Franz Weninger (Jr.) is incredibly dedicated to the land he farms. His father understood the importance of organic farming and revitalizing local grape varieties, but Franz has taken it to the next level by converting the entire estate to biodynamics and replanting many sites to the appropriate traditional grape varieties: Blaufrankisch and Furmint. Despite his conviction, he refuses to pull out his father’s old-vine Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah – as long as Franz Sr. is alive, the vines will remain.
Their location at the southern end of the Neusiedlersee in Burgenland permitted them to purchase land across the border in Hungary. The Sopron region was once part of Burgenland and contains some of their favorite sites. Franz took over this part of the estate early in his career after graduating from Klosterneuburg and travelling the world on internships. In 2011, he took over production on the Austrian side of the boarder as well and has really fine-tuned the winemaking.
We met Franz and his wife Petra (and their crazy dog who got lost somewhere along the way and didn’t return until the evening) at their home/winery and toured around their vineyards. We saw historic sites that were previously too expensive and challenging to farm, freshly replanted with baby vines. We chatted about the benefits of the local cover-crops and how they functioned both as nitrogen fixers, as well as habitat for benevolent insects. We talked about the range of Blaufrankisch clones they have on their property. We toured his spotless cellar and asked about his crazy amphora projects and his technique of tilting the barrels during élevage (apparently, having the bunghole submerged prevents oxygen exchange and limits the need to top up!).
We finished the visit by tasting an old vintage of Blaufrankisch his father had made – Mark and I were stunned, jaws were visibly agape. This grapes ability to translate terroir is criminally underreported. The most minute shift in soil seems to translate with brilliant definition – this explains the fact that Franz makes nearly a dozen expressions of this grape.
2016 GNEISZ ÉS CSILLÁM
About: Franz wanted to make a cuvée that shows the unique soil types of Sópron: Gneiss and Mica Schist. He took biodynamically grown Syrah, Zweigelt, Kekfrankos, and Merlot and blended them together to accurately capture this terroir. The grapes are destemmed and fermented in stainless steel. Élevage was carried out in large oak foudres for over a year before racking and bottling. The final wine has 51ppm of Sulphur. 13.3% ABV
2016 VOM KALK
About: This year, Franz has done away with his entry level Austrian cuvée and replaced it with a series of soil specific bottlings. This particular rendition features Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sankt Laurent planted on chalk around the southern end of the Neusiedlersee. The grapes were destemmed and fermented in cement tanks. After 17 days, the wine was pressed off into a combination of neutral puncheons and concrete. 13.5% ABV
2017 BALF KEKFRANKOS
About: This wine was created to show off the true nature of Kekfrankos from Hungary. Planted on well drained Gneiss and Mica Schists, these vines are seventeen to forty-five years old. The grapes are fermented in stainless steel vats on the skins for three weeks before being pressed off into neutral puncheons. Each barrel is treated to a different Sulphur regime depending on the wines needs. After a year or so of élevage, the wine is bottled without fining. 13% ABV
2017 ROTBURGER IM FLUSS
About: The Zweigelt for this cuvée comes from the Gfanger Vineyard outside Horitschoner. Soils here are mostly sandy loam (several meters deep) and the vines are 20-25 years old. This year Franz changed things up. Realizing this vineyard is probably not going to give him the complexity he wants, he opted to go full carbonic maceration in stainless steel. No oak, very little oxygen, full stems; definitely a nod to glou glou wine. 12% ABV
2016 KIRCHHOLZ BLAUFRANKISCH
About: This single vineyard Blaufrankisch comes from one of Franz’s most prized sites. A half meter thick layer of well-draining sandy gravel separates the vines from the loam and clay subsoil. This combination provides the perfect hydrology for supreme quality grapes and as such, Franz has vinified and bottled this wine separately since 2003. The vines are between 45 and 80 years old. The grapes are fermented in foudre for two weeks before being pressed off into neutral puncheons for twenty-two months. The wine is bottled with somewhere around 20ppm of Sulphur. 13% ABV
2015 KALKOFEN BLAUFRANKISCH
About: This incredibly unique site represents the western most point in central-Burgenland. At 350m above sea level, it is their coldest parcel. Kalkofen was once used to produce quick lime thanks to its calcareous Eurendsina soils. Because of the sites ability to retain acidity, and its relatively cool mesoclimate, the grapes can be harvested quite late. They were de-stemmed into open top wooden vat and fermented on skins for two weeks. The wine was then pressed off into puncheon for nearly two years. Only 215 cases produced from arguably the best vineyard in Burgenland. 14.3% ABV
Twenty years ago, Franz planted what he thought was Pinot Noir in the Frettner Vineyard in Sópron; turns out, the vine-nursery mislabeled the vines and now we have a premium site planted to Pinot Blanc. The slate soils and relatively low yields result in concentrated grapes with good extract. The wine is wild fermented in neutral puncheons and rests on fine lees for a year before bottling with 56ppm of Sulphur.