Martin Vajčner

Naturally Eggcellent

 

Quick facts:

Location: the village of Hodonice, Znojmo wine region, Moravia, Czech Republic

Owner & winemaker: Martin Vajčner

Vineyard area: 4.2 hectares (=10 acres) across 9 small sites, estate-owned or in long-term rental + occasional purchase of certified organic grapes

Vineyard management: certified organics or in transition, biodynamic methods

Soils: diverse depending on the site – granite, calcareous, sand, loess, loam

Main varieties: Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Muller Thurgau, Gruner Veltliner, Zweigelt, Pinot Noir

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

Winemaking: Native fermentation only. Fermentation and aging only in ceramic vats, various types of oak barrels, glass demijohns, qvevri. No fining, no filtration, little to no sulfur added at bottling.

 

Fun facts:

  • Martin comes from a family of winegrowers with a very long history – the oldest written record of his kin was found in 1634, citing the Weinschnitts (literally vine-cutters in German) living in Moravia.
  • Over the years, the family name gradually changed to the current Vajčner, which sounds similar to the Czech word for egg, hence the occasional eggs and egg-puns on Martin’s labels
  • The winery is pretty much a family affair – it’s made in Martin’s grandfather’s old underground cellar and farmed and harvested by the whole family, with little external help.
  • Besides taking care of the paperwork and helping him in the vineyards, Martin’s girlfriend Monika works as a wedding planner specializing in vineyard ceremonies – quite a convenient synergy!
  • The wines are some of the most energetic, interesting and precise we’ve seen in years coming from a young winemaker; given Martin’s talent, dedication and youth, we think we’re looking at quite a bright future here.

 

Jump to wines | Martin Vajčner Website 

 

“I used to take the “everything is done in the vineyard” as a cliché that winemakers will tell you because they know you want to hear it, but the more time I spend between the vines, the more I see the real truth of it,” Martin Vajčner smiles while walking us through one of his plots in his native Znojmo area. “It’s not just about having healthy grapes, it’s about the growing process functioning as a whole. It’s difficult to explain, but super easy at the same time,” he chuckles, “in fact the vines just need to feel natural themselves… and then you harvest before it’s too late and that’s it.” 

Simple, right? Well, there’s obviously way more work and dedication, both mental and physical, behind Vajčner’s crisp, zesty and instantly enticing cool-climate wines (more on that soon); at the same time, Martin’s whole wine endeavor does indeed exude a natural sense of ease, joy and flow. Becoming a winemaker was sort of a natural destiny for this thirty-something Moravian: his maternal grandfather was a cooper and his paternal one came from a long lineage of vine-folk in the nearby Strážnice region. “We searched in some local chronicles and found records of the Weinschnitts, as the family was called back then, as far as 1634.” (The name literally means vine-cutters, nomen omen; it gradually changed to Vajčner over the years, which sounds similar to the Czech word for egg, hence the occasional eggs and egg-puns on Martin’s labels.) “After WW2, my grandfather was already a well-known winemaker in the area, so when the Czech state needed to fill the cellar jobs left by the expelled Germans here in Hodonice, they asked him to come and help with the rebuilding.” 

And the family kept building – taking over the grandfather’s work, Martin’s father is the long-time director of arguably the biggest wine-producing company in the country. Wasn’t junior tempted to walk the mainstream path, too? “You know how it is, once you start with natural wine there’s no way back.. not only as a consumer, but also as a winemaker,” Vajčner laughs, recalling how he fell down the rabbit hole after meeting Czech natural wine OGs like Jaroslav Osička or Dobrá Vinice during his high-school winemaking studies. “I know that many people are quick to dismiss my father for working for a “corporation”, but he actually really likes what I’m doing. He’s now looking forward to retirement so that he can have more time to help me with my vineyards. He’s the perfect kind of skilled vineyard worker that you just ask to do something and don’t need to explain how, so I’m quite looking forward to his retirement too,” Vajčner laughs.

It’s worth noting that Vajčner Jr. is also one of the reasons why the big winery where his father works started to turn some of their most prized vineyards into organic farming. In the vein of “inoculating the mainstream with natural ideas”, Martin himself converted Načeratický kopec, a slope belonging to the Czech state as part of the official national wine & viticulture research institute, into a certified organic vineyard during his time working there. “Switching this beautiful experimental site to organic was my aim ever since I got the job. It was met with a lot of skepticism because you can imagine how the “old structures” in the establishment think… organic is a bad word for some of these people,” Vajčner grins and remembers the satisfaction of a mission accomplished during a recent check. “It felt as if the committee came to nitpick and find some problems, but finally had to admit that the vineyard is healthy and, gee, organics actually works. It took us a lot of labor because, as a showcase vineyard for ministerial visits, etc, the site also has to look “pretty”, you can’t leave it too wild or weedy like you could have it on your own soil… but it was well worth all that hoeing,” he laughs.

