VINE EX­PEC­TA­TIONS

Jo­hannes Gebeshu­ber from Weingut Gebeshu­ber

Epicure - - CONTENTS -

For bio­dy­namic wines, we have Aus­trian meta­phys­i­cal the­o­rist Ru­dolf Steiner to thank, who de­vised the Deme­ter bio­dy­namic con­cept ac­cord­ing to his doc­trine of ‘an­thro­pos­o­phy’ in the 1920s. The holis­tic con­cept of bio­dy­namic farming fo­cuses on the farm and soils as liv­ing, self-sus­tain­ing or­gan­isms to be cul­ti­vated nat­u­rally without any need for syn­thetic in­ter­ven­tion.

On my sem­i­nal visit to Vi­enna for the 20th an­niver­sary of wine fair Viev­inum in 2018, I found that Aus­trian wine­mak­ers young and old were res­onat­ing with the cen­tury-old writ­ings of Steiner with good rea­son – they are truly at­tached to their pris­tine lands and the tra­di­tional, closed loop method of farming which con­tin­ues to make so much sense to­day.

One of these meet­ings hap­pened al­most by chance while I was on an ex­cur­sion to the vil­lage of Gumpold­skirchen for a ver­ti­cal tast­ing of Zier­flan­der, an au­tochthonous grape that once brought fame to the re­gion but was now re­duced to just 77 hectares un­der vine in all of Aus­tria. The trip from Vi­enna to the Ther­men­re­gion led me to the qui­etly charis­matic founder and wine­maker Jo­hannes Gebeshu­ber.

Dis­ci­plined dis­ci­ple

A few months after, I meet Jo­hannes in Sin­ga­pore, where he’s sup­port­ing the an­nual Aus­trian Wine Fes­ti­val or­gan­ised by Leopold’s bar and vinothek. Cel­e­brat­ing his 50th birth­day, Jo­hannes eas­ily looks 10 years younger, thanks to his ath­letic back­ground and veg­e­tar­ian diet for the past 30 years. A per­sis­tent stom­ach prob­lem at 20 led him to quit eat­ing meat and stop smok­ing, while he turned his in­ter­est to Chi­nese phi­los­o­phy and other teach­ings.

Jo­hannes spent the first part of his ca­reer in mar­ket­ing, which opened his eyes to Bur­gun­dian wines. A few “tri­als and er­rors” as well as cour­ses in wine­mak­ing later, Weingut Gebeshu­ber was born in 1998. Ini­tially, he adopted a ‘cau­tious’ ap­proach, ob­serv­ing and ex­per­i­ment­ing with or­ganic meth­ods that be­came for­malised in 2006, and then fully bio­dy­namic cer­ti­fied in 2017. There are about 60 bio­dy­namic wine es­tates prac­tic­ing Deme­ter in Aus­tria, join­ing 221 mem­ber pro­duc­ers that also in­clude bee­keep­ers, brew­ers, fish­eries and gar­den­ers.

“I be­lieve there’s a cer­tain pos­i­tive en­ergy trans­ferred from hu­man to plant and back,” Jo­hannes elab­o­rates, not­ing that the ef­fects are vis­i­ble in the abun­dance of in­sects, hares and fal­cons that are at­tracted to his vine­yards. What con­vinced him to farm bio­dy­nam­i­cally is the closed cy­cle of land cul­ti­va­tion that re­sem­bles the nat­u­ral cir­cu­la­tory sys­tem, rather than the more ethe­real ‘vi­bra­tions’ or new age prac­tices as­so­ci­ated with it. He does con­cede, how­ever, that there are cer­tain rhythms to wine where it can taste full-bod­ied one day and leaner the next, that are per­haps at­trib­ut­able to nat­u­ral phases. In bio­dy­namic prac­tices, moon cy­cles are thought to be in­flu­en­tial; for in­stance the pe­riod be­fore a full moon in­creases the mois­ture in soil, mak­ing it ideal for plant­ing seeds.

“Vine­yards don’t have to look like clean al­leys,” he shares. “They should look nat­u­ral, with grasses that go their own way. Or­ganic berries are smaller and the skin is thicker, which help to re­duce mold in­fec­tion. Fur­ther­more, the aroma is in the skin of the grape, so we pre­serve those in our wines by not us­ing fil­tra­tion. We also stopped ir­ri­gation, which then pres­sures the plant to go deeper into the soil to get wa­ter.”

