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Riding On An Istrian Train

This is the story of a train trip. It is a rather different train. Its driver, the Makinista, conducts it. This particular train goes through low plains and high ground, wide valleys and tight meadows. Forests, lakes, woods, vineyards, you can spot them scattered around the railroads. Our train departed from Kanfanar Station, in Istria, Croatia. To get it going, the Makinista used some charcoal in the train’s engine, as it was an old vapor train. Ahead laid a long journey to Rovijn, with two stops in the middle: Okreti and Sošići. For this trip, the Makinista brought some flowers with him. They were part of a present, a surprise gift for a loved one. Then upon arrival at Rovijn and a short stop, the train would make its return trip to Kanfanar. This train line is known as La Linea.

This beautiful train story serves us to introduce an organic and natural wine producer from Istria: Danijel Bastijačnić, owner of Vina Lunika. Wine has been is his family for some generations, as it was his great grandfather the one who started planting vines. Now Danijel manages a small farm, maybe around 3 hectares, that he has planted mostly with Malvazija and the rest is Pinot Gris and Yellow Muscat among the white varieties and Red Muscat, Teran, Borgonja and Cabernet Sauvignon among the red ones.

Danijel works organically and also follows biodynamic methods. For his white wines he likes to do different periods of maceration on the skins. In the case of his Malvazija he takes that up to six months. He also conducts long macerations in his red wines, with one of them, the Teran, going up to one year in the skins. He likes to use low amounts of sulfites, below 20 mg/l, mainly to protect the wines.

The name of Vina Lunika comes from the names of his two daughters, Lucija and Anika. For naming his wines, he found his inspiration on that train line of his childhood, where the playing fields were close to the locomotive filling the air with clouds of vapor and the aromas of burnt charcoal. Danijel produces four Malvazijas: Prima Volta (First Time), Station, Viaggio Lungo (Long Trip) and Ritorno. Viaggio Lungo is the one he macerates on the skins for six months. A Rosé Borgonja is called Mi Fior (My Flower). The basic Teran is called Tender and Carbun is the name of the Teran going one year on the skins with two more years in oak barrels. A Yellow Muscat is called Regalo, a sweet wine made Passito style. The Red Muskat is called Sorpresa and Makinista gives name to his Pinot Gris.

The white wines go all through the skins. Makinista and Prima Volta for two days, Ritorno and Station for ten days and Viaggio Lungo for six months. That’s the way Danijel loves to work with them, in the traditional Istrian style. Viaggio Lungo is an amazing wine. You might think it would be an extreme wine enduring six months of skin contact yet the wine is smooth and silky. Tender aromas to honey and peach, delicate palate of a beautifully made orange wine. One of those wines you keep on enjoying mesmerized by its perfume and texture.

Danijel Bastijačnić has a fascinating way of working with his wines. We will talk to him soon to learn more about it.

Photos (C) Vina Lunika

Melanie Hickman: “I love the holistic nature of Biodynamics; looking at the farm as living organism.”

A while ago we talked about Struggling Vines, the brand Melanie Hickman uses for producing her own wines. We will talk today with her about her passion for winemaking and life. She has written a book about what brought her from her natal USA to Rioja. It is a book more than recommended to be read.

Good morning, Melanie, and thank you for your cooperation. An Ohioan from small-town Prospect (population 1,000) came all the way, passing through Hawaii, to Elvillar, Alava, with an even lower population. How was such a big step in your life?

I left my hometown when I was 18 years old due to its constricting size. After years living in cities, ironically, my small-town roots in many ways prepared me for this time in my life. It was a bit of a shock at first but I love a good challenge. Where we live is like a little oasis of nature. I don’t require much and am happy with a simple life. We are surrounded by vineyards, animals and nature. I can ride the horses whenever I want. I think I’m pretty fortunate! The small things keep me content and grounded.

How did you get involved in wine in the first place?

I recall drinking wine in college and wanting to learn more. I took a very basic class at that time but no one around me had much interest, so I think like most, you start trying new things and learning little by little. I didn’t take wine seriously until Hawaii. That is when I started to make a real hobby out of it. I started taking more classes and by doing so my social life started to integrate with other like-minded people – often at a much higher level than mine which was to my benefit as I could learn from them.

David Sampedro and you, partners in life and in crime, produce a wide array of wines. Nevertheless, you produce four wines on your own: Phinca Hapa Blanco, Phinca Hapa Tinto, Phinca San Julián and you recently released Carrakripan. What is your objective with these wines, different from what you do with the rest of the wines David and you produce?

My wines generally spend less time in oak than David’s wines. I want wines that speak of the place, serious, yet are more fruit forward. They are more a reflection of my personality as well, I suppose. A bit lighter, fun yet with depth.

One day walking around town, you stepped into a vineyard that now is yours and its known as Hapa. What was so magic about it?

This will sound absurd to those who aren’t animal lovers but it took me a long time to heal after losing my dog. I recall feeling this internal drive to find something to memorialize him – as was promised by David … but that’s another story. From the outside he wasn’t the cutest dog, but internally he was beautiful. He was white pit-mix rescue and when I came upon a chalky white soil vineyard, planted with a significant amount of white grapes … I don’t know, it was a beautiful day and perhaps as he had done to me many years ago and called on me to rescue him, that vineyard did the same. In this case it was an externally beautiful vineyard needing be rescued from many years of harsh and toxic chemicals that come with conventional farming. I am a dangerous romantic as you can see.

You macerate all your white wines on the skins. Please tell us why do you do this and something about your Phinca Hapa Blanco.

