Franz Strohmeier is among the most incredible artisan growers in the world. Not many growers go so far as to experiment with unpruned vines and have created such a rich and diverse micro diversity in their soil. Franz is extreme in his practices of fostering a diverse life of insects, small animals, and other organisms even in the world of biodynamic viticulture. His winemaking has also become extremely pure. Grapes, Love and Time – this is Strohmeier’s philosphy of wine and life, and you can experience it in every bottle.
On our team trip to Austria, after visiting Muster, the next stop took us an hour North, in West Styria to visit Franz and Christine Strohmeier. We were greeted by Christine’s hand painted sign, a colorful circle symbolizing ‘infinity’ and the idea that we exist somewhere between the microscopic and the enormity of this world. Franz was the first Austrian producer in the Jenny & François portfolio, and has been stunning us with his beautiful, adventurous wines for a few years now. Beginning in 1997, the Strohmeier’s have been organically farming 10 hectares of vines and making a large array of natural wines, most of them without any addition of sulfur. The vineyards host a unique climate, with influence from both the Adriatic sea and the Koraple mountain range. The growing season is long with temperatures that are mostly warm by day and cool by night, allowing for slow ripening of the grapes. Franz takes as much of a hands off approach as possible, preferring instead to work in harmony with nature and not intervene. He even limits how often he drives through the vineyard, so as not to disturb and pack down the loose, nutrient rich soil.
The TLZ line of wines (Trauben, Liebe & Zeit = Grapes, Love & Time) is used to describe their natural wines with zero additives, sulfur and filtration. After creating this line, Franz moved to using zero added sulfites in all his wines. Now, Franz makes beautifully crafted, pure wines including sparkling, white, red and orange wines that are all beautiful expressions of sans soufre winemaking.
The vineyards are a beautiful example of biodiversity, surrounded by forests, meadows, trees and living creatures. Franz knows the millions of microorganisms are imperative to the health of his vineyard and the life in his vines, and therefore sprays very minimally (even organic materials) to refrain from disturbing the natural order. While most people would not take a loss on an already low yield, Franz will often forgo a portion of diseased vines rather than spray everything, because he believes a small amount of disease is good for the overall health of the vineyard.
The vineyard that Franz took over in Lestein can be traced back to the 14th century. We had the pleasure of exploring the old Stainzer cellars holding vintages between 1938 and 1960, a historic and fascinating room the Strohmeier’s acquired (along with its contents) when they took over the vineyard. Franz pulled out a few bottles from the 1940s for us to taste (just to be sure nobody else on the trip could possibly top this visit).
As in many wild and healthy vineyards, many fruits and vegetables grow alongside the vines in the Strohmeier vineyards, all supplying life to the self-sustaining ecosystem. We came across these tiny, wild strawberries – the sweetest and most delicious ones I had ever tasted. Franz farms a 3 hectare plot of blauer wildbacher, close to his home, which he leaves completely unpruned. This is more of his experimentation and he has found that these smaller, intensely flavored berries which are slightly less ripe are absolutely perfect for making his sparkling rosés.
Strohmeier was hit with devasting frost, resulting in a major loss of fruit in 2016. However, Franz is not new to the risk involved in viticulture. Hans Peter-Schmidt, the Swiss winemaker from Mythopia, says Franz is the best wine farmer in the world – because he risks it all every year in order to make the best wine possible. He does this by constantly testing new methods to farm his vineyards in the most natural way, because he believes in the power of great farming. The result ensures the healthiest grapes go into the barrel, and make the best wine. At one point he was spraying whey instead of copper or sulfur, but he has since moved on from this as well. Every year he is pushing the boundaries and teaching himself new methods.
Franz Strohmeier makes special wine, wine that feels like there is a bit of magic in every bottle. They are wines that surprise you with their vitality, elegance, freshness and most of all how each one is unique and stunning.