Alice and Roland Tauss

The Perfect(ionist) Energy

 

Quick facts:

Location: the village of Schlossberg, Southern Styria, Austria

Owner & winemaker: Roland & Alice Tauss

Vineyard area: 5.8 hectares ( of the farm’s total 14.5), estate-owned

Vineyard management: certified organic and biodynamic (Demeter, since 2010)

Soils: Opok, i.e. rocky clay and silt over chalky marl subsoil

Main varieties: Sauvignon, Blaufrankisch, Weissburgunder

Annual production (approx.): 15,000 – 20,000 bottles

Winemaking: minimal. Spontaneous fermentation only, neutral oak barrels, no fining, no filtration, no added sulfur since 2016.

 

Fun facts:

  • Roland is a member of Schmecke das Leben (“Taste Life”), a circle of like-minded Styrian growers whose wines we really love – his colleagues Franz Strohmeier, Sepp Muster, Andreas Tscheppe are also represented by us in the States.
  • All Tauss’ vineyards lay on one hill called Hohenegg, a beautifully green sun-laden slope with a chapel dedicated to St. Urban – the patron saint of winemakers – at the top.
  • Roland has a ritual of walking up there every morning, and you can definitely see the daily hike in his impressive calf muscles
  • The “Opok” wines are made with grapes from the lower part of the hill, while the “H” line comes from the steeper upper parts that yield wines with more structure
  • Besides the immaculate winery, the Tauss’ property also features a cozy, fully eco-friendly hotel that takes advantage of its beautiful verdant surroundings, with wellness and yoga classes, run by Roland’s wife Alice – a tip for your next holiday retreat, perhaps?

Jump to wines | Tauss Website

 

“Are you a perfectionist?” asks one of us as we walk through Roland Tauss’ underground winery – a carefully air-conditioned, squeaky-clean and neatly organized amalgam of 400-year old brick & stone vault cellars and spacious concrete halls. “Hmm, yes, you could say that,” Roland nods pensively and pauses; “I try to do the best work I can. But, everything I make is a question of energy. I do my best outside by working biodynamically in the vineyard, to have maximum vitality in the soil, plants and grapes. Then, in the cellar, I do my best to keep all this life in the finished wine. But I’m not a perfectionist in the sense that I’d manipulate the wine to taste a certain way, to create a style. The grapes have a natural taste, and that’s what the wine should be like. I’m only here to accompany it on its journey,” he continues, visibly trying to put his vision into words as accurately as possible.

Roland is well placed to make such a claim as one of the winemakers who, before opting for the simple-yet-not-easy natural creed, spent some time working conventionally. He took over the winery in 1991 without any formal wine education, but he did so with a lot of determination, learning only from his parents, fellow growers and mostly his own experience. The big “switch” to natural winemaking came in 2005: “You could say it came from the heart – I wasn’t satisfied with how my wines tasted, and I didn’t enjoy working in the cellar or in the vineyards with all the additives and chemicals that you have to buy. Every winemaker wants to make singular wines, but using industrial yeast and other eno-preparations makes your wine taste so similar to others, no matter if they come from here or there. So I decided to go biodynamic, to focus on the health of the unique soil we have here,” Roland recalls the 180-degree change.

Well done, since his soil is the definition of unique: he’s working with Opok, a rocky limestone–silt terroir similar to that of Andreas Tscheppe or Sepp Muster, Tauss’ colleagues from the Schmecke das Leben group of like-minded Styrian growers. (“It wasn’t easy to sell our wines when we all started, and this exchange of ideas and experience helped us all a lot. Plus it’s always better to be a crazy group rather than a lone weirdo,” Tauss chuckles, remembering their rocky beginnings in the mid-aughts.)

Just like Sepp Muster, whose nearby yellow house and red roof can be easily spotted from the Tauss domain, Roland is also lucky enough to have all his vineyards neatly huddled next to one another on one hill, a few steps from his house. The rather steep and sun-laden slopes of Hohenegg (Hohe = high in German) run up to 450 meters above sea level and are covered with vines 5 to 60+ years old, more than 70 different cover-crop plants and many heirloom fruit trees.

This verdant bounty of a vineyard is topped with a chapel consecrated to Saint Urban, the patron saint of winemakers. “One of many patrons, actually,” Ronald corrects us with a grin. “Us winemakers need a lot of them. He’s helping me both in the vineyard and in the cellar,” he laughs. (Judging from the fact that in 2016, when most Central European winemakers lost up to 90% of their grapes to frosts or hail, Tauss was only one fifth short of his normal yield, this special connection with the saints seems to be one worth maintaining. Plus, the regular pilgrimage up the hill has given Roland his impressively muscular calves.)