 

Collecting the vineyards one by one

This little victorious anecdote happened around the time when Martin’s own winery became too much to handle as just a hobby project along with a full-time job, so he finally decided to quit the institute and dedicate himself to the winery fully in April 2022. He now farms around 4 hectares of vines, a real mosaic of small plots (the biggest one is only one hectare, i.e. 2.5 acres) that he has been progressively leasing or buying in the villages near Znojmo when an opportunity arises. Of course, they keep coming to him in a very natural way: “Some people know me from my institute job, some people just see that I take good care of the vineyards I farm no matter if they’re mine or leased, so the word kind of spreads and I get offered a nice piece of land every so often… I just recently got a beautiful tiny vineyard from an old lady who couldn’t take care of her 0.2 ha of vines anymore – it’s in her own garden, so she didn’t want to lease it to just anyone, even thought of uprooting it, but her sister told her about me. It was a flash operation – she called, I arrived in 10 minutes, saw that the vineyard was in impeccable shape, a really incredible job for the self-taught viticulturist she was, and in 10 minutes the deal was done,” Vajčner recalls enthusiastically the half-hour that brought him one of the rare Malvasia vines on a clayey slope with north exposure in the area. “Can you imagine all the irresistible acidity? And the lease is 100 liters of wine a year as the owner didn’t want any money… I’m so lucky, right?” 

Lucky, sure, but also hardworking – all the vineyards are farmed by him, his family and a few seasonal workers in a respectful, regenerative way. All the vineyards are certified organic or in conversion, but his farming goes way beyond the official requirements; they treat only with sulfur, herbal teas from one Czech biodynamic producer and do a lot of hand work. Fifty percent of healthy grapes is leaf work anyways, he believes: “It’s a delicate balance, you can’t take out too many leaves, since then you wouldn’t have enough shade for grapes or amino acids for fermentation,” he proves his point of “everything is done in the vineyard”, at least for the winemakers like him who don’t have any second chance to make things up with additives in the cellar. 

The vineyards all use cover crops and a lot of manual work under vine; he’s also trying to substitute copper with a specific combination of herbs to avoid adding the heavy metal to the soil. “I sometimes feel like I got the harmony in a given vineyard right, but then a weird-weather year comes, or I acquire a new site that behaves differently and everything starts anew… Each plot is unique and I have to tailor the care to its needs; it’s no ‘one size fits all’ game. But that’s exactly the kind of challenge I love,” he smiles.

 

Geology for geeky wine lovers

Vajčner farms a real medley of terroirs that he’s quick to describe in overwhelming geological detail – there’s a unique site in Havraníky whose location above the tectonic rift brings the vine extra warmth and early growth, or Kraví Hora, with 50+ year-old Veltliner vines on tercenary gravels and marine fossils (that he and his girlfriend salvaged after 10 years of neglect and keep as welcoming as possible for the snakes and other animals coming from the National Park right next to it), or… well, if you enjoy geeky soil discussions, you’re in for a treat with this guy. 

Grape-wise, he’s happy to work with what he gets on the old plots he takes over (if healthy), so there’s quite a lot of varieties in his range. But for his own new plantings, he opts for Zweigelt, Gruner Veltliner, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc: “I find that these grapes simply belong here, they work really well on Znojmo soils. Sauvignon is a bit more of a challenge, as it can be quite whimsical during vinification – my friend says that “the best Sauvignon is in your neighbor’s cellar”, but I love the crisp yet aromatic profile it can achieve here. And last but not least there’s Pinot, my darling grape,” Vajčner enumerates. 

 

Free-flowing cellar 

Vajčner’s grandfather’s old underground cellar in Hodonice is a place that’s quite calm during most of the year – “besides the harvest time, I spend 95% of the time outside in the vineyards and only come here when I have a visit or need to top up the barrels, like today with you, so it’s actually quite a welcome opportunity for my own check-up,” he smiles. The space is once again a naturally flowing affair – grapes are footstomped on the ground floor and usually left on skins for a few hours or weeks depending on the grape and style. Once pressed, they flow by gravity into the cellar underneath where the wine then ferments and rests in various kinds of vessels. Never in stainless steel – Vajčner finds that this highly temperature-sensitive material makes the nascent wine lose aromas during fermentation, so he only has 2 tanks used for the final ‘blend & rest’ before bottling.

Instead, there’s a line of old-school looking ceramic rectangular vats in different shades of brown that Martin salvaged from a nearby factory: “They’re very heavy, hence temperature-stable, and breathe despite the glazing, the perfect combination for macerations or aging white varieties. And they’re cheaper than concrete eggs,” he laughs; at 500-liters each, it’s also the perfect size for a grower with many smaller vineyards that he doesn’t want to blend together in the cellar. He also has two qvevri made by a Czech potter using local Znojmo clay, wood and water (yet another sign of how meticulous and detail-oriented Vajčner actually is), which are buried in gravel, and a couple of glass demijohns glowing with bright yellow and orange juices, used for pet-nats or small lots that don’t fit elsewhere.

