The Dark Side of Mosel
Owner & winemaker: Petra Kujanpää
Vineyard area: 2.5 hectares of small plots, in a long-term lease
Vineyard management: Practicing organic and biodynamic
Soils: rocky, very poor slate. Mostly old (60-100 years of age) head-trained vines on extremely steep slopes around the Mosel River.
Main varietals: 100% Riesling
Winemaking: manual harvest, spontaneous fermentation only. Long skin contact / carbonic macerations for most of the wines. No fining, no filtration, no sulfur addition.
Annual production (approx., in 2020): 3,000 bottles
- Petra originally studied chemical engineering in her native Finland, but quickly discovered that she needed to spend more time in nature; wine was the perfect answer, as it marries her science background with the outdoors.
- She worked in wineries all around Europe before working in the Mosel; her stint with the region’s legends Clemens Busch and Heymann-Lowenstein led to her falling in love with Mosel Riesling and settling down in the valley herself.
- She started by collecting patches of abandoned historical vineyards on the steep slopes around the towns of Pommern and Valwig, some of them up to 100 years old.
- The name Shadowfolk is inspired by C. G. Jung’s concept of the shadow self and shadow work, i.e. discovering (and taking strength from) the darker sides of your psyche and facets that society usually tells you to suppress.
- In addition to her friends, she’s also aided by her white husky named Lumi (meaning “snow” in Finnish)
- Petra’s bottles are made from a special bluish shade of glass, best discovered when you drink a bit from the bottle and then look through it.
“Go to the table where that young blonde woman is, she makes Rieslings like you’ve never tasted before,” said our buyer Phil Sareil at the May 2022 Karakterre fair in Austria, pointing towards the Germany-dedicated part of the room with a sparkle in his eye. Given his extensive experience with picking out the most exciting talents from the wine regions of Central and Eastern Europe for our book, expectations were high; but Petra Kujanpää, a Finnish native making truly idiosyncratic Rieslings in the Mosel Valley, easily exceeded them. Most of Petra’s Rieslings undergo long skin contact, and all of them are bone-dry and receive zero sulfur, so the result is definitely a far cry from the region’s canon. (Or from any other “traditional-style” Riesling you might know, for that matter. Phil was right.) However unexpected, we quickly got hooked on these wines: they are delicious, superbly pure, and enticing in the way they evolve in the glass. They are unapologetically themselves.
And this comes as no surprise – so is their creator. Upon visiting Petra in her small barn-turned-cellar in Pommern a few months after that first sip, we quickly realize that she’s no ordinary matter either. Despite her petite frame and youthful features, the vigneronne has an aura of strength and calm determination around her, emphasized by her candid, no-fuss demeanor and charmingly dry (and often dark) humor. She has a certain straight-to-the-pointness: “What are you looking for when deciding what moment is best to press?”, one of us asks, poking around the different barrels and tanks that surround us. “Well, if it tastes good, basically,” she replies matter-of-factly, making us all laugh with this laconic truth.
Simple, but not easy
The winemaking is, in a way, very simple here: once hand-harvested, the whole bunches, sometimes partially crushed, usually undergo a rather long rest on skins, up to 9 months for the cuvée called The Mystics. (On the other side of the spectrum, the Dark Side of the Aurora is her only direct-pressed white.) Petra macerates and ages the wine in different vessels – fiberglass, steel, wood, concrete – depending on the quality and ripeness of the grapes.
“The riper they are, the more sensitive they are to oxidation, a thing I have to avoid. And then I just taste the wines every once in a while to see if they’re changing. When they stop, I just press or bottle it. So basically it’s about being patient and not freaking out,” Petra summarizes. “I think it comes down to using the best grapes you have, when you want to make orange wine, which I think is unfortunately not always the case elsewhere. I find that crazy – to me, it’s like ‘man, you’re going to macerate these grapes, obviously you can’t put any shit in there’,” she doesn’t mince her words as she shakes her head.
