Arndorfer

Martin and Anna are the rarest of purists. They are iconoclasts – totally uncompromising in their methods- yet they eschew dogma in favor of open-mindedness and curiosity. Both Martin and Anna come from a long line of winemakers (Anna is from the Steininger family), and their travels before taking over Martin’s family winery were incredibly formative. This, paired with their already strong and creative personalities, caused them to break sharply with tradition when they came back home and forge their own path together.  In a short amount of time, Arndorfer has become one of the brightest stars in the natural wine world and an icon of the next generation of Austrian winemakers.

Martin and Anna believe that a profound wine must be a pleasure to drink and a pleasure to make, and it shows in the wines. You can tell that they’re having fun. Their aim is to carry the “message from the vineyard” in its fullest form, and the path is minimalism in the cellar – meaning nothing added and nothing taken away. More specifically, this means no sulfur at crushing, no fining of the must, no adding yeast or even a pied de cuve, no stopping malo, no cold stabilization, the very gentlest if any filtering, and no additions beyond miniscule levels of sulfur added at bottling.  Especially in Austria, a lot of producers consider this quite risky, but Martin & Anna aren’t concerned by this because they believe their wines develop their own microbial stability through a lack of manipulation.

As Anna and Martin eloquently put it “Because of our experience that nature is the strongest force, we love to work with her. Because the knowledge that the soil is the most intelligent thing we deal with, we‘ve decided to trust him. Because the beliefs that the plants nourish our soils, we let them grow. With these ideas and confidence, we don‘t interact in the cellar, which lets our wines transport the natural taste of the grape. These decisions we make by ourselves and let our personalities speak in our wines. We think that winemakers are artisans, or even artists. Their work requires creativity, sensitivity and an enormous amount of personality. Everything you would attribute to an artist….. We have made it our task to produce wines that unite origin and passion, wines that arouse curiosity in the wine world across the globe.”

 

All the wines from Arndorfer come from their estate vineyards in the Kamptal.  The labels may or may not say Kamptal however.  They’ve long since stopped caring if the wines are deemed “typical” enough to carry the appellation on the bottle.  The Kamptal is a cool climate region in the Northeast of Austria named after the Kamp river which flows through the area before emptying into the Danube.  Cold winds from the north highlands meet in the Kamptal with the hot weather of the Pannonian plain. Very high temperature changes from the night and day create thick skins on the berries which leads to stronger aromas and vibrant acidity. Microclimates change considerably from hillside to hillside and vineyard to vineyard. Altitudes range from 200 to nearly 500 meters. Small valleys between the hills work like channels where cold winds from the northern regions chill down the vineyards during the nights.  The winery and vineyards are located in and around the village of Strass im Strassertale.  Strass has a very special microclimate because it has the first south faced slopes near the flat of the Danube. It‘s a unique combination of the very old mother rock of the Bohemian Massive and the particular influence of the Pannonian climate.

Martin wanted to be a winemaker from the moment he could walk and talk. He remembers, as a kindergartener, always trying to find ways to be in the vineyard with his mother or on the tractor with his father rather than being in school. Martin’s older brother Dietmar was always more interested in carpentry and design (he now works as a set designer for Austrian television), so there was never any question for the family that Martin would be the one to take over the estate when the time came. He started winemaking school at Klosterneuburg at age 14 and worked his first harvest alongside his father in 1999 at the age of 16. Martin describes his father’s methods in the cellar as old school and low tech – in a good way. He always told Martin “the nature needs some time” and taught him to taste from the tanks and barrels early and often to keep in touch with the wines as they developed. His father worked with native fermentations almost exclusively, aside from a few Rieslings that always had some trouble finishing fermentation, and he was never into fining the must or the wine. His wines were dry, low alcohol (think 10.5-11.5) and very ageworthy.