We have always fermented our whites with the skins. Some wines and/or vintages only a few days while others spend the entire fermentation with the skin. Viura is not an aromatic variety and skin contact helps enhance its flavors and provide body to the wine. So I was familiar with skin contact but not extended maceration, I proposed a longer maceration with Hapa blanco. David was hesitant to simply leave the wine to macerate a long time without being accompanied by the chemical process of fermentation. He wanted to ensure the end product wasn’t faulty due to bacteria that can develop when the wine sits a long time with the sinks. We met in the middle and decided on a carbonic maceration white. It was a risky move as we couldn’t find any other winery that produced a carbonic maceration white wine, so it was a first to our knowledge. We place the whole bunch in a concrete tank and don’t crush the grapes. We don’t add commercial yeast so the fermentation process is longer, some years up to 60 days in the tank. We press when the juice is about 80% fermented and it finishes fermentation in its own time in large foudre.

First organic work in the vineyards, then biodynamic practices… what appeals you guys about biodynamic practices?

David converted his vineyards to organic in 1999 and learned about Biodynamics a few years later while working as a peon in France during harvest. At that time, he felt his vineyards were missing something in their conversion to organic. He wanted to see more biodiversity in the vineyards. He is a skeptic by nature but experimented with some applications and liked the results. We met in 2008 and our conversations about Biodynamic farming was one of the reasons we connected. He has a really profoundly beautiful environmental side to him that he doesn’t often expose.

Speaking for myself, personally I love the holistic nature of Biodynamics; looking at the farm as living organism and trying to understand and connect with the unique ecosystems within. Finding balance is key. It is a challenge for me, as it requires me to slow down and observe the gentle ebb and flow of nature, influence of the moon, stars and how that affects the parcels of land that I am fortunate to have under my care. So much of our world pulls us away from nature yet I find myself renewed in nature – it feeds my soul – while technology, and the like, drains me. Steiner spoke often of materialism, its connection to ego and how that degrades society. I feel we are in a bit of a spiritual crisis at the moment and need to shift our focus away from excess and ego towards community and the nature that gives us life.

Now you have in sight being certified as biodynamic winegrowers. What’s your aim with this certification?

This has been a goal for years, but it was impossible with only David and I handling everything between the two of us. We hired an office manager last year, which has lifted a lot of work from our plates. We have completed the certification process and recently received confirmation that we are officially “in conversion” for Demeter Certification. We decided to pursue certification as it lends credence to our labour and it’s a lot of hard work! Another item that is really important in the certification process with Demeter is they require a dedication of 20% of the project to biodiversity, which I believe is crucial to changing the monoculture system void of life, soil health and balance.

Any other further steps in sight?

I have strong opinions about biodiversity and how we should treat the land, so leading that charge is my priority. We’ve spent a lot of time, energy and money planting native aromatics as hedgerows. I want to take this one step further and start integrating more trees into our vineyards. I have approximately 70 saplings that I cultivated from the pits (seeds) of vineyard peaches (melacontones secanos) I collected from my San Julian vineyard. I will use these saplings to kickstart my project. I had the idea last year when David’s father drew my attention to the fact that one day these trees could be non-existent as farmers continue to focus on monocultural practices that no longer value trees in the vineyards. I still have some more research to do, but my goal is to plant them this winter. From there I would like to expand this idea as we learn. Starting with peach trees is a perfect marriage between biodiversity and providing food for my bees, another obsession of mine. I currently have four hives in two different parcels. I hope to catch new swarms next spring in some of my other vineyards that are rich with biodiversity. One in particular, El Vedao in Kripan, is the perfect setting. It is a vineyard we planted on abandoned terraces that we recuperated in 2020. It’s surrounded by a forest and last year we planted over 1,000 creping rosemary in the hedgerows separating the terraces. The idea is that once the roots take hold they will creep over and cover the tall growing weeds, thereby lessening the amount of labour needed in the vineyard while also providing forage for the bees.

How things are going for you guys with the new system of single vineyards wines?

For the moment, this is not a goal of ours. Although, it humors me because when it came out it was almost an exact fingerprint of our winery. Village and single vineyard wines have always been the core of our philosophy and many of our distributors have worked with us since inception so it really wouldn´t change anything. I’m happy to see it gaining popularity if it makes sense for the winery or grower. However, I personally equate it to more paperwork. We have registered most of our wines in “Vino de Municipio” but until I see light at the end of the tunnel in regards to administration, it won’t be at the top of my list.

Which kind of wine do you like to enjoy when it is not for working?

I love trying wines from all over the world. I tend to gravitate towards Jura but I often won’t open a bottle of it for me alone. I’d rather share it with friends. Recently, I’ve been re-exploring Pinot Noir from Oregon but it is harder to find small and interesting producers that export to Spain so what I can’t bring home in a suitcase, I leave for my travels.

Thank you very much for your collaboration, Melanie!!

Manu Requena and the natural wines of Vinos Indar

Manu Requena comes from a long family agricultural and wine tradition. The new generations always tend to move in the opposite direction to their predecessors and that is what Manu has done. Since the time of his great-great-grandfather, though it was his great-great-grandmother who planted the first vineyard back in 1935, wine has been made in his family, in the noble town of Socuéllamos, province of Ciudad Real. The family marketed it until the cooperatives were established in their town in the 1950s. Tradition said that the wine was aged in clay vessels and also in cement tanks.

Manu decided to dedicate himself to making wine when he was 22 years old and chose to do it in a way that was more respectful to the grapes, the vineyards and the wine itself. And that was how he began to take steps into the natural wine world.

Since then, eight vintages have passed (or is it already nine?). Manu has been using grapes from eight hectares of certified organic vineyards for the last 20 years. However, it was not until 2020 when Manu decided to release the wines he produced to the market. First two wines, with just 2,000 bottles in total. Since then he has grown to the 7,500 bottles he currently produces. Airén from 90-year-old vines, Cencibel, Parellada and Macabeo are the varieties used for their wines.