At this point, it becomes clear that her seemingly easy winemaking ways actually entail much deliberation and attention to detail, such as avoiding punchdowns while the grapes are macerating: “There are oxidized grapes on top of the barrel. If you punch them you just put the oxygen in the rest of the vessel, which I absolutely don’t want,” Petra explains why her grapes and wines are allowed a nearly complete relaxation without any manipulation. When “it tastes good” and the time for the pressing comes, she chooses between different presses depending on the desired level of extraction: “The orange wines are macerated for such a long time and I don’t want to extract too many tannins; I have to be careful.”
Tasting her wines on barrel, it truly sparks joy to see how her meticulous yet simple approach pays off in their awesome precision and mineral notes. Maybe it’s rooted in her own scientific background – she studied chemical engineering at the university in Turku in her native Finland. “I realized I wanted to do something else than what Finland was offering to a person with my training, i.e. a career in pharma or engineering. I needed more nature, less office and lab coats,” she recalls. With an interest in wine sparked by a tasting organized by the university chemistry club, she embarked on a long journey, which began with her first harvest stint in Cyprus back in 2012. She then worked in New Zealand, Austria and France before fatefully coming to Mosel. Working with the region’s legends Clemens Busch and Heymann-Lowenstein led her to fall in love with Mosel Riesling and, eventually, settle down in the lower part of the valley and start her own operation with the 2020 vintage.
Old, steep and (un)wanted
She’s gradually amassed a collection of old and tiny vineyards scattered on the steep blue and gray slate slopes around the local towns of Pommern and Valwig. “I knew most of these sites already, since I’d worked in this area before. They were abandoned but perfect for me, as I love old vineyards,” Petra enthuses. Most of the sites she farms are old indeed, ranging from 60 to 100 years of age, with one younger plot planted around 2005, and all of them head-trained as is the custom here. Sounds like a lot of work to put back into shape, with uncertain results. “Some of the vineyards were OK, some not. I had to do some serious pruning too, then there was a shitty year, so I had nothing. But it’s slowly getting better, and the vineyards are becoming more productive, so I might get better quantity wise.”
Better, in her case, means a “whopping” 10,000 litres per year (she started with some 2,500 liters in 2020; this is also why only tiny amounts of her wine can make it to the States). “That’s the maximum with my style of winemaking, anyways,” she shrugs, “Working with the 2.5 hectares I have now is like having thrice as much in a “normal” region. I have many small plots scattered around, and I’m spraying everything myself with this backpack, zero machines,” she points to a jet-pack-like plastic canister used for treatments in steep vineyards such as hers. It looks small, but you surely wouldn’t want to be carrying it around on your shoulders, full of some organic treatment, all day long, especially in the hot summers or high-disease-pressure years one can get here.
Later, as Petra takes us for a quick trip to one of her most beloved vineyards, a more than century old site looming high above the river in Valwig, her efforts look even more super-natural than before. Despite being armed with nothing heavier than our phones, it’s not an easy feat to walk up (and mainly down) the slope, which not only feels almost vertical, but is also covered by the “shifting sands” of blue slate, the precious rocky, well-drained soil that gives Mosel Riesling their coveted mineral character. Holding on to dear life and the wooden stakes that the vines are trained on, we slowly reach one of the small rails that goes from top of the hill to its base next to the road and helps the local winemakers carry grapes and tools, while Petra watches the scene with an amused smile.
Struggles and shadows
How does it feel to take root in an area that’s quite traditional and insular, we wonder, especially when you’re a non-German speaking young woman? “In a way, being a Finn here gives me more freedom than a local would have, like letting grass grow in the vineyards.” (Petra is the only grower in her village working organically, which attracts wild boars who apparently prefer it natural, too.) “On the other hand, it sometimes feels like I’m not taken seriously,” she reflects. “And it’s hard to find a place to live or make wine – old people here are willing to give up the vineyards, but not a house or cellar,” she laughs. Another struggle of living in the valley is finding kindred spirits: “I’m trying to get some of my friends here so that we can build a little community, but not everybody has the same enthusiasm.” So far, she’s only accompanied by her dog, a white husky called Lumi, the Finnish word for snow.
Petra generally has a knack for intriguing names – from Heretic, pushing the boundaries of what Mosel Riesling is, to the very title of her winery, inspired by C.G. Jung’s concept of Shadow. “It’s the side of you that was repressed when you were young, when people around you told you what you can’t or are not supposed to do. Jung believes that a lot of bad people, including dictators, behaved the way they do because they weren’t aware of their dark side. I find it very fitting as a name – I wouldn’t be doing this if I was following what society tells me to do, would I?” she says with amusement. And the folk part stands for the collective effort that winemaking is. “I didn’t want to just put my own name on it. My family name is quite challenging for non-Finnish speakers anyways,” she jokes.
