Mastering Kék in Balf
Austrian born Franz Reinhard Weninger grew up on his parents’ wine estate in central Burgenland only a few kilometers from Lake Neusiedlersee. From his father, he not only learned the art of making wine, but also discovered his great passion. In 2000 he decided to continue a project begun by his father who purchased twenty-two hectares of vineyards in the small village of Balf, Hungary, near the Austrian border. Balf lies at the southern end of Lake Neusidelersee stretching from Austria’s Burgenland region to the Sopron region in east Hungary. The 1,900 hectares between Lake Neusiedlersee and the Sopron Mountains are primarily dedicated to the cultivation of dry red wines. The Spern Steiner and Frettner vineyard sites farmed by Weninger are among the best in Hungary and have been cultivated for centuries. In 2004, the family hired one of the finest architects to design a modern wine making facility, innovative in design with the capacity to handle Franz’s production for many years to come. In operation since the harvest of 2006, the facility contains a large cellar with a spacious production hall at its base, and an office and tasting room above where a clear view of Lake Neusidlersee can be seen. A specialist in the crafting of Kékfrankos, the Hungarian equivalent of Blaufränkisch, Franz has the vision, energy and worldliness to open the eyes of the world to what Hungary has to offer.
Sopron Wine Region of Hungary
The Sopron wine region is situated on the northwestern border of Hungary, about 36 miles south of Vienna. Sopron has a similar climate to its neighboring region of Burgenland, where cold winters and hot, dry summers exemplify the Pannonian climate. Proximity to Lake Neusiedlersee also imparts a unique salinity to the air and a naturally occurring high humidity. With its rare mineral soil composition of rich gneiss and mica schist, the single vineyard site of Spern Steiner produces extraordinary Kékfrankos. The vines were planted in the 1960s facing eastward towards the lake on a flat slope incline. The single vineyard of Frettner is comprised of deep, loamy soils rich in humus and lime deposits. With its location next to an oak forest, grapes are kept cool as cold air flows through the vineyard, perfect for growing authentic Cabernet Franc.
Famous for its diverse landscape incorporating the most western steppe lake in Eurasia, the Sopron shares the “Fertö / Neusiedlersee Cultural Landscape” with Austria, an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Along with its exceptional natural values, the area has been used as a meeting place by different cultures for 8,000 years.
Biodynamics – The Logical Step
Franz Reinhard is a passionate biodynamic farmer, a discipline that he shares with his father. Together the two rank among Austria and Hungary’s experts in this methodology. In 2004, father and son decided to attend organic viticulture classes hoping to learn how to improve the quality of their vineyards. After converting the estate to organic, they still felt like something was missing. They then found biodynamics, which offered them more possibilities than organic farming ever could. Biodynamic farming emphasizes the vineyard as an ecological whole; encompassing not only the soil and the grapes, but also the flora and fauna in the area, all intertwined as one. Franz was attracted to the idea of working with both rhythmic and homeopathic applications for a thriving vineyard. By relying on the natural rhythm of the moon, for example, combined with teas such as chamomile, stinging nettle, and birch tree, these applications assist the establishment of balance in the vineyard. Bird-nesting boxes located in each vineyard also help maintain the ecological whole (pictured above). Balance creates a healthier, more harmonious grape, which Franz believes can be felt in the wine.
While Kékfrankos originated in Hungary, it was still considered an underdog until 1997, when Franz’s father made his first quality Kékfrankos wine. Known as the blue grape, or “Blue Frankish”, it is the most widely planted grape in Hungary. It is also the most widely planted red or blue variety as Furmint is the most widely planted over all. It produces a wine that contains smooth tannins and spicy notes with a deep and rich origin. Weninger produces Kékfrankos with balanced acidity, sweet dried plums on the nose, and hints of spice and herbs on the palate.
Kékfrankos Spern Steiner 2010
annual production: 108 cases
varietal breakdown: 100% Kékfrankos (Blaufränkisch)
vineyard: mineral slate and rock soil; vine age: 45 years;
vinification: yeast: native; fermentation: 3 weeks
analysis: alcohol 13.2 %; acidity 5.6 g/l
The single vineyard of Steiner is what brought Franz to Hungary. Once known as the finest vineyard in the region, Weninger believes the exclusive characteristics of the soil enhance the flavor in the wine. The essence of licorice and sweet dried plums on the nose with herbs, hints of spice, and a balanced acidity on the palate reveals truth behind the soil of this delicious ruby red wine.
“Only happy people can make good wine.”- Franz R. Weninger
Sound of Terrior
The “Sound of Terroir” was created as a unique approach to express each of Weninger’s Blaufrankish wines. Franz paired up with Manuel Gruber, his team from the Vienna company, Viralvideo, and a group of professional musicians to construct a piece of music to master this challenge. Each of the musicians crafted a self-made instrument build with materials used in the making of wine; bottles, vineyard wires, barrels, etc. Here is the musical masterpiece that describes Weninger Spern Steiner with his wine orchestra.