Rebels of Wine : Wabi-Sabi
In our blog series; ‘Rebels of Wine’, We get personal with some of our wine makers who showcase their talents through minimal intervention methods of wine making and their passion for terroir (amongst other things that excite them). It is with their commitment to creating honest and true wines that we are able to build the foundations of our offerings. Let's get crackin!
This month we were honored to sit down with FRANZ HOFSTÄTTER who makes, stunning natural wines from the Wachau region of Austria under his Wabi-Sabi label. Make sure to check out his selections on our shelves!
Give us a little insight of your journey. How did you get into wine making?
I started my F&B career in the early nineties after Hotel management School starting to work in the kitchen. After some years behind the oven, I moved to the front of the house desk to get closer to the customers. The fascination for wine started when I had customers who asked me to bring a wine in a carafe and they would let me know which wine it was. This was the beginning of my wine love affair and I started to deepen my knowledge about wine more and more. This resulted in me becoming a sommelier and working in prestigious restaurants in Austria before moving to New York and assuming the post of head sommelier and wine buyer for the company “Danube” (James Beard Award winner). 9/11 affected my USA plans quiet a lot back then and after volunteering on ground zero, helping fire fighters and workers, I moved back to Austria by the end of 2001.
In 2002, I started my journey in wine exports together with a group of fascinating winemakers and farmers like Hans Reisetbauer, Bernhard Ott, Albert Gesellmann and Sattlerhof among others,
founding TOA (Tastes of Austria), a platform which connects top Austrian producers to B2B partners in the entire world. TOA has naturally evolved over the years and now has a strong focus on organic and biodynamic producers. We successfully work many markets and see an ever-growing trend for sustainable, genuine and low-intervention wines for consumers and the gastronomy alike.
Developing markets, brand strategies and sales is a fascinating occupation. However, I always wanted to explore the producer aspect of the wine industry. You know, it’s easy to make bad comments about a wine but much harder to make good wine on a yearly basis! I also felt the desire of understanding even better the challenges and joys of a wine grower! In 2016, I started with a small field blend plot in Wachau, near Dürnstein, resulting in the “700 vines w”, always putting a focus on organic cultivation and low intervention in the vineyards and cellar….
I love unmasked wines! Over the years, the Wabi-Sabi project expanded by cooperating with wine grower friends and sourcing grapes from other plots in the Wachau and elsewhere in Austrian wine regions. This allows me to explore the character of other varieties, terroirs and conditions in Austria. For me the biggest influence on wine is the human being impact, harvest timing and grape handling in the first 3-4 days after harvest. The less you influence the grapes and juice in the first days, the more they will show their true nature, no matter if there are edges or imperfections! It's what really makes them beautiful, just like in the Zen of the “Wabi-Sabi”.
How do you see Wine changing in the next 20 years considering factors of climate change
Climate change is here, no doubt, but there are lot of ways to deal with it. In my view, an organic or biodynamic cultivation is one of the most promising ways to do so. If you care for your soils and vines
and bring them into a natural balance, they will be much more capable of overcoming weather extremes, such as drought or heavy rainfall. Plus, the grapes ripen earlier and at lower sugar levels,
minimizing risks and keeping the alcohol level low, yet at full ripeness and great acidity. Cover crops, canopy management, picking times, enhancing biodiversity, these are all factors you have to consider and master to your best abilities. It’s a lot of hard work in the vineyard but it’s gonna pay off in the long run! As for other predictable changes, I think the choice of locations, varieties and rootstocks will also be of growing importance.
What are your thoughts on Natural wine? What changes would you like to see within the segment
The biggest issue in my view, is a lack of definition here. What exactly are “natural wines”? Skin macerated? Pet-Nats? Aged in amphora? No added sulphites? I think we should move the focus from vinification and put it on the most important part, the vineyards. Everyone can skin ferment a white wine or age it in amphora (and more and more growers do that!) so the difference must lie in a holistic approach, with the nature in the first place. The better (the more in harmony with nature) you treat your soils and vines, the less you will have to interfere in the cellar. The challenge will be to communicate this to the consumers. We have to raise awareness for best practices in the vineyards and tell the consumer that low-intervention wines (as I prefer to call this “segment”) are living products and most importantly, products based on emotions. You have to be aware of the fact that these wines change constantly, that they present themselves differently based on your mood, the season, the occasion… We have to make sure people learn to understand those wines and the philosophy of the grower, the “why” more than the “how”.
What’s your favorite wine at the moment and which musician would it resemble to you?
I love the 'Red Love & Passion' Wabi Sabi sipping it while listening to the new Foo Fighters Waiting on a War…and the 726 vines w Wabi Sabi with Medicine at Midnight also from the Foo Fighters…
What advice would you give to aspiring Wine makers?
Do not try to follow trends and produce what “the market probably wants”. Find your own approach and produce honest wines. Most important: be patient! Vines need many years to express their true
potential so allow yourself a couple of years to find your path. Tell your story and let the consumers know how you feel. Look for good partnership and build on them. It is a give and take in our world
and especially in the wine world. There are always good years and bad years and only the good producers will remain successful over the years. I believe that the boomerang you throw will one day
return - the good one and the bad one!