In addition to the family vineyards, Manu plans to recover abandoned vineyards of native varieties such as Tinta Velasco or Crujidera. A very nice project that will take some time, but time and passion are two virtues that Manu treasures, so everything will surely work out.

Whether it’s 1,000 or 7,500 bottles, this is more than what Manu can do on his own. For this reason, he is lucky to have the support of his family and friends in all the tasks he has to take in the vineyard and also in the winery, including the design of the labels. And all this must be said because Manu is also a grateful person.

I have commented that Manu began selling his wines in 2020. For this he chose the brand of Indar for his winery. In Basque Indar means strength and it also means hoe in old Castilian language. The Basque comes from a period in which his paternal family emigrated to Bilbao.

The two wines with the highest production are Lebrel, made with Cencibel, Airén and Macabeo, with just over 2,500 bottles from the 2021 vintage, and Indar, made with Cencibel and Parellada, with around 1,300 bottles. This wine is the one that has captured my heart, since it mecarates on the skins for 40 days and after pressing it goes into clay amphorae for eight months, since Manu considers that this container respects the grape much more.

The rest of Manu’s production consists of seven wines with different number of bottles, reaching only 140 with a late-harvest wine with fifteen days of maceration on the skins called Candongo.

I have been lucky enough to enjoy some of his wines from the 2019 and 2020 vintages, and I have to say that I have liked what I have tasted. In his wines you can see that there is knowledge, passion, and above all a great enthusiasm for what he does and for the path he wants to travel. I want to visit Manu and enjoy more of his wines, more vintages, and I am sure that I will like them even more, because each vintage is a learning experience and a source of experience for the next vintage. If you like natural wines made with passion, don’t hesitate to taste Manu Requena’s. So that we understand each other: they are very cool.

In this link you can watch a family video.

Soon we will talk to Manu Requena about his wines and his wine philosophy.

Imanol Garay, the emotions of a wine

We recently talked about Alfredo Egia, a Basque artisan vigneron who makes Txakolis that delight those who try them. I remember that I finished the article by saying that one of their wines, Hegan Egin, seems to me not only one of the best Txakolis I have ever tasted but also one of the best white wines I know. Alfredo makes this wine in collaboration with Gile Iturri and Imanol Garay.

Today I want to talk about the latter. Who is Imanol Garay? This is a difficult question to answer. Not because saying who he is becomes a complicated task, but rather because describing Imanol is another matter. You don’t describe Imanol with words, be they adjectives or nouns. You have to describe Imanol with emotions, with sensations, with feelings. Actually, Imanol is a man from San Sebastian who produces natural wines in France whose philosophy is based on letting the wines lead their lives. Before I met him, I had read that one of his white wines, Ixilune, had been released on the market in its last vintage as an ancestral wine. The reason for this is that Imanol does not do anything with his wines, but rather, as I have said, he lets them go their own way. Ixilune did not finish the fermentation that year, so far from starting the fermentation again, he decided to release it just as the wine had decided to be. Imanol’s philosophy is that and no other: let his wines move along the path they choose without him intervening in their development.

But Imanol is not just another natural winemaker. We have profusely talked about natural wines and about the different approaches to them, both here in writing and in person on countless occasions. Imanol Garay has nothing to do with all that, quite the opposite. To begin with, Imanol has the gift of expressing himself with words. This is a gift that he has highly developed and that consists above all in the fact that when he starts talking, be it about his wines, be it music or something else, he dazzles you from the first moment. Then he has another much more special gift: Imanol is one of those few producers who expresses himself through his wines. A painter can talk to you about colors and then show you a canvas in which those shades are reflected. A pianist tells you about codas and then captures them on a piano. Imanol speaks to you first of sensations, of emotions, of feelings, of his inner self. Then he gives you a taste of his wine. Then you realize that in the glass there are no primary or secondary aromas, malolactic, fruity, floral scents. In the glass there is passion, there is childhood, there is adolescence, there is maturity, you perceive the last rays of the sun at sunset, there is the freshness of the dawn mist, the caress of the wind through the trees, the clouds surrounding the top of a mountain, memories of your childhood when you went out to play in the fields and the aromas of summer intoxicated you. All this is in their wines, and to capture it Imanol guides you and helps you do it.

For meeting Imanol and his project we went to France, which is where he lives and makes his wines. To be more exact, in the Bearn region, very close to Orthez. There is a town there called Maslacq, a very small town but with its own roundabout and where you would never suspect that there is a winery. Not even standing in the car in front of it, which is as far as the GPS took us. Still, we had to confirm with him that we had arrived.

As I have mentioned, Imanol works in an artisanal and natural way. And he works in an exceptional way. You have to try their wines and let them take over you. Because that’s what they do. I really like their whites. I’ve already talked about Hegan Egin. His Ixilune is a wine that had been on my to-do list for a long time and I was finally able to taste it. It is a wine made with Raffiat de Moncade 50%, Petit Manseng 25% and Petit Courbu 25%, which is aged for about six months in barrels. All this depends on the year and the wine, of course. There are no written rules to do it. And the truth is that I was very excited to be able to taste it with him. It is a very personal wine, not in the sense that Imanol makes it according to his criteria, but rather it is a wine that must be tasted and known because it is not like another. We tasted a vintage in which the wine was still and we also tried the ancestral.

Before continuing, I have to repeat that Imanol wines are pure emotion. You may think that I let myself be influenced by him and by the visit and I am not going to deny that you may be right. It is that you see Imanol climbed to the second row of barrels to get some wine and sitting there he begins to talk to you about wine, like preaching to you from the top. While we taste it, he does not tell you about the percentage of each variety or how long it has been in the barrel. It explains the emotions that wine transmits. What do you want me to say? Their wines excite me. And him too, what the hell.

