Christian Tschida

The Transformer

 

Quick facts:

Location: Illmitz, Burgenland, Austria

Owner & winemaker: Christian Tschida

Vineyard area: 14 hectares, estate-owned

Vineyard management: organics & biodynamics

Soils: sandy gravel, schist and limestone

Main varieties: Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Gruner Veltliner, Riesling; Pinot Noir, Blaufränkisch, Syrah, Cabernet Franc

Winemaking: spontaneous fermentation in open-top vats, very gentle press with low juice yield, aging in bigger neutral Stockinger bigger barrels. No filtration, no fining, no sulfur

 

Fun facts:

  • Christian is a huge art lover – both his labels and house are full of works created by his friends, like Eró or Mel Ramos
  • The Tschidas have been making wine in Illmitz since the 19th century, and Christian still farms some of these old family vineyards
  • Christian is one of the most fastidious growers we know – he’s obsessed with how every detail in the vineyard or in the cellar can impact the quality of his wines
  • Some of his vineyards are planted in “doppel-stock”, a double planting system that pushes the roots to compete and seek deeper for nutrition and water
  • One of the crucial points is pressing – he’s using a top-notch Bucher-Vaslin basket press (“the Rolls Royce of presses”) and a tailor-made pneumatic press, both exerting the “power of a handshake” and yielding only the best juice
  • When Christian took over the family winery in 2003, most of the customers refused to follow his low-alcohol, elegant red vision; luckily, his wine was selected by a major local bank, who decided to serve it for their classy business lunches just because they didn’t want the executives to get drunk!

 

Jump to wines | Christian Tschida Website

 

In the Austrian town of Illmitz, on the eastern side of the huge, shallow and sun-reflecting Lake Neusiedl, lies an inconspicuous white house. At first glance, its high curvaceous gable, typical for the area, doesn’t strike you as much different from the other buildings in the street row; but, take a closer look and you’ll realize that there is something deliberately minimalist, elegant and actually slightly uncommon about the whole structure. Enter through the simple white door with a laconic initial on it, and a carefully curated, thought-through-to-a-T singular space full of works of art starts to unfurl before your very eyes. Yep, Christian Tschida’s house is a perfect metaphor for his wines: the seemingly minimalist facade shelters an intriguing, thoughtfully structured personal universe that offers little details to indulge in and marvel at every turn.

This almost obsessive level of attention to detail, aimed at achieving the desired (=best possible) result, manifests itself in all parts of Christian’s work. No expense is spared in his vineyards if it makes sense–during one of our visits, he was just about to spread huge stacks of straw over the surface of the vineyards in order to protect them from summer drought, so that the wine doesn’t develop “stressed” aromas; vine shoots are tucked in rather than cut, as “each cut is only an impulse for more growth”; the plants are protected and nurtured with natural tisanes or his own compost mix. All this hand-work, performed by Christian himself, his father Fritz, and their small crew, has a simple aim–to keep the vineyards in balance so that they yield little grapes but with maximum energy and potential.

“It’s important not to be afraid to go the extra mile,” he shrugs as we walk through his vineyards. “My wine tastes the way it does because I care about every detail. Like here at the Edelgraben vineyard, the vines are planted in rows in alternating distances from each other, in a special way I invented to get more shade for the grapes. I don’t want my wine to taste like alcohol, and the sun is becoming more and more of a problem.” Another of Tschida’s close-to-heart plots, the more than 60-year-old Eisner, is planted in the traditional doppelstock system with two vines planted right next to each other, thus pushing them to compete for nutrition deeper than usual. “It gives the wine extra cojones,” Tschida grins with satisfaction; his “Himmel auf Erden” red gets extra sap from these old vines, otherwise used for higher-end bottles or special cuvées, like Engel auf Erden.

