Michael of Weinbau Wenzel

Michael of Weinbau Wenzel

What we love about Wenzel, aside from everything, is that these wines are some of the cleanest, most pure examples of natural wine we have tasted. Michael Wenzel, however, did not start out as a natural winemaker. His story, is that of a passionate, established winemaker and a philosophical revelation. 

Michael grew up growing grapes and making wine with his father and grandfather on an estate that dates back to 1647, always in the hands of the Wenzel family. He went to winemaking school and studied conventional winemaking. He took over the family winery and made wine as he had been taught for many years. However, as he traveled to other wine regions and tasted more and more, he noticed that the most compelling wines were always transparent wines. Wines that told a story of place and soil and time.  He knew he did not want to make merely an alcoholic beverage. He wanted to make soulful wines that told of their origin. So in 2008, encouraged by his wife Sonja to embrace change, he began, again.

A natural winemaker’s job is to cultivate vitality he says.  “I call natural wine the product of pure, unadulterated fermented grape juice. Organic farming is simply the prerequisite.”  Michael stopped using any synthetic pesticides and began to rely entirely on native yeasts. “Natural yeasts are - and it took me a long time to realize this - the real wine makers. My responsibility as a winemaker is to respect nature.”

Michael Wenzel working in the vineyard.

They looked at their vineyard practices and made more changes. There is no longer any metal in their vineyard. Each vine has a wooden support tied with a natural, biodegradable hemp ribbon.  Vines are kept short, helping nutrients to travel more easily. They are densely planted, fostering healthy competition and increasing phenolics with lower sugar levels. Michael says this helps to create a more “harmonious” and balanced wine. “Good natural wine is not filling. There are many wines that you have had enough of after one glass. Natural wine ... has to be light and drinkable.”

That is probably one of the most important things to realize about Wenzel wines. They are eminently drinkable. Loosely his wines can be divided into his array of Furmint bottlings and his Wild and Free wines.

Furmint was the most widely planted white grape in what is now Austria and Hungary until phylloxera and two world wars struck. In a few decades, Furmint went from dominating white wine production to near extinction. More Furmint remained however, in Hungary because it is responsible for Tokaji’s renowned sweet wine. However, dry Furmint had both a cultural and historical role for many Austrians and Hungarians so in 1984 Michael Wenzel’s father smuggled cuttings back over the border into Austria. These plantings bore fruit that became the first dry Wenzel Furmint in 1987.  Since then, Michael has devoted himself to not only cultivating this noble grape but finding the best method of vinification. He has found that an oxidative process, the use of Amphora and in some cases the development of flor or a veil of yeast allows Furmint to express itself most naturally. The result are the Autark and Analog wines, a series of different, complex beautiful examples of Furmint that transparently illuminate the particular terroir of each vineyard site: gray and red quartz, gneiss, mica schist, bare limestone soil. “Our declared goal is to establish Furmint as the white wine grape variety of Burgenland” he says.

His line known as Wild and Free would best be described as an ode to the joy of drinking pure unadulterated wine.  Naturally, they are all minimal intervention wines with spontaneous fermentation, little or no sulphur additions and no fining or filtration.  They include a Pinot Gris with gentle skin contact, an aromatic dry citrus laden Gelber Muskateller and a light chillable red wine made to honor of his grandfather, called Franky (perfect for sharing over lunch without needing a nap!). These wines are perfect food wines and showcase his delicate and deft touch.

Our relationship with Michael Wenzel has been one of an ever evolving wonderful journey . We here at Winemonger revel in the idea not only that one can begin again, but that it can be done so naturally. 

A picture of Furmint grapes on the vine in the Wenzel family vineyard.

Leave a comment


Submit your email to get updates on products and special promotions.