We tasted more things. Imanol has another white made only with Raffiat de Moncade that was wonderful. So you can see that I am not blinded, a bottled vintage was very closed, with aromas that I did not like, but the vintage that was in a barrel was pure magic. That was another story.

We also tasted his red wines. Imanol makes a wine with Garnacha de Aragón. Then you also have Cabernet Sauvignon and Trapat. Among its reds I am going to stick with Abiatu: Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat. Abiatu is a wine that captivated me from the first moment I picked up the glass. Do not ask me why. I do not know. I only know that while Imanol was talking about wine, I felt what the wine was transmitting to me: emotions. The wine embraced me. I still remember it now and I continue with that emotion I felt in the glass. An extrenmely appealing nose and so personal that I couldn’t stop smelling it and tasting it over and over again. I also liked his Tannat still in the barrel very much.

We had lunch in the cellar surrounded by the barrels and then Imanol began to play a piano that he had there. And time stood still. Also when it comes to playing the piano, Imanol is self-taught. And just like with wines, it makes you enjoy.

In the end I can not say what was the best of that special day. It can be the white wines, it can be the red wines. It can even be listening to him play Txori Txoria by Mikel Laboa. But I think that the best thing was everything, it was having the luck to share a day with Imanol Garay.

Alfredo Egia: “What matters to me is that my wines make you feel good for you, that they are in key with your body.”

We have recently talked about what Alfredo Egia does with txakoli in Bizkaia. Today we will talk to him to learn about his work.

Thank you very much, Alfredo, for collaborating with me. The first thing that caught my attention is that you work following the principles of biodynamics. In which ways does biodynamics influence your wines?

Biodynamics at no time I understand it as an end in itself. In my case, I use it more as a vehicle in my intricacy with the vineyard. I do not think that the mere application of biodynamic preparations or the absence of synthetic phytosanitary products will make a wine transcend. It is naturally necessary that all this is accompanied by an intention, will, sincere and coherent exercise of the winegrower in pursuit of a transformation that must take place, both in his vineyard and in himself. From there, the changes will be what they have to be, always consistent with the energy applied in the process, and very independent of the apparent economic result.

Isn’t it very difficult in the north to work in such an artisan way as you, following biodynamics and trying to make the wine as natural as possible?

It is true that we have a climate that does not accompany the low proliferation of mildew and botrytis, and that for the moment I understand very important a control in the vigor and productivity for an adequate response of the vineyard to the absence of systemic or penetrating phytosanitary products of synthesis. In any case, biodynamics or similar practices must be accompanied by an assumption of significant losses in production. We have been so educated towards a productivity agriculture that I have to admit that one never seems to be prepared to see mildew act every year.

What difficulties do you find for it?

Mainly the intensity of work. The grass grows continuously and must be mowed, almost every year you need to do treatments every 12-15 days against mildew, which even if they are very low doses require the same work as any other sulfated one. If you also add that the Hondarrabi Zerratia has an irregular sprouting that requires several passes to drive the vegetation, then you will not miss work.

What treatments do you usually do in the vineyard?

Only anti-mildew with copper in the form of hydroxide, sulfate, oxychloride and gluconate, sometimes supplemented with a little wettable sulfur in Petit Manseng. Hondarrabi Zerratia as a general rule I do not apply sulfur since oidium does not affect it much. The normal doses per year are 2-2.5 kg of copper metal per hectare. It involves giving in a constant way very low doses to guarantee its presence in the vineyard. I accompany them with dynamizations of horsetail tea and nettle, rice milk and lavender essential oil that you cannot see how it smells when you prepare the cistern.

You mostly work with Hondarrabi Zerratia and Petit Manseng. What do these grapes provide you?

They are incredible varieties that provide fresh vegetation characteristics, acidity, they have skeletons, some rusticity but are aromatically complete and show a vocation to be “tamed” in their preparation so that they show their most complete version and their storage capacity. Honestly, and although very interesting wines can also be made with other varieties, I don’t miss any more white varieties to show the potential of my terroir. I think that, just like on the other side of the Pyrenees (Baigorri, Bearn, Pacherenc du VicBilh) these two varieties complement each other. Hondarrabi Zerratia (Petit Courbu in French) brings roundness, sapidity and Petit Manseng (Izkiriota Txiki in Basque) fruit and floral aromas, apart from alcoholic strength and acidity.

Do you plan to work with Hondarrabi Beltza?

Not at this time, since it is not a red variety from the area where I work, the region of Las Encartaciones in Bizkaia. In this area, the Gascón and Seña varieties were more typical, unknown in the rest of the province where the Hondarrabi Beltza and similar varieties were more imposed. The inclusion of Cabernet Franc, a 50% genetic precursor of Hondarrabi Beltza, has recently been approved. I will possibly make a small high-density plantation next year of Cabernet Franc and more in the future, and once legal and bureaucratic aspects are solved, another one with Gascón and Seña.

You collaborate with Gile Iturri and Imanol Garay on the Bizkaibarne wines. What is the role of each of you?

The collaboration between all of us is based on a very common way of seeing where we want to go. Without a doubt, Imanol’s experience in minimal intervention wines has definitely guided us on this path. Let’s say that Imanol puts the “know-how”, Gile works as a winemaker and I as a viticulturist. But above all, the most exciting thing about all this is to see that three, instead of adding, multiply. We enrich each other with our energies, we share visions, emotionally we become accomplices and we feel that the wines accompany us on that path.

What are the characteristics of an Alfredo Egia wine?

Above all, what matters most to me is that it is a product that you feel is good for you, that is in tune with your body. Also, be a creator or contributor of good times. What I like the most to be told is that when they had my wine it was a great day. The aromatic aspects, body, acidity, etc. I leave them in the background, balance and the whole are more important. We are too inclined to dissect wines instead of drinking and feeling them.

You work with white grapes in the north. When will we see a white wine from Alfredo Egia macerated with the skins?

