Many family reunions are fraught with tension, petty jealousies and conflict under the surface. This particular family reunion was the happiest I have ever attended.
Gut Oggau is probably known to many who will read this article, but for those who do not yet know this Austrian producer, they deserve a very brief introduction. Based at Oggau, on the western shore of the Neusiedlersee in Burgenland, they use minimum intervention and biodynamic practices with the aim of expressing their different terroirs through all of their wines.
Eduard and Stephanie Tscheppe-Eselböck have come up with a unique concept for expressing their different bottlings – a family. There are (usually) ten wines in the family, split into three generations (three children, five “parents” and two grandparents), each with a unique label depicting a head shot of the family member.
The Tasting, on Monday this week, took place at the Bermondsey premises of Gut Oggau’s UK importer, Dynamic Vines. There was an opportunity to taste a previous vintage of almost every family member, after which Eduard and Stephanie gave a tutored tasting and talk on the unique 2016 vintage. Why family reunion? Because, as with so many Northern European wine regions in recent years, 2016 in Burgenland was dogged with frost and hail. Gut Oggau lost half of their crop. The result was that they decided to blend their family into just three wines: one red, one white and one rosé.
I’ll talk about the remarkable wines Gut Oggau made in 2016 in a moment, but first an introduction to the family, via those older vintages.
The entry level at Gut Oggau is, in my opinion, no less worthy of purchase than the more expensive wines. Take Theodora, for example. She’s a young white with a bit of attitude, no better expressed than in 2015. Eduard and Stephanie decided she was ready for bottling before all the sugar was fermented out, so they put the wine into a heavy bottle under crown cap. The 2015 Theodora isn’t fizzy, but it does have the prickle of dissolved CO2. A blend of Grüner Veltliner and Welschriesling, it retains the characteristic freshness this wine shows in all vintages. I can’t recommend it more highly.
Atanasius (2015) is the red from the younger generation, and the 2015 is vibrant in colour and fruit. The fruit, Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt, is really good here. The wine demands glugging. Sadly, Winifred, the rosé, wasn’t present, although this is one of the most beguiling wines of the Gut Oggau stable.
Four of the parents’ generation were present. The two whites are Emmeram (2015) and Timotheus (2015). Emmeram is a Gewurztraminer like no other. At 13.5% alcohol you might think “here we go”, but there’s acidity and that hallmark Gut Oggau freshness, a lemon note from the limestone terroir (who can recall that appropriately named Alsace lieu-dit which combines limestone and lemons?), and great length. It was actually my first time tasting Emmeram and I bought a bottle. I shall open it for friends who might not like Gewurztraminer. Timotheus has a bit more weight and complexity than Theodora, without the youthful zip. As his bio says, “refined but with substance”.
The two parental reds are Josephine (2013) and Joschuari (2014). Josephine is always one of my favourites. It comes from lower, south facing, slopes, which were some of the worst hit in 2016, although they are the sunniest vineyards Gut Oggau farms. Expect sweet fruit but a little bite and backbone, and a touch of tannin. Josh has a real luminescent quality with sweet cherry fruit. It is 100% Blaufränkisch from higher (c.300m) slopes on limestone, and also slate, which you can detect in the added mineral bite on the finish, I think.
The grandparents are Mechthild (white, 2015) and Bertholdi (red, 2015). These are the top of the range, and pretty expensive compared to the younger generation. Mechthild has some skin contact, and texture which adds complexity, but there’s still a nice round mouthfeel. There’s wax, honey, flowers and a citrus note in a complex wine, and you get a lovely slightly sour or bitter note on the finish which adds a savoury quality. Bertholdi is structured, with tannins, yet the fruit is so bright you would happily drink this now, especially at a restrained 12.5% abv. They are both made using a very old beam press, and to me they appear the most classical of the Gut Oggau family.
