You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but can you judge a wine by its label?
Before starting the winery, Eduard made conventional wine with his father in Styria, and Stephanie’s family owned and operated the Michelin starred restaurant & Hotel Taubenkobel (Keeping it in the family – the hotel and restaurant’s co-owner and head sommelier, Barbara Eselböck, is the sister of Stephanie at Gut Oggau).
They restored the 17th-century winery that had been abandoned for many years. The former owner of their winery was a 92-year-old woman without children. She had lost her ambitions many years ago and didn’t do much in the way of taking care of the vineyards. That was an incredibly good thing for the young couple. When they restored the vineyard, Included was its 200-year-old screw press which was a fantastic addition.
With the restoration completed in 2007, they started off with nine hectares. Now, ten years later, they have fifteen hectares and are Demeter-certified. Despite some vintages with rough weather conditions, the philosophy has always been the same – intervene as little as possible with mother Earth’s work. The couple realised that the unique environment required careful treatment, and so set out to focus on producing high-quality wines from grapes that were processed as gently as possible. The resulting wines are some of the most sought after in Austria, especially due to the relatively low quantities of production.
These Austrian natural wines are, quite literally, a family. Each bottle’s label features a line-drawn black and white portrait of a fictional family member, of one of three generations, and the back label explains their imagined personality. So, for example, we learn that Mechthild (a white wine… and the grandmother) is “the ‘kind-hearted grandmother’ of nostalgia that one trusts, but she can be secretive and polarise opinion”. We also learn that Atanasius (a red wine, a grandchild and “an attractive young man”) is “exceptionally popular” but that he “still retains some hidden qualities, which make him even more interesting”. Emmeram (a Gerwürztraminer), incidentally, is convinced that the daughter of Wiltrude (a daughter-in-law and sweet white), Theodora (white), is actually his.
The 15-hectare estate, in the small town of Oggau in Burgenland (thought to be the first place in Austria to grow red grapes), is run by Eduard Tscheppe and Stephanie Eselböck-Tscheppe. Each wine is a blend of various types of indigenous organic wine grape varieties, including Bläufrankish, Zweigelt, Gruner Veltliner, Welschriesling, Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) and Gewürtzraminer. Each wine, therefore, has quite a distinctive personality – so much so that the winemakers decided literally to make them into “people”, with the aid of German artist, Jung von Matt (whose dedication to the task extends even to slightly ageing the portraits each vintage).
The soils and vines vary depending on the “generation” of the wine. So the youngest generation is grown in gravel and a small amount of limestone, while the parents and grandparents have more sunlight and soil made up of schist and limestone. The oldest vines, some 60 years old, are reserved, naturally, for the older generation, as is the old restored winepress. Fermentation takes place spontaneously with naturally occurring indigenous yeast and is aged in old oak barrels. No filtering of fining occurs in the process.
So, whether you want to experience the energetic and bold children (Atanasius, Theodora and Winifred), their stronger bodied parents (Joschuari, Emmeram, Timotheus and Josephine) or the more traditional grandparents (Mechtild and Bertholdi), it is well worth introducing yourself to this fascinating family and their incredibly high-end organic and biodynamic wines.