Meinklang: when old structures meet modern minds
I had the chance to taste the wines of Meinklang in 2016, when I hosted a pop up with Juice Imports in Calgary. It was an interesting dichotomy: Erik Mercier was pouring an entirely natural lineup, while I brought a portfolio of conventional wine from BC, reflective of the wineries I had been working with at the time.
I remember coming in foolishly confident, excited to share my selections with Erik, entirely convinced he'd love them as much as I did. Until I tried the flight he was pouring, and I suddenly felt a sinking feeling: my choices paled in comparison. They lacked a certain electricity and "life". It was as though my wines were augmented, plastered with makeup, and his were bare and fresh faced - they tasted "real". In that lineup was Meinklang.
After that, I moved quickly away from conventional wine and began my deep dive into the natural realm. I remember sharing a meal with my business partner at The Fixx Cafe in Kelowna shortly after my event with Juice, and on their list was the Meinklang Gruner Veltliner. Paired with a seafood pasta everything came alive. It was experiences like this that affirmed the direction I had chosen was the right one.
I had the chance to speak with family member Niklas Peltzer recently, who shared the history of their farm, the reason for their approach, and what's been in his glass recently.
LM: Can you share the history of Meinklang? What makes it so special?
NP: It dates back a long time ago, it was (and is) a traditional mixed agriculture passed on from generations. Back then, nearly all families had a farm in this area and it was naturally mixed agriculture. People knew they needed animals for the manure and they knew they had to be part of the cycle and the organism. Then, the picture of farming and society changed rapidly and most people started commuting into the cities, stopped farming or they specialized in one thing like farming or wine. That´s why we have so many mono-cultures.
We went for a different way, early on we turned the farm into organic agriculture and that gave us stability and also a drive, but also we kept the mixed agriculture alive.
We are sitting directly on the Hungarian border, like literally, and the farm was always on the iron curtain, then in 1989 it all of a sudden opened. We started to work as well in Hungary (as we did before the communist regime). That made us even more diverse and gave us more freedom in space and possibilities. Meinklang as such was then developed in 2001 when the family grew and all three sons decided to stay at the farm. That clearly gave the farm the responsibility to stay diverse but also specialized in each of its approaches. Werner and Angela started with the winemaking (we always had grapes, but didn't really make wine), Lukas started the cattle and Hannes developed our farming towards more ancient grains such as Einkorn, Emmer and Kamut.
When I joined the farm 7 years ago, I realized how unique it is to have this old structure combined with a modern mind, it gives the chance to create real holistic farming into our modern society. It sounds simple, but that makes this place unique for me, its diversity and dedication to humble farming.
LM: Austria has emerged as a leader in quality natural wine, which can be in part attributed to embracing local, indigenous varieties. Where do you think this pride came from? Why do you think this is not more prevalent in other emerging regions? (Where I am from in the Okanagan Valley, is planted to over 80 varieties!)
NP: That is a tough question as you would need to analyze each individual region by itself. Often there is a lot of reasons for this and this is the same here. I mean yes we work with plenty indigenous varieties here, but also not. We have here many aromatic varieties such as different Muscat’s and Traminer kinds. They always worked well here and became part of its tradition, same as Pinot Noir, which is for me a benchmark for Austrian Pinot`s. So I think many times it is hard to say how that developed and what is better, often you take also what you get, is it better to replace an 35 year old Pinot Noir vineyard by some new Grüner? It is really individual and also often rational. I think in farming there are often emotional, but also often pragmatic decisions and that is important.
LM: Can you share your farming philosophy?
NP: Our philosophy is a holistic approach, we see the farm and everything involving it as one organism, you have to be part of it. We work biodynamically since 2002 and this became a standard for us, it’s a mindset, farming is a responsibility you have to take a part of. Often I get asked what`s the difference in biodynamic farming, I think people always try to find the hook-up line, but you can`t, at the end of the day it is a really pure and sensitive way of working with your place and having a relation to it and all what surrounds us.
LM: How would you say you make your wine? Is there a particular word, or expression that would best describe your approach? Instinctual, holistic, spiritual?
NP: All of mentioned, many aspects are being part of it. First we are a team, it`s Werner, Angela and me who giving it`s direction, that means many characters and spirits are part of it. But I think really important for us is trust, trust in nature, in life and it`s processes. We are not a small winery, though we barely taste what`s in the cellar, we are not controlling at all and trying to push a wine in a direction, we like the freedom of it and being just open about it. Again that`s the pragmatism I talked about and it can be beautiful.
LM: Who are your inspirations?
NP: Again we are a few folks here, so I can just speak of mine personally. I have always been inspired by humble people, people who have this sensible feeling for their place and this quietness in their being. One person is Geraud Bonnet, who makes natural honey wine in northern Quebec, someone who watched and learned how to be able to make pure, dry honey wine. This was inspiring to me. And then in daily life you have many inspiring people. I'll never forget this one moment, I was at a big natural wine fair, waiting in the toilet queue, this one woman asked politely to skip the line, as she wanted to be back as fast as she can, so that people who wanted to taste her wines didn't have to wait. She did it in such a cute, humble way, I felt really inspired by that, especially when you see so many leaving their tables early. I saw her later, standing with pride and respect behind her table, not having anyone to taste in that moment. That was true passion for me.
LM: What is the natural wine community like in Austria? Do you interact with your peers much? Is knowledge shared, and is community important?
NP: Like everywhere, you have people you are connected to and others you are not so much. We are not around much when in Austria, so we don't see people often, but there is definitely an exchange and good connection with some. I personally don`t think that it is closer than in other scenes to be honest.
LM: What's in your glass these days?
NP: Yesterday the beautiful Glück from Ewald Tscheppe (Werlitsch) from Styria, amazing person! I was recently in Slovenia at a small agri-tourism and the owner collects naturally made skin fermented wines since they accrued in Europe, so I had some amazing experiences with Slovenian, Italian, Croatian wines which have been 20-30 years in the bottle, no one can tell me after that, that is all a trend or a thing.
LM: What's a wine region you'd like to travel to that you haven't yet?
NP: Galicia would be interesting and also older places like the Greek islands.
LM: What's next for Meinklang?
NP: Well actually we just opened a farmshop in Vienna, finally showing people the other agricultural goods we do, such as hand milled flour, sourdough bread, our meat from our cattle and Mangalitza pork. It is unfortunately a temporary store, but we are excited to see what the future brings. We created it in those times and a friend, who is great chef, joined us and now we have a totally different vibe. It's made us even more diverse and positive.
Then we planned for this summer a bigger festival with music, farming, food, natural wine and a lot of creativity. It`s called Meinklang Festival and will be actually a pretty big thing for us. Of course we had to cancel it, but we are excited to plan it for next year.
And if that wouldn`t be enough, Werner and Angela are strongly involved in a Waldorf school close by which we developed with some parents years ago. We are right now trying to bring it to the next step and build a proper physical school.
You can find out more about Meinklang here, and follow them on Instragram @meinklang_farm