COUPLES MAKING BEAUTIFUL WINE TOGETHER
It’s February, the month of Valentine’s Day, so we decided to celebrate “the couple” winemaker by selecting wines that are specifically produced by life partners. As such, the February Amaro Wine Club newsletter will be different than the previous months (if you’re new to the club, you can find our previous Wine Club selections and literature here) because, frankly, there are not many scientific, rigorous correlations between life partners and winemaking. But we will at least work with our sample of three, and point out a trend to highlight, but, more importantly, this is an occasion for the Amaro Wine Club to focus on the actual winemakers and their visions and practices, instead of the regions, appellations, or varietals, although, of course, we won’t ignore those factors either.
So in this case, of amorous, life-partner owners of estates and wineries who choose to make beautiful wine together, the aforementioned trend to highlight is that they all choose to cultivate their estates and make wine as naturally as possible. All three couples have chosen to approach winemaking organically in how they farm their vineyards, in some cases their estates outside their vineyards, manual harvesting, and low intervention in the cellar, preferring that the terroir, climate, and the grapes that grew as a result of both, express themselves in the wine. With no further ado, let’s meet these three couples whose wines you have in your possession.
WEINGUT PITTNAUER – BRIGITTE AND GERHARD
Brigitte and Gerhard Pittnauer, aka the Pittis. Owners-operators of Weingut Pittnauer
In Burgenland, Austria, Gerhard took over the family estate and winemaking business much earlier than he would have liked, at only 18 years of age, because his father died unexpectedly. Gerhard had little formal winemaking training at the time and certainly had not had enough time to form his own viticulture practices or doctrine. And to complicate matters, his father’s death, in the mid-1980s, came just when the credibility of the modern Austrian wine industry was at its undisputed nadir. In fact, it was in full-scale scandal mode. In 1985, several Austrian wineries were caught using diethylene glycol (an ingredient in antifreeze) to make their wines have a sweeter, full-bodied, late-harvest style that was in vogue with the palates of consumers at the time. And not only were they selling these wines under their own labels, but they were exporting the juice in bulk to German wineries to use in their wines. In fact, it was German quality control testing that found the substance in the wines, making even the regulatory aspect of the Austrian wine industry look deficient.
In such an environment, Gerhard was forced to look outside his borders for winemaking role models, and after traveling and visiting and tasting throughout Europe, he found a common denominator among the kinds of wines he admired: farming. In particular, he became a devotee of biodynamic farming. And it was then that his viticulture doctrine was hatched. He wanted to ‘grow’ wine on his estate rather than ‘make’ it. The less intervention, the better. He and the love of this life and life partner, Brigitte, manage the estate and winery together, and are known by friends as the Pittis (they named one of their wines after this pet name – ain’t that cute?). Brigitte quickly made Gerhard’s dream equally her own, and as the Pittis, they’ve been ahead of the organic and biodynamic trends, being among the first to make orange wines in the 1990s before they were called orange, for example, and doing most pruning and harvesting by hand, using natural yeasts, etc. By 2006, they’d already managed to convert their estates totally to biodynamic farming, and they achieved official biodynamic certification in 2009.
The Pittis live full-time, somewhat isolated, right smack dab in the middle of their winery. It’s clear that they love each other as much as their shared job.
Pittnauski is Amaro Monthly Wine Club's featured wine by Brigitte and Gerhard:
VARIETALS: 40% Blaufrankisch, 25% Zweigelt, 20% St. Laurent, and 15% Merlot
Although the Pittis are known for holding the little-known, native Sankt Laurent grape in high esteem on their estate, they chose to let it play third fiddle in this particular wine, with the Austrian staple Blaufrankisch varietal taking the lead. All of the three grapes that are blended to make this wine are taken from the Pittis’ three most favored vineyards, Rosenberg, Altenberg and Ungerberg. The varietals are fermented spontaneously from wild yeasts, aged in neutral oak for two and a half years and a further six months in stainless steel and then bottled unfiltered.
FOOD PAIRINGS: Lighter beef dishes, lamb, venison, pork, vegetarian dishes with girth
GOYO GARCÍA VIADERO – GOYO AND DIANA
Goyo García Viadero and his wife Diana Semova Geogieva.
In the region of Castilla y León in Spain in the Ribera del Duero appellation/region, Goyo comes from one of the most respected winemaking families in the Ribera del Duero, but he has managed to eschew riding on that base and make a distinct, unique name for himself in the winemaking world where he is known well beyond Spain as one of the most noted natural producers. In Spain, but especially in the Ribera del Duero appellation where heavily manipulated, big-bodied, powerful wines are the norm, it is no small feat to be a globally reputed natural winemaker. Also, as a member of landed gentry from a mutigenerational winemaking family with access to a vast network in the elite agricultural and business world, Goyo chose to even go unconventional with his life partner, marrying a Bulgarian who he met during a grape harvest. And he also made life partner, Diana Semova Geogieva, his partner in winemaking. And Diana has proved to be quite a modern business asset for the couple, also, through her breathtaking, stylized social media presence: IG handle: @semovageogieva.
