Friday, May 27, 2011

Skype and Biodynamic Winemaking - Winetasting in the US with Winemaker Werner Michlits, Weingut Meinklang, in Austria

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Werner Michlits

Siema Wines organized a wine tasting at the Wine Cabinet in Reston, Virginia, with winemaker Werner Michlits (Weingut Meinklang) from Austria, who was not personally present but virtually – via a Skype connection. Werner was sitting in his winery in Austria at 8:00 pm local time while we were sipping his wine at 2:00 pm local time in Virginia. He had opened the same wines we tasted, so we would show him the bottles via Skype and then he would sip and talk with us about the wines. Interestingly, Werner Michlits is not a mainstream winemaker, but – with his wife Angela - among the small, but growing group of biodynamic winemakers.

Siema Wines is a Virginia-based importer/distributor of fine wines from small to medium-sized wineries. Siema’s portfolio represents over 500 wines from all over the world and the majority of wineries represented are family-owned and operated. Founded and developed under the direction of Emanuele Gaiarin, Siema Wines today is a leading wine supplier in the Southeast and Midwest of the US.

Wine Producer Burgenland

Burgenland is one of Austria’s 4 wine regions – Lower Austria, Styria, Burgenland and Vienna. For many years it was a bit on the margin, although it has a log wine growing tradition. Burgenland belonged to Hungary until 1921 when it was annexed to Austria post WWI. It is a melting pot of Magyar, Slavic and Austrian cultures. Many of the towns have two names, one Croatian or Hungarian and the other name Austrian.

Picture: Map of the Wineregions of Austria

The vineyard area of Burgenland totals 14.000 hectares and comprises 4 areas: (1) Neusiedlersee: At the edges of the vast and shallow Lake Neusiedl, a variety of grapes are grown on 9,100 hectares of vineyards, including world-famous noble sweet wines. (2) Neusiedlersee-Hügelland: At the foot of the Leithagebirge and west of Lake Neusiedl, a variety of grapes are grown on 4,150 hectares of vineyards, including the renowned Ruster Ausbruch. (3) Mittelburgenland: On 2,100 hectares of vineyards, one red grape variety plays the leading role: Blaufränkisch. (4) Südburgenland: One of Austria´s smallest wine-growing areas, where excellent terroir wines are produced from 500 hectares of vineyards, which are situated mainly on the Eisenberg, with Blaufraenkisch being the typical red wine.

The Michlits Family Biodynamic Mixed Farming Operation

“Our estate represents what used to be common practice everywhere in the Pannonian countryside: a mixed farming operation, managed by an extended family” said Werner via Skype. Thus, Weingut Meinklang, which is run by Werner and his wife Angela, is just a part of a much larger mixed farming operation. And, the whole mixed farming operation is done on the basis of biodynamic principles. The farm has 3 main components: livestock, agriculture and wine. We started a bit of a discussion about what he is doing and why, but could only scratch the surface. This is all very fascinating and pretty much avant-garde stuff for me. For example, typically winemakers age their wine in stainless steel tanks, wooden barrels or in the bottle. The Michlits’ have constructed 100 concrete eggs and age the wine in these eggs. I am looking forward to visiting the Michlits’ later this year on a trip to the Burgenland.

The fundamental objective of their biodynamic cultivation, as Werner explained, is the creation of a farm as a self-sufficient living organism through the keeping of cattle, production of its own seeds and feed, fertilisation with farm-produced compost or manure and the growing of leguminous plants. Importantly, in the livestock department of the mixed farm, more than 300 Angus cattle have become part of the farm. “They are at the center of our mixed farming operation” Werner said. He explained to us that these good-natured beasts of the steppe are wonderfully adapted to the Pannonian grasslands and are not only an aesthetic addition to the Seewinkel landscape, but they also complete an ecological circle. “We keep approximately 300 mother cows and calves at present and our goal is to eventually extend the number of mother cows alone to 300.” In addition, the Michlits are breeding a special kind of pigs - Mangalitsa pigs - on the farm. “Cattle, horses, and pigs - our animals are of very special significance, as they serve a very useful purpose by providing manure for our farm. In turn their feed comes from agricultural produce from our own farm. Their excrement is composted and processed and subsequently becomes a valuable source of natural dung for our vineyards and fields – a unique occurrence in the wine lands of Austria.” In the agriculture department, the farm also includes an apple orchard.

Weingut Meinklang

“Meinklang is more than a fancy name” Werner said “There is more behind it”. “Mein” = “My” Means: the personal signature of the young winemaker couple Werner Michlits and his wife Angela. And “Klang” = "sound" symbolizes: the harmony with nature. The wines are intended to fully reflect the nature, in which they arise.

