What we love about Wenzel is ...well…everything! First and foremost is that he makes pure, delightfully clean natural wine. Second is his story, that of a passionate, successful winemaker who had a philosophical revelation.
Michael grew up working in the vineyard and making wine with his father and grandfather (their estate dates to 1647!) before going to winemaking school. He studied conventional winemaking before coming home to take over the family winery where he made textbook, precise, tasty wine. However, the more he traveled to other wine regions, it struck him that the most compelling wines were transparent, telling a story of place, soil, and time. He realized he did not want to make merely an alcoholic beverage. He wanted to make soulful wines that spoke 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 winemakers. My responsibility as a winemaker is to respect nature.”
Michael and Sonja looked at their vineyard practices and made even more changes. They removed all metal from their vineyard. Each vine now has wooden support tied with a natural, biodegradable hemp ribbon. They began to prune their vines short, lower to the ground, so nutrients travel more easily into the vine. Their vines are densely planted to foster healthy competition increasing phenolics and keeping sugar levels low. Michael says this creates 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. But dry Furmint has both a cultural and historical role both 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.
Michael Wenzel 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, a veil of yeast, allows Furmint to express itself most naturally. The results are the Autark and Analog wines, a series of different, complex beautiful examples of Furmint that transparently illuminate the distinct 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.
Michael has also created a line of natural wines known as Wild and Free including a Pinot Gris that sees some skin contact, an aromatic and pristine Gelber Muskateller, and a light chillable red wine made to honor his grandfather, called Franky (perfect for sharing over lunch without needing a nap!). These wines are perfect food wines that showcase his delicate and deft touch.
Every Wenzel bottle bears this stamp: ‘Nothing Added. Nothing Removed. Bottled Alive. Handpicked.’ We think screamingly delicious should be added as well.