She puts a great amount of care into her labels as well. Each one comes from a different designer – one from a friend, others from illustrators she’s found on the internet – yet they all share the same vibe, quite a Nordic one. “I like the mythology, it fits me,” Petra nods and continues to explain the story of The Dark Side of Aurora, her only no-skin-contact white, whose label depicts a female figure – herself – between the vines. “It captures the essence of my work. It’s a struggle to work on these very steep slopes, but I still enjoy it,” she sums up. On our end, we’re quite happy to enjoy the results of her fight – quite the win-win, isn’t it!
The Heretic — Back to the top
Petra describes this wine as “part of my more experimental ‘Black Label’ range, where I play a bit more and push the boundaries” – as also the name suggests! The new vintage is a blend of a 2020, which aged in oak for 27 months, and of the 2021 vintage, which is direct press.
Vineyard: Old head-trained vines on steep slopes. Grey and blue slate, very poor soil. Farmed biodynamically by Petra herself.
Making of: Grapes are hand-harvested and partially (about 30%) crushed and fermented on skins and then aged on lees in big Stockinger oak barrel. Indigenous yeast only, no fining, no filtration, zero sulfur added.
Personality: a Riesling like no other, as the deep amber color hints. The first aromatic impression reminds you more of fine sherry or good whisky, and then boom, the Riesling appears in all its flowery and peachy glory. Mind-blowing in the best of ways.
The Conjurer — Back to the top
Vineyard: Old head-trained vines on steep slopes, mostly 60–100 years old vineyards in Pommern. Grey and blue slate, very poor soil. Farmed biodynamically by Petra herself.
Making of: Grapes are hand-harvested and fermented as whole bunches for 90 days in fiberglass tank, without any manipulation at all (no mixing, no pumping, no stomping). Pressed and aged on lees for more than a year. Indigenous yeast only, no fining, no filtration, zero sulfur added.
Personality: savory and flavorful! Enticing perfume of exotic fruits, a light lactic note, lovely length and saltiness. Petra calls her wines “thinking wines” and you can definitely see why, there’s so much to discover and marvel at with this one.
The Dark Side of Aurora — Back to the top
Winemaker’s note: “This wine is named after aurora borealis, the Northern lights – the old Nordic peoples believed that it is the evil spirits passing through. People are surprised that this wine is called dark although it’s actually very light-colored, direct-pressed white. But I wanted to pay tribute to the analogy that many people are still surprised or scared by unmanipulated, natural Rieslings, although they are beautiful, just like the Northern lights.”
Vineyard: Goldberg – a grand cru level single vineyard with 100 years old head-trained vines on steep slopes, located close to Petra’s winery in Pommern. Grey and blue slate, very poor soil. Farmed biodynamically by Petra herself.
Making of: Grapes are hand-harvested and direct-pressed. Fermented and aged on lees in a neutral barrel, for more than a year. Indigenous yeast only, no fining, no filtration, zero sulfur added.
Personality: juicy, direct, pure and super aromatic. Notes of petrol and flinty rock, a touch of peach and wood. Lovely and more classical take on Riesling in Petra’s range, showing the quality of its prime site.
The Mystics — Back to the top
“This wine is a sort of tribute to my Australian mentor, with whom I started to work on orange wines.”
Vineyard: Old head-trained vines on steep slopes. Grey and blue slate, very poor soil. Farmed biodynamically by Petra herself.
Making of: Grapes are hand-harvested and fermented as whole bunches for 270 days, without any manipulation at all (no mixing, no pumping, no stomping). Pressed and aged on lees for 350 days. Indigenous yeast only, no fining, no filtration, zero sulfur added.
Personality: another thinking piece! Lovely copper haze gives away its maceration pedigree, notes of stewed pineapple, spices and apple strudel. Smooth tannins and lovely vivid grip. Share with fellow wine nerds to enjoy discovering the layers of taste and communal geeking out.