After this first vintage with his father in 1999, Martin worked a summer in Friuli in 2000 with Ronco del Gnemiz, and the summers of 2001 & 2002 with Fabrizio Iuli in Piedmont while still going to wine school during the rest of the year. He said his experiences in Italy, because they were unpaid summer internships, were really valuable knowlede-wise. Because he wasn’t being paid, he was allowed more access to the parts of the process where the action was and could spend a lot more time picking the brains of the winemakers. In the Fall of 2002, at 19, Martin took over his family winery. He had just finished school at Klosterneuberg, and he said that he very “naively” thought he knew everything he needed to know about winemaking. He introduced some of the more “high tech” methods he learned in school – selected yeast, enzymes, fining with bentonite, etc. – and aimed for very straight, clean, and typical wines. Despite all of the changes that would come later, Martin now says that he is glad he went through this period of very mainstream, modern winemaking, because now he knows the difference from personal experience.

One or two years later, doubts started creeping in. He tasted often with his sommelier and importer friends, and the idea started forming in his head that there could be many different ways to make good wine. By 2007, he was sure there was much more for him to learn. He began searching and experimenting. He and Anna (who had met in 2000 when he was 17) decided to work a harvest together in Australia at The Lane in the Adelaide Hills. Martin described the philosophy at The Lane as “very French” and pretty old-school. They didn’t use any selected yeast (they started fermentations with pied de cuves or already fermenting juice from other tanks). They didn’t use any sulfur at crush/press, and they worked a lot with lees stirring following fermentation. This was also the first time Martin had worked with stainless steel barrels (225L). This harvest had a big impact on Martin & Anna.

Now to give some background for Anna.  Growing up, she was always more into gastronomy, although she did work with her father in the cellar a bit growing up. She is from the Steininger family – another really well-respected estate in the Kamptal.  Anna studied in Krems at the hospitality school there, and after meeting Martin in 2000, she became as interested in wine as she had always been in food. Not surprisingly given her passions, she is an excellent taster. She and Martin worked together making the red wines at Steininger from 2003-2011 – the family had some nice vineyard sites for reds but didn’t have a lot of passion for making red wines, so they let Anna and Martin do it instead. During that time she was also quite involved in the cellar and vineyard at Arndorfer, and this was also when they went to Australia together for a harvest.

When they returned home from Australia, they ordered some stainless steel barrels to experiment with and decided to gradually reduce their use of selected yeast and enzymes. They began tasting more wines from outside the mainstream – lots of Loire, Arbois, Savoie. Martin remembers tasting his two “lights on” wines during this time. In 2009 on a trip to Denmark, he tasted a 2010 Chardonnay from Overnoy and a Frederic Cossard (vintage unknown) that made him go “What?!”. He and Anna were so entranced by their liveliness, their juiciness, and the absence of what he calls “steely and metallic” that he often finds in more classically styled wines.  He continues to be very inspired to this day by natural wines from the Loire, Burgundy, Jura, and Savoie.

From 2007 to 2013, Martin and Anna ran side by side experiments with native yeast vs. selected yeast. They began these experiments in their smallest containers which were barriques, and gradually moved up to their big barrels, and eventually to tanks. Over these 6 years, they consistently found the native fermentations to be more elegant and complex with more length. They began forming the theory that additions don’t preserve and protect what’s there in the juice, but rather they reduce the original expression, which is usually much more complex and in balance.

Then the 2014 vintage came around – a nightmare vintage throughout most of Austria. There was so much rain and humidity in the lead-up to harvest that most winemakers were forced to pick relatively unripe grapes to avoid losing everything to rot and fungus. And even when they did go for earlier pick dates, the fungus was already so widespread that extreme sorting was necessary (at least for winemakers who cared to select it out). So, Martin and Anna ended up with fruit that was not as concentrated and developed as they normally work with. Martin’s response to this situation sums him up perfectly as a winemaker. The safe way out in such a rocky vintage would be to use sulfur at pressing, enzymes to drop out any fungus that snuck into the press, fine the must with bentonite, and then inoculate all the ferments with selected yeast. But Martin knew that making all these additions to already under-ripe and un-concentrated fruit would wipe out what little character from the vineyard had made it into the juice. So he and Anna decided to add nothing at all. No sulfur at pressing, no enzymes, no selected yeast, no chaptalizing. They didn’t sulfur the wines after primary fermentation, but rather let them all go through malo. So 2014, one of the toughest vintages in the last 20 years in Austria, was their first vintage 100% under their new “no additions” regime. The wines were great, by the way! From 2014 until now they have kept to this new philosophy and are now pushing their own creative limits by experimenting with maceration and skins. They are onto a theory that this could be a way to bring even more character and life into the wines.