It’s not just about the forces above, though – as an avid supporter of biodynamics (the whole domaine is Demeter-certified and even the adjacent hotel / yoga retreat run by his wife Alice is fully environmentally conscious, from washing to renewable energy or the organic-only food served), Roland follows the idea of energy in general. “This is so important, at every stage of the wine’s life. For example, I tell my staff that there’s no need to work hurriedly – what matters is that they dedicate enough love and care to each plant. During the harvest, we slowly progress from the top of the hill, selecting the grapes as we go, putting the good ones in small 20kg crates in order to keep them intact. The grapes, the soil health, the site, the humans who work it, what then happens in the cellar – all this, to me, are parts of the picture, smaller or bigger steps on the quest for the wine’s energy,” Roland meditates.

In the cellar, this careful preservation work translates as minimal intervention – natural yeast only, no fining or filtration, and no sulfur since the 2016 vintage. (“The wines are doing fine without, so I don’t use it. But should the wine need it, I’m not dogmatic – I’d use 10 or 15 ppm at bottling and state it clearly on the label.”) The wines age in old neutral French oak barrels, mostly 225 and 300-liter ones: the Opok line, using plumper grapes from the lower part of the hill, spends about a year there, while the “H” line from the steeper upper part requires about two years to smooth out the grapes’ more pronounced tannins. These aging times are one of the results of self-learning – thanks to previous trials with aging reds up to six years (“way too much oak and tannin”), Tauss found this sweet spot where his raw material becomes smooth while still preserving enough harmony and fruit character.

“I want to be able to taste the grapes too – long aging means too much oxidation, and the wine loses a part of the energy that we had worked so hard for in the vineyards… Also, I never use stainless steel for aging. It’s not a natural material and the wine’s energy decreases if it stays there for longer than just a couple of days, like when I’m blending,” Roland believes. Another of these energy–harnessing tricks is using virtually no batonnage (“only when the barrel is reductive and needs a bit of air”) and only the strictly necessary amount of racking and pumping.

Tauss started working this way in the cellar at the same time as he switched to biodynamic vineyard management, and the consequences didn’t take long to show up: “I changed in 2005, and in 2006 I made Qualitätswein (a level of the German wine classification system, requiring the wine to fulfill certain sourcing and sensorial criteria, approved by a special committee) for the last time,” Tauss chuckles again – his biodynamic wines from one old steep vineyard obviously tick, or rather surpass, all the requirements as to yield, provenance or farming. “But when I submitted the wines to the tasting committee they said it wasn’t good, although I knew it was. So I stopped sending my bottles there or trying to obtain some status from people who are only used to wines made with industrial yeast,” he shrugs. 

This decision cost Roland the name of the slope on the label – the Landswein category that Tauss’ wines live in doesn’t allow him to state the name of the vineyard site, hence the -H- instead of Hohenegg. But, after tasting his whole range in their traditional dining room, one totally sees why he let go of it without batting an eyelid. One bottle after another shows purity, precise structure and impressive balance between body and acidity, while captivating us with their laser beams of energy and smoky tension. This is a different expression of Styria, different even from his otherwise like-minded Schmecke das Leben fellows, but we cannot be more pleased with adding yet another gem – this one a bit more neatly, angularly cut – to our Austrian collection.

 

 

Wines

 

Sauvignon vom Opok — Back to the top

Vineyard: the lower part of the Hohenegg hill. Vines planted in 2001 on Opok soil – limestone and clay silt. Certified biodynamic, estate owned.

Grapes: Sauvignon Blanc

Making of: Grapes are hand-harvested into small crates, with manual selection in the vineyard. Destemmed, left on skins overnight, and then gently pressed in open pneumatic press. Both the alcoholic and malolactic fermentations happen spontaneously in old neutral French barriques and 300L barrels. The wine spends about 12 months in total neutral oak casks. Bottled without fining or filtration, no sulfur added.

Personality: superbly aromatic, but in a different way than you’d expect from the variety. Lush and with a beautiful tension in the mouth.


Weissburgunder vom Opok — Back to the top

Vineyard: the lower part of the Hohenegg hill. Vines planted in 1982 on Opok soil – limestone and clay silt. One-wire trellising system, quite typical for Styria. Certified biodynamic, estate owned.

