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.
2015 GNEISZ ÉS CSILLÁM
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. 13.32% ABV
(1420 Cases Produced) 801403
2015 VOM KALK
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.
(750 Cases Produced) 801401
2016 BALF KEKFRANKOS
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.
(1670 Cases Produced) 795694
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. The grapes are fermented in stainless steel vats where they spend ten days on the skins before being pressed off into large oak. The wine is bottled with 32ppm of Sulphur.
(835 Cases Produced) 795699
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.
(275 Cases Produced) 795700
2016 STEINER KEKFRANKOS
The Steiner site is the king of Hungarian Vineyards. It overlooks the lake, is planted on pure Gneiss and Mica Schist, and contains forty-eight-year-old vines. It’s no wonder the Church once held onto this vineyard will all their might. It is farmed at a ludicrously low 21/hl per hectare. The grapes are destemmed and fermented on the skins for three weeks before being pressed off into neutral barrels. Each barrel is monitored independently for Sulphur levels, only receiving an addition if necessary. The wine is bottle without any fining nor filtration.
(230 Cases Produced) 795701
This wine is a one-off experiment Franz decided to conduct. He decided to co-ferment the juice from a field-blend of Welschriesling, Gruner Veltliner, and Sauvignon Blanc in a locally made amphora (known as a Plutzer). The wine was left on lees for a year and a half before being racked to bottle. It spent an additional two years aging before release.
(65 Cases Produced) 807709
2016 HOCHACKER BLAUFRANKISCH
This cuvée comes from the oldest vines around Franz’s home village, Horitschon. The soils here are chalybeate clay right to the surface, with a high concentration of iron. The grapes are destemmed into large open-top foudres for fermentation. After three weeks on the skins, the wine is pressed off into neutral large format barrels for a sixteen-month élevage. The wine is bottled unfined, unfiltered, and with 12ppm of Sulphur.
2017 RÓZSA PETSOVITS
Franz’s sprightly grandmother is always the inspiration for this cuvée. When she was born in 1921, their hometown of Horitschon was part of Hungary; but by the end of the year, the town was part of Austria thanks to the volatile politics of the region. To celebrate her duality, Franz blended Sankt Laurent and Pinot Noir grown on limestone in Austria, with Syrah grown on Gneiss in Hungary. The vineyards are only a twenty minute drive from one another, but the terroirs are quite different. The grapes are whole cluster pressed into neutral puncheon where the juice ferments and ages for eight months on lees. It is bottled with minimal sulphur under crown cap.
(420 Cases Produced) 801402
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.
(400 Cases Produced) 801400
This particular late release was made by Franz’s father. The cuvée is made up of Blaufrankisch (50%), Zweigelt (25%), Merlot (20%), and Cabernet Sauvignon (5%). Like many producers in the area at the time, Franz’s father was keen to prove he could make international style blends like the best of them. The vines were 15-35 years-old at this point, are were well-rooted into hard clay. The grapes were destemmed and fermented in open-top foudres for twenty days. The wine went through Malolactic Conversion and élevage in French oak barriques (some of which were new).