Werner explained that the vineyards are surrounded by natural ponds and wild herbs such as meliot, vetch, red clover and wild grasses, which offer a domicile for beneficial insects and soil organisms. These wild plants along with the wild herbs in the vineyard are in competition with the vines for water and nutrients and provide gentle, desirable stress for the vines which contributes positively to the development of aroma an phenols in grapes. “Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch are our most planted grape varieties and are the typical varieties that best reflect our region. The white wine varieties are also indigenous and include Welschriesling, Pinot Blanc, Grüner Veltliner and Pinot Gris – varieties that nicely highlight the character of the region.”

Pictures: Werner Michlits on Skype

When it comes to winemaking, Werner felt that there was little to say about the winemaking facilities. “Because we do as little as possible there.” Indeed, working gentle and hygienic in the cellar is nothing special anymore, but the Michlits’ doing it without chemicals is. Of course, fermentation takes place with wild yeasts as they appear naturally in the vineyards and the cellar.

And then there are the 100 concrete eggs. Here, the Michlits’ have chosen to be really creative. They have developed a new method of vinification and aging in 9 hectoliter concrete “eggs” (egg-shaped vessels). Werner was inspired by the egg the way it appears in nature. From his point of view the egg is nature’s ideal form for making wine. Werner and Angela believe that if the wine ages in these eggs, it develops the finest aromas and, most importantly, the highest rate of natural stability. So, less sulfur, for example, is needed.


What the Michlits’ practice is really at the forefront of winemaking. They are radical fighters for their cause. They are not alone on this route and there are many others. But these “green” winemakers come in different colors. I just tasted the Santa Julia wines of Familia Zuccardi, who produce mass wines in Argentina with organic grapes. Argentina, in general, is very well suited for organic winemaking. “We practice sustainable agriculture in the vineyard” said Yann Beyer when I visited Domaine Leon Beyer in Alsace. The Donkey and Goats Winery in Berkeley produces wine according to the natural wine concept in the midst of the city of Berkeley without owning any vineyards. Researchers have found out that from a point of view of minimizing the carbon footprint, New Yorkers should drink Bordeaux instead of domestic wine from California. The following tries to shed some light on the different concepts of “green” winemaking.

Organic: Organic generally means the use of natural as opposed to chemical fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides. The key is: no chemicals. Organic wines are changing the look of vineyards, literally. Whereas vineyards of the past commanded neat rows rid of all insects, rodents and weeds, organic vineyards are now replacing costly and damaging chemical sprays with environmental partnerships. Pesticides are giving way to introducing low-growing plants between vine rows that host beneficial insects that keep the pest insects in check.

Unfortunately, there is no agreement on what organic wine making as opposed to organic wine growing means. The main issue is the use of sulfur in the fermentation process. In the US, organic winemakers are not allowed to add sulfites during winemaking; an organic wine is a wine with basically zero sulfur. In Europe, sulfites are allowed to be added during fermentation and an organic wine typically contains a modest amount of sulfur.

Biodynamic: Biodynamic is similar to organic farming in that both take place without chemicals, but biodynamic farming incorporates ideas about a vineyard as an ecosystem, and also accounting for things such as astrological influences and lunar cycles. Biodynamic is an approach following the rules and ideas of Austrian philosopher-scientist Rudolph Steiner. In his 1924 lectures, he viewed the farm as an entire living ecosystem starting with the soil which is treated as a living organism and receives special applications to enhance its health.

Sustainable: Sustainability refers to a range of practices that are not only ecologically sound, but also economically viable and socially responsible. Sustainable farmers may farm largely organically or biodynamically but have flexibility to choose what works best for their individual property; they may also focus on energy and water conservation, use of renewable resources and other issues.

: The idea behind natural wine is non-intervention and a respect for nature. For example, only natural yeasts are used, the fermentation is slow, there is little or no use of new oak barrels; and there are no filtrations or cold stabilization. Natural wines are minimalist wines produced with as little intervention as possible.

Vegan: Vegan refers to the process of fining the wine - eliminating undesirable items - with fining agents made from animal products, such as fish bladders and egg whites. As an alternative, Bentonite, a specific type of clay, is used for clarification in vegan wines. It’s important to note that vegan or vegetarian wines may or may not be made from organic grapes.

Carbon Footprint: The carbon neutral label comes from a different angle: global warming. All economic activites have a carbon footprint, including wine making. Carbon neutral wineries are trying to make a contribution to the general efforts of reducing the emission of carbon dioxide.

Water Footprint: A new thing is water footprint, reflecting the concern that the planet is moving into a period where water becomes more and more scarce.