Martin and Anna’s philosophy gets them into a bit of trouble with the establishment here in Austria, but they are so gracious and non-confrontational that it’s not dramatic in any way.  There are no big fights with the authorities about what goes on the label, etc. They have long ago accepted that their style may not be adopted by the mainstream in the near future (or ever), and if that means they can’t put the appellation on the label in certain cases, so be it.  It is much more important to them to remain “free, creative, and independent” and to follow their ideas. Martin says, “For economics, it seems crazy and stupid. But so far the world has been big enough to find people interested in other styles.”
"Nature is the strongest force, we love to work with her. Because the knowledge that the soil is the most intelligent thing we deal with, we‘ve decided to trust him. Because the beliefs that the plants nourish our soils, we let them grow." - Anna and Martin Arndorfer

Wines

Anina Verde (skin-ferment white) Kamptal

Varietal: Gruner Veltliner, Riesling

Color: White

Farming Practice: Certified Organic

Certified Organic. Grapes: Gruner Veltliner. Skins: Riesling. The Gruner Veltliner is from Strasser Stangle – planted 1992 on loess soils at 270 m altitude. Riesling skins are from Strasser Gaisberg planted 1986 on primary rock with a little layer of loess at 274 m altitude. Gruner fermentation happens with native yeasts and the skins of Riesling are added for 10 days to the fermenting Gruner Veltliner juice to gain more fruit expression and complexity. And to make things as hands-on as possible, all of the skins are hand destemmed.  After the Riesling grapes are pressed whole cluster, they take the pressed bunches out and separate the skins from the stems (this is insanely laborious). Aged for 4 months in two-thirds stainless steel and the rest in used French oak (228 liters of 4-12 years old). Naturally occurring malo. 8 mg/l sulfur added before bottling. No fining, no filtration, just handled by gravity. Approx 250 cs produced. The Anina Verde was the first of three experimental natural wines made by Martin (named after his three daughters) as a way for him to continue learning and pushing the limits of his winemaking abilities.

Chardonnay Neuberger “Die Leidenschaft” Kamptal

Varietal: Chardonnay, Neuburger

Color: White

Farming Practice: Certified Organic

Certified Organic. 100% Neuburger from 3 different vineyards. Strasser Gaisberg, planted 1982, on primary rock (Gföhler Gneis), at 328 m altitude, one terrace on Zöbinger Gaisberg, planted 1988 on primary rock (Gföhler Gneis) at 319 m (grapes used for the skin macerated portion), and Strasser Bleckenweg, planted 1960, on pure gravel at 281 m altitude. The grapes were macerated for 8 to 18 hours before pressing. Fermented with native yeast and aged for 10 months, partly in used French oak on full lees and partly in stainless steel barrels. Barrels are between 1200-1900 liters and between 2-30 years old with zero battonage or racking. Naturally occurring malo. Sulfur added once (max 20 mg/l) – just before bottling no fining, smart filtered once (a fine metal mesh to catch large solids). Strass has a very special microclimate because it has the first south faced slopes near the flat of the Danube. It‘s a unique combination of the very old mother rock of the Bohemian Massive and the particular influence of the Pannonian climate. Strasser Weinberge is a protected name for “village wines“ which show you all characteristics of the variety and the village. Grapes are selected from the best vineyard sides in the village and express the diversity and complexity of the origin. Martin describes Neuburger as elegant but expressive, with earthy and nutty aromas, long and persistent palate and in their case very salty due to primary rock and zero botrytis (as a grape it’s very vulnerable to botrytis owing to its tight clusters). Plantings of the grape have decreased significantly in the past 20 years in Austria due to the challenges of producing great wines (it’s easier for most growers to just plant some Gruner and call it a day) but Martin seems to be attracted to championing these “forgotten” grapes that play an important part in the tapestry and diversity of Austrian wines. It’s originally from the Wachau and genetic testing has shown it to be a crossing of Roter Veltliner and Sylvaner.