After several years of efforts, Christian managed to secure ownership of all the new plots he wanted to work with–he now farms 14 hectares in total with the land that’s been in the family since the 19th century–a huge accomplishment on his journey as a winemaker, he says. “I didn’t want to have any more stupid discussions with people who didn’t understand my approach,” his expression darkens, “Imagine doing all this work just to hear that the owners want the vineyard back because, to them, it’s a wild mess, not the paradise I see. I wasn’t having any of that, and now I don’t have to,” he continues, explaining how important the cover crop is for the mycorrhiza, an essential roots-funghi communications system living in the healthy soil and showing in the wine.

Given his uncompromising nature, you won’t be surprised that Tschida has used the same vintage crew for ages, allowing for no interns. “It’s the everything-or-nothing moment in the grower’s year, so I take harvest extremely seriously. You see, a lot of the guys that would like to work with me are friends, and maybe they wouldn’t be anymore after this,” he self-reflectively admits in a Pipette interview, referring to his impatience. “So I prefer my harvest crew. And to keep my friends as my friends.”

Once the precious little grapes arrive at the cellar, the thoughtful treatment continues–Tschida describes himself as a “transformer”, not a maker of the wine, and he indeed does very little in the minimalist winery adjacent to his house. He prides himself in extremely gentle pressing, using a top-notch Bucher-Vaslin basket press (“the Rolls Royce of presses”), and a pneumatic press that was tailor-made for him in Germany, both exerting the “pressure of a handshake” and yielding only the best juice. (The must and remaining juice then return to the vines in a special mixture he makes to strengthen the vineyard’s health.) The wines spontaneously ferment and then rest undisturbed in big vats custom-made by Stockinger, a renowned and highly coveted Austrian cooper whose big vats can be found in the cellars of natural growers around Central Europe (e.g. Gut Oggau or Nestarec). No racking is performed, as Christian believes that every pump-over takes energy and freshness out of the wine.

“I want to make wine that says ‘Please drink me, I love you, hug me’,” he explains while proudly showing us the new vintage of Engel auf Erden (“Angels on Earth”) on his stylish patio. This vivacious, gourmand Cabernet Franc is indeed a perfect example of “huggable” wine: it’s made with “pink maceration”, a gentle extraction method that Christian has invented just to get maximum fruitiness from the skins while keeping the tannins tame. Experiments like this are an important part of Tschida’s practice, and about 10% of each harvest is dedicated to playing with new methods and approaches in the cellar so he can keep on discovering new paths.

Since 2013, the wines have been made completely without any sulfur, although Christian considers this topic to be way less important than it used to be. As he explains in Pipette: “If you have good grapes, they taste nice and have the same performance with or without sulfur; what comes out is just a different style. […] It’s the same with barrels–if you use a new oak barrel on wine, it will heavily influence it. The purity is on a different level than grapes that haven’t been in touch with new oak.” 

Purity is indeed the cornerstone of Tschida’s efforts. And probably also one of the reasons for his now cultish status, which is well-deserved for his hard work and visionary approach against the odds. (When Christian took the winery over in 2003, he recalls having “below zero customers”, alienating his father’s previous clients with his then-unheard-of vision of fruit-driven reds with low alcohol.) Whether he likes it or not (being too starstruck in his presence is rather advised-against), Tschida now firmly sits in the natural wine pantheon along with people like his “Brutal” fellows and best mates Tom Lubbe of Matassa or Joan Ramon Escoda. Given he’s only in his early forties, enjoys this enormous vineyard and cellar potential, and has all the experience and dedication to go the extra mile, this status is likely to be re-confirmed with every new vintage and every new savvily minimalist Tschida bottle full of intriguing twists and turns.

 

 


 

Himmel auf Erden Weiss — Back to the top

Einzelnutzen_2015 Kopie

Himmel auf Erden Weiss tech sheet

Varieties: Weissburgunder & Scheurebe

Vinification Method: Grapes are hand harvested, destemmed, and crushed by foot. The juice ferments in large barrels with indigenous yeast and no racking. It spends 1 year aging in 500 to 1500-liter barrels and is bottled without fining or filtering and no addition of sulfur.