We have already done something… but to be part of the final blend. To do 100% skin contact I have to increase production somewhat. For this, the idea is to transform the rest of the vineyards that I have into biodynamics. And it is something that at a given moment I have to feel with a beautiful emotion, not only because these wines may be more or less fashionable. I am sure that when I taste more orange wines that make me feel something special, I consider it more seriously, something that can happen when one least expects it!

Thank you very much for your kindness, Alfredo!

Bojan Baša, the best orange wines from Serbia

I’ve been to Serbia twice. The first one was a dry occasion so I had to wait until the second one to have the chance of tasting a local wine varietal. I’m one of those guys who “When in Rome, do as Romans do”, and when in Belgrade, drink as Belgradians drink. I don’t know why, but when we went to a restaurant for dinner, they let me choose the wine. I was expecting a lot of foreign wines, as I didn’t know wine was made in Serbia, but there were a bunch of Serbian wines. I checked the grapes, and when I saw Prokupac, that’s the one I chose. It was a red one, by the way. I don’t remember which one was, though I might remember it was good enough to finish the bottle. That was six years ago (time do flies).

Since then, I have been hearing about a Serbian wine producer whose wines started to be appreciated in Spain, Oszkár Maurer. And as magic happens, I got to know another Serbian producer friends of Oszkár’s who happens to produce orange wines, and orange wines only. He is Bojan Baša.

Bojan runs a family estate/natural wine project (5.5Ha of vineyards) exactly on the right bank of Danube River on Fruška Gora Hill between Novi Sad and Belgrade, in the municipality of Sremski Karlovci.

Historically this is one of the oldest spots for the wine production in Europe drawing its roots back to the period B.C. and Roman Empire when the imperial decree of Emperor Marcus Aurelius Probus allowed for the first time vine planting outside of Apennine Peninsula. Marcus Aurelius Probus was born in year of 232 in Sirmium, currently known as a town of Sremska Mitrovica on Fruška Gora Hill. If we want to go even more back in the history, Fruška Gora was a volcanic island in Pannonian Sea some 10 million years ago which had a strong impact on its soil character and diversity.

Bojan works with autochthonous varieties like Tamjanika, Furmint, Morava and international Pinot Grigio. In following years he plans to plant a few more indigenous varieties, historically characteristic for this area like Grašac Beli, Sremska Zelenika, Lipolist, Medenac Beli, Bakator, the aforementioned Prokupac, Kadarka, but also varieties which have a proven presence on Fruška Gora for more than 300-400 years like Riesling and Gewürztraminer.

The project Bojan is running is still young, having in mind that his first vineyard was planted in 2010 with Pinot Grigio and then continued from 2014 on. Every year he has planted approximately 0.5Ha of new vineyard. All the vineyards are south and south/east exposition, 140-210 meters above the sea level, on the right bank of Danube River, a kind of Grand Cru position.

Currently Bojan is producing around 12,000 bottles but he wants to slowly build that number up to 17-18,000 bottles when the 2025 vintage will be on the market. The cultivation of the vineyards is organic and he follows biodynamic practices and preparations and do not use any pesticides, herbicides, insecticides or artificial fertilizers. In the cellar, he says, “we practice low intervention, working traditionally with no use of modern enological resources, respecting the natural processes and using only minimal amounts of sulfur just prior to bottling (if necessary).” The vintages 2016, 2017 and 2018 were bottled with no added sulfur. Alcoholic and malolactic fermentation are spontaneous, on natural yeasts and bacteria without temperature control. The wines are not filtered and for the fermentation and aging he uses 300- and 500-liter wooden barrels of oak, mulberry and acacia.

One of the things that I like about Bojan is that he loves orange wines and it is what he produces. He only does white wines macerated on the skins. Oh, and he always argues with me: “amber wines!” he says all the time.

His first vintage was 2013, and he was able to produce a very exciting and perfectly balanced mineral amber wine. It is a five-day macerated Pinot Grigio, fermented with natural yeasts, left on the lees for 2 years, no racking or manipulation in the meantime, low SO2 (<20mg/L) and then bottled without filtering and aged one more year before releasing. This wine is branded as Jantar MM13 (Jantar is old Slavic word for amber).

The next vintage was Jantar 2015, Pinot Grigio again with the same winemaking and with five days of skin contact. The outcome was a strong-bodied and expressive bone-dry amber wine. Jantar 2016 (eight days on the skins) was bottled in March/April 2019, after spending 30 months in used oak barrels. Jantar 2017 (50% five days on the skins and the remaining 50% seven days on the skins) was bottled in April 2020 and was released by the end of 2020. This will be his first commercial vintage available for export. It will be a rich macerated Pinot Grigio with the color more like Pinot Noir.

From 2018 Bojan has harvested for the first time Tamjanika (the local Muscat variety, close by ampelography to Muscat Frontignian and the Muscat variety from Samos Island in Greece). Wines were ageing in acacia barrels for 18 months and were bottled in June 2020 as limited edition of 905 bottles. Pinot Grigio Jantar 2018 will be bottled in spring of 2021 also in limited edition of 900 bottles of Pinot Grigio. Tamjanika 2018 has seven days of skin contact.

From 2019 in addition to Pinot Grigio and Tamjanika, he picked up Furmint for the first time (treated as a local variety on Fruška Gora, in regards to prove of his presence here from XVI-XVII centuries). Quantities from the 2019 vintage will rise up to around 6,000 bottles, and from 2020 to 12,000 bottles.

Bojan says that “I personally expect a lot from Furmint and having in mind that currently in total we have just 5-6 vineyards of Furmint in Fruška Gora (two of them are ours, and the rest is in hands of Oszkár Maurer and Ernö Sagmeister) we are working on revitalization and trying to bring back Furmint to one of his native habitats. Currently just the three of us in Serbia, are involved in this unofficial and personal project”.