Gemischter Satz Terrassen “Terrassen 1958” Kamptal

Varietal: Neuburger, Grüner Veltliner, Riesling

Color: White

Farming Practice: Certified Organic

Certified Organic. Usually 60% Neuburger, 25% Gruner and 15% Riesling – a traditional field blend for this part of the Kamptal. Vineyard: Strasser Wechselberg – terraced vineyard at altitude 230-240 m. Planted in 1958 and soil is loess. All grapes were macerated 4 hours on skins before pressing. Whole bunch pressing, fermentation with native yeasts and aged for 10 months on the lees. 44 % in used French oak (228 liters and 10-12 years old) and 56 % in stainless steel barrels (75 gallons) with zero battonage or racking. Naturally occurring malo. No fining, just smart filtered once (a fine metal mesh to catch large solids). Sulfur added once (20mg/lt) – just before bottling. Approx. 75 cases produced annually. Martin is nothing if not quixotic and his pursuit of this vineyard and resulting wine reflect his vision and passion. He bought this parcel on the Wechselberg from an older farmed in 2005. Most of the terraces on this hill had been reworked and replanted (widened for tractors), but this little plot was the last piece with skinny terraces and old vines. He went to his father about buying the parcel (his dad still controlled the business’ money at the time), and his father said f*#k no. His objections were that it’s 100% handwork (no tractors) , the vines were “old” and they were going to need replanting in 20/30 years, and that it was just not good investment. To pile on and make it a multi-generational shaming, his grandfather said if Martin bought it, he was going to lie to his friends at the cafe in town and say he knows nothing about it. So, yeah of course Martin bought it. He used his own bit of personal savings and went 50/50 with his brother. And voila – stunning old vine Gemischter Satz completely worked by hand. His father and grandfather both love the wine now by the way.

Gruner Veltliner Strasser Weinberge Kamptal

Varietal: Gruner Veltliner

Color: White

Farming Practice: Certified Organic

Certified Organic. 100% Gruner Veltliner. Sourced from 4 different vineyards. Strasser Gaisberg on loess soil with primary rock subsoil, Strasser Wechselberg on heavy dark clay soil with high amount of chalk, Strasser Hasel on deep loess soil, and Strasser Stangl on deep loess soil. They are all south facing terraces with altitudes between 214-330 meters planted between 1959 and 2000. Whole punch pressing, no maceration before pressing. Fermented with native yeast and aged for 11 months mainly in large neutral barrels and partly in stainless steel (20%). Barrels are between 1200-1900 liters and between 2-30 years old. Naturally occurring malo. Sulfur added once (20 mg/lt.) – just before bottling no fining, smart filtered once (a fine metal mesh to catch large solids). Strasser Weinberge is a protected name for “village wines“ which show you all characteristics of the variety and the village. Grapes are selected from the best vineyard sides in the village and express the diversity and complexity of the origin.

Neuburger Strasser Weinberge Kamptal

Varietal: Neuburger

Color: White

Farming Practice: Certified Organic

Certified Organic. 100% Neuburger from 3 different vineyards. Strasser Gaisberg, planted 1982, on primary rock (Gföhler Gneis), at 328 m altitude, one terrace on Zöbinger Gaisberg, planted 1988 on primary rock (Gföhler Gneis) at 319 m (grapes used for the skin macerated portion), and Strasser Bleckenweg, planted 1960, on pure gravel at 281 m altitude. The grapes were macerated for 8 to 18 hours before pressing. Fermented with native yeast and aged for 10 months, partly in used French oak on full lees and partly in stainless steel barrels. Barrels are between 1200-1900 liters and between 2-30 years old. Naturally occurring malo. Sulfur added once (max 20 mg/l) – just before bottling no fining, smart filtered once (a fine metal mesh to catch large solids). Strasser Weinberge is a protected name for “village wines“ which show you all characteristics of the variety and the village. Grapes are selected from the best vineyard sides in the village and express the diversity and complexity of the origin. Martin describes Neuburger as elegant but expressive, with earthy and nutty aromas, long and persistent palate and in their case very salty due to primary rock and zero botrytis (as a grape it’s very vulnerable to botrytis owing to its tight clusters). Plantings of the grape have decreased significantly in the past 20 years in Austria due to the challenges of producing great wines (it’s easier for most growers to just plant some Gruner and call it a day) but Martin seems to be attracted to championing these “forgotten” grapes that play an important part in the tapestry and diversity of Austrian wines. It’s originally from the Wachau and genetic testing has shown it to be a crossing of Roter Veltliner and Sylvaner.