And, of course, a myriad of oak barrels lay in the long underground halls. Tasting through them with the winemaker is a geeky paradise – there are French, Slavonian, Austrian and local oaks and acacias of various sizes and ages. Vajčner usually puts wine from one terroir into a mix of barrel types, as he really enjoys discovering and sharing the flavor and character nuances that the different woods lend to the same raw material; he then usually blends them together to get a complex yet single vineyard wine as a result. “I don’t like to mix different terroirs; the more I know my vineyards the less right it feels,” he smiles, “If needed, I prefer to blend varieties rather than soils.” 

 

Attention to detail

The wines see very little batonnage, only for barrels that feel too reductive: “I do it for 10% tops, otherwise each stir adds oxygen to the wine and makes it lose acidity, which on the contrary is exactly what I want to keep as much of as possible. It gives wine its structure and allows me to use less sulfur,” Vajčner explains. (He’s using zero to 40ppm maximum, pre-bottling.) He also makes sure to steam the barrels extensively before harvest – the machine isn’t cheap and it takes up to a week of work to do it properly, but Martin is persuaded it’s worth it: “Not only to prevent any unwanted bacterial processes, but I also find that it helps to open the pores and incorporate the wood and the wine better,” he asserts. 

With his attention to detail, you won’t be surprised that Vajčner bottles the wines himself on their own small bottling line that works gently by gravity and offers him the flexibility to bottle the wines only when it feels right. Or, rather, when it feels right AND the clients can’t take the wait anymore: “Some of my importers take pictures of the barrels they chose in the cellar and then keep sending them to me with ‘bottle my boy already’ demands,” Vajčner laughs. “I obviously want to have some wine on the market, yet at the same time I sometimes open a stashed-away bottle a year after its release and get a little bit of remorse when I see how better still the wine has become, if only we had all waited a bit more… I basically took on more vineyards just to have a bit more material that I can keep in the barrels.” 

Well, given how compelling, pure and crisp Martin’s wines are, and how they (legitimately) attract more and more importers and wine lovers, we’re afraid that not even a couple of recent vineyard additions will do. Luckily for us, he’s still at the beginning of his journey and super-passionate about it (“I read or listen to stuff about viticulture even when exercising –  there’s no off-time when you love something”), so more expansion – natural, of course – is probably underway. “Would I refuse a beautiful vineyard when offered? Probably not, to be honest – growing vine is my calling. I don’t push for anything, but I’m sure I want to re-invest everything that I earn back into the vineyards. We’ll see where the future takes us,” he shrugs with a smile. Take our word for it, this is one bright space to watch.

 

 Wines

 


VibeZnojmo — Back to the top

Grape: Müller Thurgau (50%), Riesling (40%), Sauvignon (10%).

Vineyard: blend of vineyards near the National Park Thaytal, organically farmed.

Making of: the grapes are hand-picked, gently crushed by feet and skin-macerated for a few hours. Spontaneously fermented and then matured in Hungarian acacia, French oak barrels and glass. No filtration, no fining, bottled with a bit of sulfur (30mg/l total).

Personality: vibing indeed! Strong expression of its beautiful Znojmo terroir – energetic, elegant, salty blend of locally typical grapes.


Riesling  — Back to the top

Grape: Riesling

Vineyard: Načeratický Kopec – an “island mountain”, a remnant of a Tertiary erosion of a granite massif. Rocky upper part with gravel and sandy subsoil, clay and gravel in the lower part, on granodiorites and amphibolic quartz diorites. Certified organic, planted in 2009. 

Making of: the grapes are hand-picked, gently crushed by feet and skin-macerated for 12 hours. Spontaneously fermented and then matured in French oak barrels. No filtration, no fining, bottled with a bit of sulfur (30mg/l total).

Personality: zesty, pure, super energetic and well structured Riesling, representative of its rocky granite terroir.


Sauvignon — Back to the top

Grape: Sauvignon Blanc

Vineyard: Načeratický Kopec – an “island mountain”, a remnant of a Tertiary erosion of a granite massif. Rocky upper part with gravel and sandy subsoil, clay and gravel in the lower part, on granodiorites and amphibolic quartz diorites. Certified organic, planted in 2009. 

Making of: the grapes are hand-picked, gently crushed by feet and macerated with skins and stems for 6 hours. Spontaneously fermented and then matured in French oak barrels. No filtration, no fining, bottled with a bit of sulfur (30mg/l total).

Personality: flamboyant aromatic meets perfect structure, juiciness and vibrancy. Serious yet super-drinkable white with beautiful aging potential, giving away its skilled winemaker.