As we can see, Bojan is not a newcomer in the wine world and much less in the world of natural and orange wines. His maceration times go from five to eleven days, no more, and he manages to get wines that are absolutely special. Opening his wines is an incredible experience. Taking for instance Jantar 2017, he says that it needs time to breath, so I opened it couple of hours before lunch. I gave it time, but I couldn’t resist taking a sip. It was like an atomic bomb, pure power. I had a hard tome waiting for it to get some fresh air. At lunch it had the same power, a bit tamed but still a potent wine, what someone could expect from a wine from Serbia. The best part of it came at mid afternoon, when the strength of the wine became a notch tamed and the tremendous character of the Pinot Grigio appeared.

I have to say the typical macerated Pinot Grigio from Collio or Goriška Brda is kind of an entry level wine, a wine to get you ready for tasting Malvasia, Chardonnay, Sauvignon or Ribolla Gialla/Rebula. On the contrary, Bojan’s Jantar is a wine not for the faint of heart. You have to have shaved your teeth in orange wines before tasting and enjoying it. Else it will be too much for you. But believe me, you will love it when you taste it. And you will want more and more and more of it.

Soon we will talk to Bojan Baša about his wines and his project.

Photos (c) by Bojan Baša

La Microbodega del Alumbro, luxury wine in Zamora

Sometimes first impressions are what matters. Luckily, other times it is not like that, because I would not be writing this article had it be the case. The first time I spoke with Juanjo Moreno was about an orange wine tasting I was organizing in Bilbao and I wanted to serve one of his wines, Berretes 2014. I got in touch with him and he very kindly sent me two bottles. The problem was that in the advertising of the tasting, Los Berretes was written, with the ‘Los’ article. Juanjo saw it and called me on the phone to get me on standing attention. On stormy nights I still wake up at midnight remembering that conversation.

Luckily, that event didn’t have anything to do with our future relationship. And his wine at the tasting was a huge success. A few months later he organized in Santander a paired dinner with his wines and there was greater enjoyment. I really enjoyed it. Both Juanjo and his partner in business and life Maribel Rodríguez told us all there is to know about their wines and their vision, the motivations behind each wine, etc. Ever since I’ve been a fan of them and their wines.

Juanjo and Maribel are the ones behind the Microbodega del Alumbro, a winery located in Villamor de los Escuderos, province of Zamora. His production is all natural wine, but completely natural, zero intervention. The closest their wines are to sulfites is when they share a shelf in a wine store that also carries technological wines.

In this village, which is one of those small villages with only a handful of inhabitants, they make a lot of wines, because if there is something they care about is trying new things. Making trials as well, because every year there are new things to try and change in the not so new stuff. The result of that search for improvement, for example, is Palote, a Palomino that macerates on the skins that Juanjo has been perfecting, both the plot from which he takes the grapes and the winemaking. After several vintages of tests and more tests, Juanjo is finally satisfied with the product. And me too, since I have tasted all its vintages and the last one I have tasted, 2019, is a cannon.

I am lucky Juanjo macerates all or almost all of his white wines on the skins, so trying anyone of them is a pleasure. Berretes is a blend of Godello, Verdeja, Albillo Real and Chasselas Doré. Albyreal is single varietal Albillo Real, and the aforementioned Palote are the embabujado wines, which is how in this area orange wines are known. And speaking of names, Alumbro is out of any DO system. As they cannot state the name of the variety on the label, in many cases they use names that remind you of it.

Another wine that I have very good memories of is Hello God, another Godello that has made me enjoy every time I have drunk it. And at that dinner we tried their Cabernet Sauvignon, which he has made on occasion and was more than great.

Let’s talk a little bit about the history of Maribel and Juanjo, the Microbodega del Alumbro. We won’t go back to their early childhood, but rather we will start on 2009, when they began making wine. Since then, they have always practiced organic farming following a philosophy of using the least possible amount of sulfites. By chance they went to a wine tasting in which natural wines were presented. This tasting and the first Raw Wine Fair in London they attended to in 2012 was when they realized that was what they were doing with no one saying anything to them. In 2013, they already made their first zero-sulfur wine, Berretes 2013. That was the wine that put them on the path they are walking today. They left behind the oenological products and changed their entire orientation.

Nowadays, Maribel and Juanjo, with the help of their sons Abel and Juan, have four hectares of vineyards spread over six plots in which they have planted vines of Tempranillo, Tinta del País and a little Cabernet among the reds. In the white grapes department, they have Godello, Albillo Real, Palomino, Macabeo, Chasselas Doré, Malvasía, Verdeja and Moscatel.

Juanjo likes the wines do their thing without him doing anything. So much of nothing he does that, as Juanjo says, some wines are technically defective and some do not know where they will go. What matters is that their wines are appreciated and by more and more people. That’s what matters in the end, right?

Soon we will talk to Juanjo Moreno about his style when making wine. Meanwhile, as he says, Salud y Buen Vino!!

Weingut Rebenhof, natural wines in Styria, Austria

It was not the first time I was drinking a wine of Hartmut Aubell, but I have to say I was really thrilled about it. I didn’t do it well anyway, later I found out. I should have decanted the bottle, but not in order to keep the sediment at the bottom, but rather to shake the wine and have the sediment well stirred. Then put the bottle upside down on top of another bottle with a wider mouth and let the juice freely flow. That was the real way of doing it. Now I know.