Riesling Strasser Weinberge Kamptal

Varietal: Riesling

Color: White

Farming Practice: Certified Organic

Certified Organic. 100% Riesling. Sourced from 3 vineyards. Kammerner Gaisberg on primary rock (Gföhler Gneis), Zöbinger Gaisberg on primary rock (Gföhler Gneis), and Strasser Wechselberg Spiegel on primary rock (granite). Vineyards are at altitudes between 230-360 meters planted between 1986 and 2010. Whole punch pressing, maceration up to 12 hours on skins before pressing. Fermentation with native yeasts and aged for 10 months mainly in large neutral barrels and partly in stainless steel barrels (20%). Barrels are between 1200-1900 liters and between 2-30 years old. Naturally occurring malo. Sulfur added once (max 20 mg/l)- just before bottling. No fining, smart filtered once (a fine metal mesh to catch large solids). Strasser Weinberge is a protected name for “village wines“ which show you all characteristics of the variety and the village. Grapes are selected from the best vineyard sides in the village and express the diversity and complexity of the origin.

Rosa Marie (skin-ferment rose) Kamptal

Varietal: Zweigelt, Gruner Veltliner

Color: Rose

Farming Practice: Certified Organic

Certified Organic. Grapes: Zweigelt. Skins: Gruner Veltliner. The Zweigelt is from Strasser Gautscher (planted in 1989) on loess with gravel at 286-319 m altitude. Gruner Veltliner skins are from Strasser Hasel on loess at 251 m. Zweigelt was macerated for up to 14 hours on skins before direct pressing. Fermented with native yeasts on crushed Grüner Veltliner grapes for 14 days in stainless steel. During fermenting, the Gruner skins lend spiciness and complexity to the fruit aromas of the Zweigelt.  And to make things as hands-on as possible, all of the skins are hand destemmed.  After the Gruner grapes are pressed whole cluster, they take the pressed bunches out and separate the skins from the stems (this is insanely laborious).  Aged for 6 months in two-thirds stainless steel and the rest in used French oak (228 liters of 4-12 years old). Naturally occurring malo. Bottled by gravity with no fining, no filtration. Only 8 mg SO2 added right before bottling. Approx 333 cs produced. The Rosa Marie was the second of three experimental natural wines made by Martin (named after his three daughters) as a way for him to continue learning and pushing the limits of his winemaking abilities.

Roter Veltliner “Terrassen 1979” Kamptal

Varietal: Roter Veltliner

Color: White

Farming Practice: Certified Organic

Certified Organic. 100% Roter Veltliner. Sourced from a vineyard Zöbinger Gaisberg – south-facing terraced vineyards planted in 1979 on pure primary rock (Gföhler Gneis) altitude between 317 – 323m. Maceration up to 12 hours on skins before pressing. Fermentation with native yeasts aged for 10 months on the lees 44 % in 228 liter used French oak (4-8 years old), 56 % in 75 gallon stainless steel barrels with zero battonage or racking. Naturally occurring malo. No fining, just smart filtered once (a fine metal mesh to catch large solids). Sulfur added once (max 20 mg/l)- just before bottling. Roter Veltiner (which bears little in common with Gruner) is a vigorous grape, late-ripening grape that requires poor soils to limit its yields. When it is planted in just the right spot, it can produce truly spectacular wines with surprising weight that age extremely well. And rarely does it get to inhabit such hallowed terroir as the upper altitudes of the famed Gaisberg vineyard (an erste lage site) where one will generally find just Riesling. It would be a bit like finding some Aligote in Perrieres or Dolcetto in Cannubi). Martin purchased this site, against the advice of his father, in 2010, specifically because of the old vine Roter and the chance to make a benchmark expression of the grape. Roter a labor of love that doesn’t make a lot of financial sense, but in the hands of Martin & Anna one can see why it’s worth pursuing.

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