Thursday, June 4, 2020

Biodynamic Winemaking with Austria’s Fred Loimer. Kerosene aromas, fertility symbol, compost tea. And more.

Biodynamic Winemaking with Austria’s Fred Loimer
Kerosene aromas, fertility symbol, compost tea. And more.
Fred Loimer

“Cow manure is the best you can find for composting.”  

Cows and their role in composting have been getting the thumbs-up recently from winemakers across the globe.  Endorsements by Aurelio Montez (Chile) and Giovanni Manetti (Chianti Classico) were followed up this Thursday as you can see by our opening line from Fred Loimer (Austria).

The Loimer winery is based in the Kamptal region of Austria and it is biodynamic and that was what Liberty Wines asked Fred to talk about in the latest of the series of online masterclasses by Liberty suppliers. 

Fred: “Kamptal soil is mainly sandstone. Area is steep and here we grow mainly Riesling.” South of Vienna they own a vineyard in the Gumpoldskirchen, an area with a historic reputation for high quality wines. Limestone features here in an area “very different to Kamptal.” In the south, they grow Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and indigenous varieties Zierfandler and Rotgipfler.

One of Fred's opening slides was of Van Gogh’s The Sower at Sunset, to emphasise the Loimer connection with biodynamic farming, a connection that began in 2005. They and other farmers didn’t know too much about it so they formed a learning group and met monthly in the early years before forming a Respekt Group. Having the “Respekt-BIODYN” mark on their labels now endorses the wines as biodynamic (and at a higher standard than the EU regulations).

“The main biodynamic principle for me is ‘farm individuality’, how farming was over 1000s of years. Use resources you find in your place, not to buy everything, but to find on the farm what you need to produce. For instance, we make our own compost and we buy very little. Second, you cannot separate plants and animals, nature works in a holistic way, together they have composted over the years to create the soil we have today.”

Biodiversity is another essential plank. “Monoculture is a big problem today. It is necessary to create as much biodiversity as possible. Not one hundred per cent vineyard but always bushes, trees and grassland over the whole area.”

“Herbicide is a disaster. There is life in our soil. Always something going on, even in a small square, something like 60,000 lives in there, all doing something. We cover our soils, green cover, blooming cover. Our own compost is getting better and we spread it in the autumn and we also make compost tea out of it for spraying. Stinging nettles (they’re everywhere) and other herbs are also used for spraying teas.”

“Cow horns, many people don’t believe. You can’t really measure the impact of these preparations but you can see the difference. There is for sure an impact and cow manure is the best you can find for composting.”
Horn of Plenty

And Fred warned, with a picture of the cockerel, that you must be on alert in the vineyard, know when the rain is coming, the frost and so on. “You have to react quickly to changing conditions.”

In the vineyard work, they use their hands, a lot. Pruning, for instance, is by hand and it is “soft” pruning, meaning that the wound is kept small. Big wounds can lead to big damage. Canopy management too is key as it can have a big impact on the health of the grapes at the end.

And the harvest is also by hand, again for healthy fruit, then careful all the way in small baskets to the press-house. Good fruit allows them to be more flexible in the press-house where low-impact machines are used.

Downstairs the Loimers have an amazing 19th century cave, “a very good atmosphere for wine.” Fred uses stainless steel and values it but when more age and complexity is required, oak is hard to beat. He also said that clay (buried in the ground) is used. “We have just two, don’t think we’ll get more but it is very interesting.”

He took us through the “hierarchy”. In Kamptal: regional, village and crus and also mentioned their “different and interesting Achtung series”. “We also do sparkling (Sekt). Kamptal is the best place in Austria to do it!" They are fresh with a lowish ABV. And he tipped us off to be on the lookout for their 2014 Blanc de Blancs, due to be released in about 6 months.
Soft pruning

Some interesting queries in the Q&A towards the end.

Q: Is there much checking on the Bio regulations?
A: Yes there is a company doing annual checks by appointment and they can also occasionally drop in without an appointment. Everything you do requires paperwork. They ask for it and then go out and check to confirm. Sometimes, they take away samples for testing in case you’re using chemicals. “Yes, it is quite strict.”
Compost "cooking"

Q: Where does the kerosene aroma of Riesling come from?
A: “It is in the grape’s genetics, some years more, some less. When the petrol aromas are not too much, it is fine but, when dominating it can get too much. The balanced growth that biodynamics seeks may help. Ultra Violet light may be a factor so canopy management, where the fruit is left in half-shadow, helps get fresher aromas and not so much petrol.”

Q: Is that label a fertility symbol? 
A: Fred smiled as did most of us who know the well-endowed male figure (right) on the label - he’d probably pair well with our Síle na Gig. He told us how the label came about and that it was indeed a fertility symbol originating in Indonesia about two thousand years go, “a strong symbol you recognise and remember”.

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