What of drinking dates for these wines? Both Eduard and Stephanie say they make the wines to be drunk on release, and the freshness and vibrancy they possess all through the range bears this out as sensible advice. But they will age. I have a couple from 2011 and 2012 which I must drink soon, but I have no worries. Like all your own family members you feel empathy towards, when they come to stay you do not always want them to leave.
Before moving to 2016 I’ll mention one other wine. Gut Oggau contributes a cuvée, made from just one barrel, to the Bar Brutal series (commissioned by Bar Brutal, Barcelona’s legendary natural wine bar and produced by a number of natural wine estates across Europe). Gut Oggau’s Brutal (I purchased the “just in stock” 2016) is made from an unusual variety called Rösler. It was created in 1970 by Dr Gertraud Meyer, and named after Leonard Rösler, head of Austria’s oldest viticultural college, by crossing Zweigelt, Seyve-Villard 18-402 and Blaufränkisch. It is unusual it that it has pink flesh (a teinturier variety). It has high extract, high resistance against fungal disease and is also frost resistant (said to be able to withstand temperatures down to -25 degrees celsius). When you open it, expect a brutal response to match the label.
As I said earlier, 2016 posed very big problems in this part of Burgenland. An early vegetal cycle was struck by heavy frosts in spring, and summer hail. Thankfully, Eduard and Stephanie described autumn as “peaceful, forgiving and warm”. Nevertheless, 2016 delivered a much smaller quantity of fruit, down 50% on a normal harvest, yielding around 13,000 bottles in total.
So the decision was taken to blend, for the first time, just three wines, one of each colour. This was a decision particular to the vintage, and, as Eduard said, would not necessarily happen again in similar circumstances. I think the three wines are quite remarkable, and take Gut Oggau to a different place. It’s neither a better place, nor a worse one, but these wines do have a special quality about them.
Family Reunion White 2016 had just a couple of hours on skins before direct pressing. There is a little structure, and for me a little note of skin contact on the nose, but not too much extraction. Mainly you are getting fruit freshness. There’s also a bit of minerality. Limestone soil predominates this cuvée as the gravel soils on the flatter land were more frost struck, so suffered greater losses. There’s that lemony note again to give the taster a clue. The composition is Theodora, Timotheus, Emmeram and Mechthild.
Family Reunion Rosé 2016 has a remarkable colour, and is probably more of a light red. It’s the Rösler grape which is responsible. Josephine‘s vineyard was the hardest hit by hail in 2016, hence the decision to blend her remaining fruit in with Winifred. Very strict selection, and direct pressed grapes have made a special wine. There’s a bit more structure, from the Josephine limestone, which I think adds to the real thirst quenching quality of this wine. It truly explodes in the mouth.
Family Reunion Red 2016 blends Atanasius, Joschuari and Bertholdi. This is made almost in the same way as the white (a technique they are generally moving towards anyway): a little skin contact but mostly direct pressing, of Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt. There’s a smokiness on the nose, but no less fruitiness to match. Freshness shines through – imagine an English summer pudding with the fruit at its very best.
This is the bit where, to some, I shall go over to the dark side. What I find in these wines is an energy and vibrancy which, in my experience, is the hallmark of careful, studied, but also intuitive biodynamic application in the vineyards, matched beside virtually no intervention in the cellar. The wines make themselves, more or less, and that is the intention. The wines all share another quality – focus. You taste each family member and you recognise them in any vintage. This is the terroir speaking. But in these blends you also see their individual contributions. That’s what makes them so fascinating in 2016, and I found the wines quite inspirational. They confirm Eduard and Stephanie as two of my most revered winemakers.
For 2017, the wines will return to the usual family format. It was a very early harvest, and indeed is already gathered in at Gut Oggau. I look forward to tasting those, and I very much hope to do so in Oggau. If you are interested in a holiday or wine trip around the Neusiedlersee, read my article here.
Eduard and Stephanie in full flow at Dynamic Vines, under the railway in Bermondsey