 

 


Himmel auf Erden Rosé — Back to the top  

 

Varieties: Cabernet Franc

Vinification Method: Grapes are hand harvested, destemmed, and crushed by foot. The juice ferments in large barrels with indigenous yeast and no racking. It spends 1 year aging in 500 to 1500-liter barrels and is bottled without fining or filtering and no addition of sulfur.


Himmel auf Erden Maischevergoren — Back to the top 

Maischevergoren translates to “skin contact.”

Varieties: Scheurebe and several clones of Muscat

Vinification Method: Grapes are hand harvested, destemmed, and crushed by foot. Some of the skins are left in contact with the juice for 2 weeks, and some is left in contact for 4 weeks, making Christian’s only orange wine. The juice ferments in large barrels with indigenous yeast and no racking. It spends 1 year aging in 500 to 1500-liter barrels and is bottled without fining or filtering and no addition of sulfur.

 

 


Himmel auf Erden Red — Back to the top 

 

Varieties: 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Zweigelt

Vinification Method: Grapes are hand harvested, destemmed, and crushed by foot. The juice ferments in large barrels with indigenous yeast and no racking. It spends 1 year aging in 500 to 1500-liter barrels and is bottled without fining or filtering and no addition of sulfur.

 

 


Kapitel I — Back to the top

Kapitel I_2012

Kapitel I tech sheet

Varieties: Zweigelt/Cabernet Franc

Vinification Method: Grapes are hand harvested, destemmed, and crushed by foot. The juice ferments in large barrels with indigenous yeast and no racking. It spends 2 years aging in 500 and 1200-liter barrels and is bottled without fining or filtering and no addition of sulfur.

 

 

 

 

 


Felsen I — Back to the top  

 

Varieties: Blaufrankisch

Vinification Method: Grapes are hand harvested, destemmed, and crushed by foot. The juice ferments in large barrels with indigenous yeast and no racking. It spends 2 years aging in 500 to 1500-liter barrels and is bottled without fining or filtering and no addition of sulfur.

 

 


Felsen II — Back to the top
Einzelnutzen_2015 Kopie

Felsen II tech sheet

Age of Vines: 30 years old

Varieties: Syrah

Vinification Method: Grapes are hand harvested, destemmed, and crushed by foot. The juice ferments in large barrels with indigenous yeast and no racking. It spends 2 years aging in 1200-liter barrels and is bottled without fining or filtering and a no addition of sulfur.

 

 

 


Non-Tradition Weiss — Back to the top

publicViewAttachment

Non-Traditional Weiss tech sheet

Age of Vines: 40 years

Varieties: Gruner Veltliner

Vinification Method: Grapes are hand-harvested, destemmed, and crushed by foot. The juice ferments in large barrels with indigenous yeast and no racking. Some barrels remain in contact with the skins for a short amount of time. It spends 1 year aging in barrel and is bottled without fining or filtering and no addition of sulfur.


Non-Tradition 4 Years Barrel-Aged — Back to the top

Age of Vines: 40+ years

Varieties: Gruner Veltliner

Soil: limestone, quartz, clay

Vinification Method: Grapes were hand-harvested, gently pressed and fermented aged in a large Stockinger barrel for 4 years without topping-up. Bottled without fining or filtering, no addition of sulfur.

Personality: we all know this guy is capable of incredible wines but wow. Dense, focused, precise, incredibly layered, and full of details that Christian cares about so much. Truly unique and rare white.


Brutal — Back to the top 

Age of Vines: 40 years

Varieties: Pinot Noir

Vinification Method: Grapes are hand harvested, destemmed, and crushed by foot. The juice ferments in 2 large barrels with indigenous yeast and no racking.  It spends 1 year aging in barrel and is bottled without fining or filtering and no addition of sulfur. Bottled in magnum only.
 


Non-Tradition Red — Back to the top 

 

Age of Vines: 40 years

Varieties: 100% Cabernet Franc

Vinification Method: Grapes are hand harvested, destemmed, and crushed by foot. The juice ferments in barrel with indigenous yeast and no racking.  It spends 2 year aging in large Stockinger barrels and is bottled without fining or filtering and no addition of sulfur.
 