The path less trod­den

Jo­hannes first pro­duced all the ex­pected grape va­ri­eties from his win­ery, a to­tal of 25 that in­cluded Aus­trian sta­ples Gruner Velt­liner and Zweigelt. How­ever, it was just too much to han­dle, and in 2004, he made the bold and less com­mer­cially driven de­ci­sion to fo­cus pre­cisely on white Zier­fan­dler and Rot­gipfer, and red Sankt Lau­rent and Pinot Noir.

In 2010, he took the fur­ther step to adopt a mono­va­ri­etal sin­gle-vine­yard con­cept of Zier­fan­dler, Rot­gipfer, Sankt Lau­rent and Pinot Noir, mak­ing them 80 per­cent of all his vine­yard hold­ings, while the re­main­der com­prises Gemis­chter Satz, the tra­di­tional Aus­trian field blend. While still deal­ing with just four grapes, this means hav­ing to track and man­age 42 dis­tinct parcels spread out over 25 hectares, some on highly prized fos­sil lime­stone soils that con­trib­ute to the grapes’ renowned min­er­al­ity. The old­est vines are 80, while the youngest are at least 18 years old. In­ci­den­tally, his two sons have grown to­gether with the win­ery, be­ing 20 and 18 re­spec­tively.

How­ever, by far the hard­est de­ci­sion that kept him up at nights was whether to switch to screw cap clo­sure in 2004. He didn’t dare ini­tially to go all the way, so he split his pro­duc­tion 50-50 be­tween cork and screw cap. Lo­cal cus­tomers loved it and he be­came the sec­ond pro­ducer in Aus­tria in 2005 to con­vert fully to screw cap. The de­ci­sion how­ever caused con­ster­na­tion on the ex­port mar­ket – which didn’t em­brace the idea un­til a good six years later when it had then be­come an in­dus­try norm in Aus­tria.

From past to fu­ture

The tast­ing of Zier­fan­dler that spanned nine vin­tages be­tween 1948 and 1988 was made pos­si­ble be­cause of Jo­hannes’ lease and sub­se­quent pur­chase of the his­tor­i­cal house and cel­lars of the co­op­er­a­tive win­ery of Gumpold­skirchen. While the co­op­er­a­tive has moved out, their archival store of liq­uid gold from 1945 con­tin­ues to re­side in the cel­lar along­side the Gebeshu­ber pro­duc­tion fa­cil­i­ties, and which was gen­er­ously poured for us. We learnt that the style of wine after World War II was in the Auslese, or sweeter, style – Jo­hannes at­tributes it to the peo­ple’s taste for some­thing deca­dent after the pri­va­tions of wartime.

What was sur­pris­ing was the style of Gebeshu­ber wines shown from 2004 to the present day. It was im­por­tant to Jo­hannes to re­store Zier­fan­dler and Rot­gipfer, the two en­demic grapes of the Ther­men­re­gion, to som­me­liers’ menus in the coun­try. He laments, “Look­ing at wine lists, I saw all the other wine­grow­ing re­gions there – al­most ex­clu­sively, Wachau, Bur­gen­land and Süd­steier­mark. You could only find Zier­fan­dler and Rot­gipfer at the heuri­gen (wine tav­erns) back then.” The two grapes were of­ten blended to­gether, known as Gumpold­skirch­ner, and their pop­u­lar­ity dates back to the Hab­s­burg dy­nasty. The for­mer is high in acid­ity and rich in ex­tract, while the lat­ter is juicier and fruitier with gen­tler acid­ity, and need the right han­dling in or­der to bring out their full po­ten­tial and age­abil­ity. He strives for pu­rity and pre­ci­sion, tam­ing tan­nins and not fer­ment­ing on skins, to achieve this style.

Hav­ing in­vested heav­ily into Gebeshu­ber over the past 20 years, whether through ex­pan­sion or buy­ing the pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity, Jo­hannes is con­sis­tently tweak­ing and crit­i­cally de­vel­op­ing the re­sources and grapes un­der his care. His goal is as much per­sonal as it is a pro­fes­sional mis­sion for the re­gion. A sparkling Zier­fan­dler Sekt is next, as are a few other vil­lage bot­tlings. Be­fore we part, I ask him how he de­rives his de­ci­sions – whether from the an­a­lyt­i­cal or emo­tional side of his brain. His an­swer is swift and clear: “100 per­cent emo­tional.”

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