Grapes: Weissburgunder aka Pinot Blanc

Making of: Grapes are hand-harvested into small crates, with manual selection in the vineyard. Destemmed, left on skins overnight, and then gently pressed in open pneumatic press. Both the alcoholic and malolactic fermentations happen spontaneously in old neutral French barriques and 300L barrels. The wine spends about 12 months in total neutral oak casks. Bottled without fining or filtration, no sulfur added.

Personality: a beautiful exhibit of what Roland means when talking about energy in wine – this one really grabs you with a smoky/citrus magnetism and doesn’t let you go until the bottle is over. (And then you ask for another one.) 


Blaufränkisch Rosé vom Opok — Back to the top

Grapes for this wine are always the first to be harvested, usually at the end of September, which brings this soulful rosé its appealing freshness, low ABV (about 10%) and high drinkability.

Vineyard: several plots in the lower part of the Hohenegg hill, part of them one-wire trained, which is quite typical for Styria. Vines planted in 1980, 1984, 2000, 2002 on Opok soil – limestone and clay silt. Certified biodynamic, estate owned.

Grapes: Blaufränkisch

Making of: Grapes are hand-harvested into small crates, with manual selection in the vineyard. Destemmed and direct-pressed, in open pneumatic press. Both the alcoholic and malolactic fermentations happen spontaneously in old neutral French barriques and 300L barrels. The wine spends about 12 months in total neutral oak casks. Bottled without fining or filtration, no sulfur added.

Personality: such a pretty, energetic, irresistible rosé! Deep color, fruity nose with a touch of funk and forest strawberries, great mouthfeel tingling with pleasantly tart rose-hip and red fruit jelly notes. If you’re into energizing natural rosé, this one is definitely your Valentine.


Blaufränkisch vom Opok — Back to the top

Vineyard: several plots in the lower part of the Hohenegg hill, part of them one-wire trained, which is quite typical for Styria. Vines planted in 1980, 1984, 2000, 2002 on Opok soil – limestone and clay silt. Certified biodynamic, estate owned.

Grapes: Blaufränkisch

Making of: Grapes are hand-harvested into small crates, with manual selection in the vineyard. Destemmed, crushed and left on skins until dry, then pressed in open pneumatic press. Both the alcoholic and malolactic fermentations happen spontaneously in old neutral French barriques and 300L barrels. The wine spends about 24 months in total neutral oak casks. Bottled without fining or filtration, 10 ppm of sulfur added.

Personality: spicy, mineral take on the grape, with a pleasant touch of earthiness and only 11% ABV – happy to be chilled!


Sauvignon -H- (Hohenegg) — Back to the top

Vineyard: the upper part of the Hohenegg hill, with lower yield and more tannins. Vines planted in 2001 on Opok soil – limestone and clay silt. Certified biodynamic, estate owned.

Grapes: Sauvignon Blanc

Making of: Grapes are hand-harvested into small crates, with manual selection in the vineyard. Destemmed, left on skins for about 2 days, and then gently pressed in open pneumatic press. Both the alcoholic and malolactic fermentations happen spontaneously in old neutral French barriques and 300L barrels. The wine spends about 24 months in total neutral oak casks. Bottled without fining or filtration, no sulfur added.

Personality: peach, honeycomb, lush velvety mouthfeel with mellowed-out tannins. Long and food-friendly.


Rosé Sekt Brut Natur — Back to the top

This sparkling rosé is based on the Blaufrankisch Rosé above, with extra juiciness and fizz coming from secondary fermentation in bottles. 

Vineyard: several plots in the lower part of the Hohenegg hill, part of them one-wire trained, which is quite typical for Styria. Vines planted in 1980, 1984, 2000, 2002 on Opok soil – limestone and clay silt. Certified biodynamic, estate owned.

Grapes: Blaufränkisch

Making of: Grapes are hand-harvested into small crates, with manual selection in the vineyard. Destemmed, crushed and pressed, in open pneumatic press. Both the alcoholic and malolactic fermentations happen spontaneously in old neutral French barriques and 300L barrels. The wine spends about 12 months in total neutral oak casks, before being bottled with addition of organic yeast and organic suger that kickstart the second fermentation in bottle. Disgorged in the spring of the following year (the exact date is stated on the label). No fining or filtration, no sulfur added, zero dosage.

Personality: garçon, somebody had put red berry juice in my bottle of sparkling! No, but seriously, all these cranberries, pomegranates, rosehips, barberries, where do they come from? Oh, now that I chew on it a little bit more, maybe this tangy smoked pepper touch and a bed of roses nesting on a nice dry finish say the Blaufrankisch grape is the culprit…