What We Tasted

Picture: The Wines that were Poured

Meinklang Blanc de Pinot Noir Frizzante 2009
Jahrgang: 2009 | Alkohol: 10.5 %vol. | Gesamtsäure: 6.4 g/l | Restzucker: 16 g/l, süß

Meinklang Burgenland White 2010
Gruener Veltliner 80%, Muscat 20%
Jahrgang: 2009 | Alkohol: 11.0 %vol. | Gesamtsäure: 6.2 g/l | Restzucker: 5.4 g/l, trocken

Meinklang Burgenland Red 2010
Zweigelt 70%, Blaufraenkisch 30%
Jahrgang: 2009 | Alkohol: 13.0 %vol. | Gesamtsäure: 6.1 g/l | Restzucker: 2.6 g/l, trocken

Meinklang Pinot Gris 2009
Graupert Grauburgunder
Jahrgang: 2009 | Alkohol: 13.0 %vol. | Gesamtsäure: 5.6 g/l | Restzucker: 3.3 g/l, trocken

This wine is a sensation. It comes from a vineyard with untrimmed vines, untrimmed for more than 10 years. “We abstain completely from pruning and let the vines grow wild. The vines regulate the production of fruit on their own. The vines yield an above average number of bunches with extremely small berries. The yield volume is thus smaller than normal. This brings the advantage of a high skin to fruit flesh ratio and thus more aroma, extract and complexity.”

Meinklang Zweigelt 2008
Jahrgang: 2009 | Alkohol: 13.0 %vol. | Gesamtsäure: 5.7 g/l | Restzucker: 1.1 g/l, trocken

Meinklang Pinot Noir 2009
Jahrgang: 2009 | Alkohol: 13.0 %vol. | Gesamtsäure: 6.0 g/l | Restzucker: 1.6 g/l, trocken

Meinklang Pinot Blanc Ice Wine 2008
Eiswein. Weißburgunder
Jahrgang: 2008 | Alkohol: 8.5 %vol. | Gesamtsäure: 6.4 g/l | Restzucker: 145 g/l, süß

schiller-wine: Related Postings

Picking and Drinking Gruener Veltliner with Ewald Gruber sen. and jun., Weingut Gruber, Weinviertel, Austria

Welcome to America: Franz and Christine Netzl Estate, Carnuntum, Austria

The 2010 European Wine Bloggers Conference (EWBC) in Vienna

Wine Producer Austria - Not Only Gruener Veltliner

Willi Klinger Leads Tasting of Austria's Undiscovered Stars at EWBC 2010 in Vienna

Lunch with Silvia Prieler, Weingut Prieler, Schuetzen am Gebirge, Austria

Austria’s Best Wines and Winemakers - Falstaff WeinGuide 2010

Producing Wines in Austria and Hungary - Franz and Franz Reinhard Weninger

Austria’s Best Red Wines - Falstaff RotweinGuide 2010/2011

With the WienWein Winemakers in Vienna in the Heurigen Drinking Gemischter Satz Wine

Wine and Food from Burgenland at Wachter-Wieslers Ratschen, Deutsch-Schuetzen, Austria - with Tom and Christoph Wachter and Julia Sevenich

Meeting Gerhard Wohlmuth jun. from Weingut Wohlmuth, Austria, and Tasting his Wines in Washington DC

German and Austrian Wines in the Wine Spectator Top 100 2010

Germany's wine makers and twitter

Wine and Web 2.0 in Germany


  1. Excellent write up. I'm seeing wineries move more towards building stronger presences online. I think Skype is a beautiful way to engage with enthusiastic oenophiles in a way that is both informational and entertaining.

    In your opinion, how will these technologies and social media augment the tasting experience?

    I saw Ken Wright Cellars is holding a contest on Facebook. Anybody who "likes" the page before June 30th will be entered to win a private wine tasting, dinner for two and a night's stay in Carlton, OR. Can a premium brand have a place on social media? I think so, yet I'm curious to know what you think.

  2. Daniel, Video meeting and video conferencing have been around for a number of years now and are penetrating daily live. With the Skype technology, you do not need to install costly devices anymore but just need internet and a laptop. It adds a new option for communicating with the consumer.

    Similarly, facebook, twitter, wineblogs etc add new possibilities for winemakers to communicate with the wineconsumer and are increasingly being used by winemakers.



  3. My first try at a cabernet was a disaster (I think I ended up with some cleaning solution/acid in my batch). Since that first attempt, I have found that it is both a science, and an art! My second batch was a success, and a good one if I don't say so myself. I did find a website that helped a ton though (broke down and paid, but well worth it) at I am sure there are others too. Cheers!