  


Laissez Faire — Back to the top 

Age of Vines: 40 years

Varieties: 100% Riesling

Vinification Method: Grapes are hand harvested, destemmed, and crushed by foot. The juice ferments in large barrels with indigenous yeast and no racking. It spends 2 years aging in large Stockinger barrels and is bottled without fining or filtering and no addition of sulfur.


 

Hokus Pokus — Back to the top 

Age of Vines: 40 years

Varieties: Mostly Gruner Veltliner with a little Riesling

Vinification Method: Grapes are hand harvested, destemmed, and crushed by foot. The juice ferments in large barrels with indigenous yeast and no racking. It spends 1 year aging in large Stockinger barrels and is bottled without fining or filtering and no addition of sulfur. Bottled in magnum only.


Hokus Pokus Red — Back to the top 

Age of Vines: 40 years

Varieties: Cabernet Franc

Vinification Method: Grapes are hand harvested, destemmed, and crushed by foot. The juice ferments in large barrels with indigenous yeast and no racking. It spends 1 year aging in large Stockinger barrels and is bottled without fining or filtering and no addition of sulfur. Bottled in magnum only.

 


TNT — Back to the top 

Age of Vines: 40 years

Varieties: Blaufrankisch

Vinification Method: Grapes are hand harvested, destemmed, and crushed by foot. The juice ferments in large barrels with indigenous yeast and no racking. It spends 1 year aging in large Stockinger barrels and is bottled without fining or filtering and no addition of sulfur. Bottled in magnum only.


Birdscape — Back to the top 

Birdscape is made with what Christian calls “Pink Maceration,” a very light extraction with just a small amount of contact with the skins, to result in a very dark rosé, or perhaps a very light red wine. Label art by Erró.

Age of Vines: 40 years

Varieties: Blaufrankisch, Pinot Noir, and some white varieties

Vinification Method: Grapes are hand harvested, destemmed, and crushed by foot. The juice ferments in large barrels with indigenous yeast and no racking. Christian made just one 3000 liter barrel of this wine. It is bottled without sulfur. 


Birdscape Weiss — Back to the top 

A year after the red original won everybody’s heart, Christian’s flock of lit Burgenland birds arrives also in white – or rather orange? Label art by Erró.

Grapes: blend of white grapes with Gruner Veltliner

Vineyard: limestone, quartz, schist

Making of: the grapes are hand-picked. The Gruner gets a short maceration, gently pressed and then blended with directly-pressed white field blend. Aged in large wooden vats for about a year. Bottled unfined and unfiltered, zero sulfur added.

Personality: incredibly fresh and pure, with laser-sharp acidity that will keep you going during an ongoing debate whether it’s white, orange, or who cares when it’s this good?


Engel auf Erden — Back to the top 

Engel auf Erden, which translates to “Angel on Earth” is another riff on pink maceration, like Birdscape. It’s a bit closer to a red than the Himmel auf Erden Rosé but has the lift and acidity of a macerated wine. 

Age of Vines: 40 years

Varieties: 100% Cab Franc

Vinification Method: Grapes are hand-harvested, destemmed, and crushed by foot. The juice ferments in large barrels with indigenous yeast and no racking. It is bottled without sulfur. 


Stockkultur — Back to the top 

Christian’s new take on the cult Burgundian grape, coming from painstakingly cherished, high-density vineyard trained on stakes, hence also the name “Stock kultur”. Only 750 bottles made!

Grapes: Pinot Noir

Vineyard: 40-year-old vines with high density, trained as “Stockkultur”, ie on wooden stakes.

Making of: the grapes are hand-picked and gently pressed. Aged in new 600L French oak barrel for about a year. Bottled unfined and unfiltered, zero sulfur added.

Personality: such plenitude! There’s smoke and minerals and violets and crushed forest strawberry and brambles and many, many more, all entangled on a beautiful, masterly built tannic structure. Great aging potential.