In looking outside of his family business comfort zone, Goyo says that he was initially inspired by the refined, delicate, yet structured and strong wines of the Jura region in France. Jura wines are relatively ignored on an international commerce level compared to their national peers in Burgundy and Bordeaux, and as such have had more leeway to experiment with natural farming and winemaking and letting the unique terroir define their flavor.
Similarly, the couple’s wines have a special terroir. Their vineyards are high altitude, at 750 meters (2,400 feet) on the low end and up to 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) [click here to read about our High Altitude Wines January Wine Club], which for the Spanish generally provides impetus to both the farmers and the winemakers in the cellar to treat the low-yielding crops with a heavy hand of manipulation in the vineyard and aging in new oak afterward to give body and a predictable, uniform flavor. Instead, Goyo and Diana choose to employ their natural methodology, employing no irrigation (dry-farming), bush-training their vines to let the plants do the work of protecting and cultivating the low-yielding fruit instead of the farmers, and letting the process of maceration with, and sitting on, the skins add the girth and powerful flavors to the wine, keeping aging to neutral (old) oak barrel aging, and in the following case even foregoing oak aging altogether.
An example of an artful post on Diana's Instagram page: @semovageogieva
Joven de Viñas Viejas is Amaro Monthly Wine Club's featured wine by Goyo and Diana:
VARIETAL: 100% Tempranillo
The grapes were hand-harvested in the first 2 weeks of October from vineyards located 800 meters (2,624 feet) above sea level, destemmed and fermented with wild yeasts in steel tanks with 3 months of skin maceration, then aged entirely in the tank before being bottled without fining, filtration or any addition of sulfites. This is the couple’s only unoaked red wine. As its name implies, it is a young wine from old vines (again, read our January literature for more on high altitudes and vine ages).
FOOD PAIRINGS: roasted lamb, suckling lamb, grilled sausage, charcuterie, roasted wild mushrooms, nutty cheeses
CHÂTEAU LA COLOMBIÈRE – DIANE AND PHILIPPE
Diane and Philippe out and about on their beloved land in an old FIAT
In the region of Southwest France, Diane took over her family Domaine in 2005. She had joined her father, François de Driésen, in running the estate in 1998 and initially worked in the commercial selling and marketing aspect of the business in the early 2000s. Although his youngest daughter, Diane took over the estate completely when her father retired in 2006 to run it with her life partner and husband, Philippe, a lawyer in Paris.
The life partners, with Diane’s direction and vision, decided to continue her father François’s containment of the 30 hectare estate to 17 hectares of vineyards, leaving the rest to its natural state of forests and wild meadows. But they went even a step further in moving the estate towards biodynamic farming and making the wine with as little intervention as possible in the cellar. And, in fact, the couple has stated that they would actually like to decrease the size of the vineyards in order to properly employ their natural methodologies. Currently, 13 hectares are cultivated and have been attained certified organic status, and since 2010, they have been farming biodynamically, although they do not yet have official certification as such. Diane and Philippe would like to decrease the estate’s vineyards to 10 hectares, letting other types of crops or native plants grow on the remaining hectares.
As life partners, Diane and Philippe Cauvin have become such passionate fixtures of their estate’s land and winemaking that they even self-cater accommodation and events for oenotourists, using an old restored cellar as a venue for events that range from wine tastings to family gatherings. Hint: idea for wine tourism vacation!
Les Jacquaires is Amaro Monthly Wine Club's featured wine by Diane and Philipe:
VARIETALS: Chenin Blanc (40%), Sauvignon Blanc (40%), Bouysselet (20%)
Although the couple are probably most known for their work with the native red Négrette varietal, famously unique to the Fronton appellation which comprises their estate, we decided to showcase one of their white wines instead, the bulk of which is comprised with the more traditional French varietals, Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc. However, a sizable 20% is also represented by another native Southwest France varietal, the near-extinct Bouysselet grape, which they only recently discovered in their vineyards, and which dates back to pre-phylloxera. They have recently devoted a two-hectare plot to just growing Bouysselet, and this parcel is now the largest patch of this varietal in the world.
As with all of their wines, even their reds, they ferment this wine in cement and steel in order to interfere as little as possible with the essence of the grapes, and they do not use oak for aging. The grapes are handpicked, and the work in the cellar is done with as little intervention as possible
FOOD PAIRINGS: Lamb, beef dishes, mature and hard cheeses, Moroccan tagine and spicy Asian dishes