday to Sunday until the end of August. To buy Gut Oggau wines in the UK, visit www.dynamicvines.com
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