Maischevergoren 2017. It means Fermentation on the skins. Therefore we are talking about an orange wine. Hartmut reminds me of those card players in the Mississippi river wheelboats. They played with their cards close to their chests. Hartmut makes wonderful wines but he keeps the winemaking for himself. I think Maischevergoren is a Sauvignon Blanc from South Styria, Austria, where Weingut Rebenhof Hartmut Aubell is located. But it could be something different, completely different. It reminds me of those Styrian Sauvignons I have really enjoyed in the past, from Andreas Tscheppe, Roland Tauss, Ewald Tscheppe or Franz Strohmeier. And it is an orange wine, as its name estates, but other than that, I don’t know much about the wine. Well, that I love it, for sure.

When we opened the bottle, the room filled with the silky aromas of the wine. Honeyed aromas coming from the skin contact and soft white stone fruit. When tasting, we all fell in love with it. Elegant, smooth yet powerful, or better said, intense, like caressing a suede jacket. I don’t think the bottle lasted long. It was one of those experiences that before you open the bottle, it is “let’s see how this one is” and when you are drinking it, you go “Wow, how can this wine be so good?” I had previously tasted his Sauvignon 2016 (yes, this one was a Sauvignon, as shown on the label) and it was also incredible. But this Maischevergoren (I have learned to write the name well because I love the wine) was absolutely special. So special I think it is one of the best wines I’ve tasted in the last months.

There is a special wine Hartmut produced in 2013. Herrenberg 200 was made with Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Riesling. This is one of those wines you enjoy easily. A wine with no harshness, with captivating honeyed aromas coming from the maceration on the skins. Soft tannins, evolving acidity, a wine that makes you want to keep forever.

Let’s go back to its maker, Hartmut Aubell. I mentioned South Styria in Austria, a place that, along with Oslavia in the Italian Collio and Goriška Brda and Vipavska Dolina in Slovenia, has become my favorite spot in the world for wine and for skin macerated white wines.

So, about Hartmut. He is managing a family winery called Rebenhof since 2008. Before him, the vineyard was in his family, but nobody was making wine out of it, Hartmut is the first one producing not only grapes but also wine. It was his great-grandfather Ludwig Kempl, who was the Imperial Councilor back in 1924, the one who introduced his family in the business. Hartmut’s philosophy has always been working organically and naturally, not adding anything to the grapes in the fields or to the wines in the cellar. Since 2013 he follows biodynamical methods and since 2016 his winery is certified by Demeter.

One important thing about some of the Rebenhof’s vineyards is their soil. Here it is called Opok, a marly marine sediment formed by a very fine-grained calcareous material. We are not far from the Collio, where this style of soils is called Ponca in Italian, Flysch in Friulano and Opoka in Slovenian. It is in these kind of soils where the best wines in the area are born.

The grape varieties Hartmut works are Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Yellow Muscat, White Burgundy and Welsh Riesling. He produces an ample flight of wines with them, and most of those wines are orange wines. Then he produces his only red wine with Zweigelt. He uses stainless steel and oak for ageing, increasing lately the use of Austrian oak. He uses barrel sizes from 100 to 500 liters and he is producing a wine following the solera style of Spanish Sherry that nowadays has four to six different stages of ageing.

Hartmut is also one of the few winemakers in all Austria making a carbonic maceration white wine. This is a style amply used in Beaujolais and in Rioja with young red wines, but it is seldom used with white wines. Besides Hertmut, there is only another winery in Austria doing this. Hartmut produced Sputnik Interzellular 2015 and IZ Sauvignon 2014 following this method. In this link you can watch a YouTube video about the IZ Vintage 2013.

On a side note, Rebenhof also includes a Bed & Breakfast. And in a very special note, here is where Filipe Koletnik from Atimo is producing his MorMal, a wine that is made using Malvazija from Slovenia and Morillon from Styria. Another excellent wine.

We will talk soon to Hartmut Aubell to know about his love for orange wines and the rest of wonders he is producing.

Photos (c) by Tom Leitner

Vinos Malaparte, agricultor, artisan, artist wines

I remember the first time I met Rubén. We were in a bar in Alicante having some wines and a snack at a table the night before a wine fair we both were to attend. I remember looking at him as he spoke while waving his hands. A very interesting conversation, about wine of course, though I must say that at this point I do not remember pretty much the specific topic. I do remember that I enjoyed it a lot. Then we shared more wines at the fair and after it, several visits to his cellar followed. Each visit was, and still are, better than the previous ones, because confidence gives that, the ability to enjoy every time you find yourself with friends, even if it is in dire times as the ones we are living lately.

Rubén is Rubén Salamanca, the wine-producing half with Elisa de Frutos at Bodega Frutos Marín, or as they are better known, Vinos Malaparte, their commercial brand. Their life takes place in Cuéllar, a town in Segovia, Spain, where they manage several hectares of vineyards dedicated to TempranilloSyrah and Verdejo, to which they add grapes they buy far from there to make other wines and other projects, such as Uvas Nómadas, which in 2020 it’s living its eighth vintage.

Uvas Nómadas is a project that both decided to kickoff in 2013, through a crowdfounding and each vintage being a different wine from a Spanish wine region: Verdejo from ZamoraMencía from Bierzo, Garnacha from Cebreros in Ávila… Every year a different project that always has the maximum possible acceptance and rapidly becomes sold out.

Rubén works the way I like best, as it cannot be other way. Wines honest to their place of origin, honest grapes treated in the best way, with the least possible intervention, something that can be done in this part of Segovia where it rains rather little. And finally in the winery, where Rubén produces natural wines. Amazing wines, I should say. I have enjoyed many of their wines and several vintages as well. And I always really like them. Even that rare wine done under oxidative ageing that we drank while eating some croquetas in the plaza of the music band kiosk in Cuéllar. What a pleasure was that one!

I am sure that you as my faithful reader know who Rubén Salamanca is and have tasted their wines, maybe not all, but one or three, right? I remember the first one I tried was a Méprisé Blanco, and from there it has been a real non-stop: Méprisé Tinto, Pico Lunar, Dindi, which is the way he calls his pet nat, his Tempranillos and his orange wines, which he also makes. Once we shared a bottle of their red Malaparte with years (I don’t remember the vintage) paired with lamb. I keep dreaming about it on frugal dinner nights.

