Judith Beck: natural wine is just a logical consequence
Burgenland, Austria has been on my radar for some time; the caliber of producers congregated in the area are putting forth wines of precision and freshness, all while remaining incredibly affordable.
I approach every new-to-me producer with a healthy level of skepticism - there's so much noise in the category of natural wine. Label your wine as "unfiltered" or "sans souffre" and you'll undoubtedly garner the attention of every hipster on the natty band wagon.
Judith's wines seem to hit all the marks these trend chasers seek: sexy labels and a young up and coming winemaker producing wine in one of the hottest regions. I wanted to like the wines, but I needed to be sure it was for the right reasons.
Recent revelations have led me to realize I'm simply after wines that bring pleasure. I don't always want to intellectualize or philosophize everything I imbibe. These days, it's about wines that are delicious and easily enjoyed with nice food and good company.
This is what I found in Judith's wines. They're not esoteric - you can taste a noble effort, resulting in a dichotomous style of wine that is somehow both profound and approachable. While drinking the wines with my partner, I uttered - "This is the kind of wine that presents as seemingly simple to produce, akin to a really talented athlete making the sport they play look easy."
LM: Tell me a little about your background, and how you came to making wine.
JB: My family was making wine for many years already. My grandparents had a little farm with wine and agriculture. In 1975 my parents took over and started to focus on wine only. So, I already grew up with wine. It’s not that I always knew that I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my parents. Only when I was 21 I decided to take over and have not regretted it since. What I love most about the job is that it is so versatile. There is the vineyard part and the cellar part, but also the part where you go to wine fairs and get the chance to meet amazing people all around the world.
Today it’s an estate of about 20 ha all in Gols. We do about 70 % red wine and 30 % whites focusing on local grape varieties.
LM: Burgenland has emerged as a leader in the natural wine movement - why would you say that is?
JB: This is definitely only a small percentage of all producers in Burgenland. I think that this development is closely related to biodynamics. There are a lot of strong personalities with a great passion for experimenting and trying out new things in our area. Maybe it’s also because we don’t have a tradition of a certain style of wine for centuries. This gives us more freedom to create our own tradition and I’m very happy that I can be a part of this.
LM: What are some other emerging regions you've been interested in, or drinking lately?
JB: I’ve always been in love with French wines especially from the Loire valley. But I think there is a lot going on in Slovakia and the Czech Republic right now. These are definitely regions that one should keep an eye on.
LM: Who are your inspirations?
JB: I like to travel a lot and love to go to wine regions. You always get inspirations, no matter where you go. Two of my most memorable visits where in Spain with Joan Rubio and in France with Richard Leroy.
LM: How did you come about making natural wine? Why do you choose to make it in such a way?
JB: I think it was less a choice than an evolution that took some time and finally was just a logical consequence.
It all started when we decided to convert to biodynamic viticulture in 2006. First it was just a change in the vineyard and we focused a lot on improving soil life and building up humus. Then after a few years I realized just how much the quality of the grapes had changed and how much more vibrance and liveliness there was in the wines. For me it was liberating to forget pretty much everything that I had learned in winemaker’s school and just follow my instincts while working with that lovely fruit that I suddenly had. I enjoy working with many different grape varieties. It’s very exciting for me to find out what the true character of a grape is.
LM: Your 2018 Out is seriously good - it brought to mind memories of my childhood, when I would pick berries for a local farmer near my home - earthy, pungent, slightly feral, herbal, and fruity, yet so cohesive. How do you approach this blend? Do you have a different style or theme for each vintage?
JB: Out is a brand-new blend, 2018 is the first vintage. It’s made of Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt. Those two are the most typical red wine grapes of our area. For me it’s a wine that is very precise and straight but juicy and easy going at the same time. For me that is what a red wine should be, not big, heavy and tannic. I also love your description of it. Each vintage is different and it’s exciting for me to feel the characteristic of the season in a wine.
LM: Can you comment on how climate change has affected you? Are there any changes or measures you've had to take to adjust?
JB: Extreme weather events are more and more frequent. We’ve had bad spring frost in 2016 and this year we have a severe drought. Summers are generally getting more hot and dry. I think that biodynamics can have a very positive impact because you get better soil life and the vines are getting more robust towards weather extremes. We also planted grape varieties with higher acidity, like Furmint, Harslevelü and Welschriesling in order to keep the freshness in our wines.
LM: Do you think there is any validity to biodynamic fruit being higher quality ? Would you attribute it to the intensive labour required or attention to detail innately necessary?
JB: I’m convinced that biodynamic fruit is higher quality. You can taste that easily in the grapes before harvest. I think it’s because of the better soil conditions in the first place, but also because of the manual labour and attention dedicated to the plants.
LM: What's your opinion on sorting fruit? We're trained to go to the grocery store and pick out the "ripest looking peach" - but if blind folded, it's likely we'd prefer the fruit that was more imperfect looking - the peach that might be a bit compromised and bruised. What's your take on this? Are you a proponent of sorting, why or why not?
JB: I am a proponent of sorting. It’s important for us to have only healthy fruit in the cellar because we do vinification without SO2. If a wine gets SO2 then it’s only just before the bottling. Before there is zero in the vinification process. It just makes things a lot easier if the fruit is perfect and there is less risk of flavours that I personally don’t like. We do sorting in the vineyard. Our team is quite skilled and they know what to do. Then we do another sorting in the cellar. It’s also very important for me to choose the right moment of picking for each grape variety.
Learn more about Judith here or follow her on Instagram @weingutjb.