But though I like all of their wines, my heart keeps a small space for, as you can imagine, The New Wave Girl, their orange wine. 30 days on the skins, ageing in a clay amphora… what else can I ask about this wine? 1,000 bottles per vintage are to blame for not being able to enjoy this wine more, but if you have one or two bottles, you are a lucky person. Just drink it one sip at a time while savoring the contents of the glass.

Rubén is an artist. With him I have also learned to see the difference in a wine depending on the capacity of the barrel where it is aged. He has a red wine in two different barrels, 500 and 225 liters. Oh, my friend, I take home with me everything in the 500 one.

Recently, Elisa and Rubén have been accepted as members of the Italian association Triple A, which means Agricultor, Artisan, Artist. It is an association formed by natural  wine producers coming from many european countries. it is a big accomplishment as in Spain there are only a handful of member wineries.

And there is much more, because Rubén keeps innovating each vintage. He does not stay still and that is the key to growth: that each passing year different things are done in different ways to continue learning.

Soon we will talk with Rubén Salamanca about his tastes and his wines.

Atimo, the traveling wine of Filipe Koletnik

I love Filipe. I got to meet him through common natural winelover friends and we hit it off from the beginning. Then we exchanged some wines, because Filipe is making wine. I remember he told me: `Before opening the bottle, put it upside down.’ It was a bit weird for me, so I thought he wanted me to keep the bottle standing up for the lees to go to the bottom of the bottle. Yeah, right! In any case, I was traveling for an hour to my friends’ place, so the bottle arrived just the way Filipe wanted it. Not only stirred but also shaken! We all loved the wine. It was his Malvazija Istarska 2017.

The next time I was gonna open one of his wines with another friend, I reached for the bottle that was standing up in my cellar in its case, and looking through it I saw it was completely clean: I got really worried. What was wrong with the wine?? Then I looked at the bottom of it and I saw the lees slowly waking up from its lethargy. Yep, you got it! I heavily shook the bottle!!! I didn’t want to miss the joy!!!

Atimo is the brand Filipe Koletnik uses for his wines. He only produces wonderful orange wines and he loves to work on the wild side of wine. His wines are not filtered and Filipe loves to leave the lees inside the bottle for helping the wine develop more flavors and aromas and also to help it age longer. I have tasted and enjoyed so much the 2016 and 2017 vintages of his Malvazija.

Filipe works something different to other winemakers. He wants to produce orange wines and he wants the must of the grapes to be in contact with the skins for long periods. So what he has done since he started making wine eleven years ago is working with grape varieties whose skin is think enough for enduring long macerations. Because Filipe doesn’t do one or two weeks, Filipe doesn’t do two or three months. Filipe goes the distance of nine months for two of his wines, and twelve months for another of his wines. Hence, the varieties that he managed to identify as best suitable to go this length of time on the skins are Ribolla Gialla/Rebula, Malvazija Istarska and Riesling.

Once he settled on the grapes, he searched for the best places to work with them. Instead of building a cellar, Filipe went more practical and decided to make his wines at some friends’ cellars. For the Malvazija he works in Croatian Istria, where the vineyards, as in any other place he runs, are managed the way he wants. No chemicals and sometimes following biodynamical methods. In Istria he works in Bruno Trapan’s winery, Trapan Wine Station, where the conditions for his passion are optimal.

In Goriška Brda, Slovenia, Filipe works his Rebula in Jure Štekar’s winery Vina Štekar. Here the Rebula is the Queen. There is no other variety in this part of Slovenia and the neighbor Italian Collio that adapts better to making excellent orange wines. When you taste the most known and recognized wines of the area, Atimo Rebula is right there. Finally, for working with the Riesling, Filipe goes to South Styria in Austria, where Hartmut Aubell’s winery, Weingut Rebenhof Hartmut Aubell, is located.

As I mentioned, Filipe wants the must to macerate on the skins for at least nine months. This is the case of the Rebula and the Malvazija, but with the Riesling he goes a step beyond, adding three more months of maceration. Quite a stretch of time. By the way, the maceration takes place in 550-liter oak barrels. Then he adds another 12 months of ageing.

Filipe has also produced a wonderful Chardonnay back in 2016 with grapes coming from a biodynamical vineyard in Slovenia. One-time wonder wine, and already having had the pleasure of enjoying it, I can say it is an incredible wine. Unluckily, no more Chardonnay from here, as the vineyard saw its termination.

Filipe works naturally, of course, no added substances to the wines, no stabilization nor clarification. He likes to work in the vineyards both organically and biodynamically. When it comes to bottling, it can’t be any simpler. Just connecting the pipes to the barrels and let the wine free fall into the bottles.

I have already tasted some vintages of the Malvazija and the Chardonnay. Not yet the MorMal nor the Pet Nat he is producing as well, but I have already secured some bottles. The wines, and you being my faithful reader can imagine, I just love them. They are just pure grape juice. Macerated and fermented of course, but it is difficult to work more honest and truer to the grapes than what Filipe does. The tanicity is really well tamed (don’t forget about the nine or twelve months of maceration), and the oak ageing makes the wines silky and soft, no ruggedness around the edges but perfectly elegant. The acidity makes you salivate waiting for your next glass. The experience of enjoying Filipe’s wines is amazing. You can’t stop looking at the glass and the bottle.

I always joke with Filipe that Jean Michel Morel from Kabaj is my God when it comes to winemaking and especially orange wines. I tell Filipe he is becoming his prophet for me. The style of Filipe, his wines, are something special.

We will talk to Filipe Koletnik soon about his winemaking style.

(C) Atimo by Filipe Koletnik

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