Certain wines present in such a way, that when imbibed, the warm personality of the winemaker comes through. This is the case any time I drink Rennersistas - sister winemaking duo Stefanie and Susanne Renner, of Burgenland, Austria.
The wines they produce present in an approachable, consumable and complex trifecta - a style of winemaking that indicates a high level of skill. Their bottles would easily convert any natural wine skeptic.
Upon chatting with Stefanie recently over email, it all made sense. Though I've not have the pleasure (yet!) to meet this lovely family, I found myself smiling reading her responses - so honest, pure and disarmingly sweet. It's no surprise why I love their wines.
Thank you to Stefanie for taking the time to chat with me.
LM: Are you seeing any impacts of climate change? If so, what have you observed? What changes, if any, have you needed to make?
SR: Yes, definitely. I remember that harvest used to be much later, when we were kids. Not only because our parents still waited for a bit more sugar in the grapes (slightly more alcohol in the wines). Since we have started to work at the farm in 2015, we always had quite early years. Also, now the buds are showing, and with the warmer temperatures to come, we expect the shoots to show in a few days or definitely next week. It is a bit hard or rather dangerous to generalize. There’s been late frost in former times, too. But we definitely feel that there’s more extreme storms for example. Short and not very cold winters, very dry years - no snow in our region. (we always used to build a lot of snow caves and igloos and snowmen etc. but that’s not possible anymore).
Changes: we planted a new vineyard in 2017 in a slightly higher altitude meaning cooler and more exposed to wind (wind dries the rain so that it’s harder for the fungi, oidium or Peronospora, to infect the plants), pick earlier in order to have higher acidity and therefore more stability (lower pH); get used to it ; spray different kinds of tea (millefolium achillea is supposed to refresh the plants for example).
LM: Can you tell me a little about the history of your winery, and how you came about making wine?
SR: Our Great-Grandparents still had mixed agriculture, they had their own wheat mill for their animals, plus a few vineyards. They had their house in the middle of Gols, the town where we still live in and they had two sons. Our Grandfather became the winemaker and got all the vineyards, while his Brother stayed at the house keeping the mill. They built a cellar and later also the house outside of Gols, so they were able to store the wine there. This is our Father's side. Our Mum is also from a winemaking family and she’s been working in their winery since she was 16. When our parents married, they took over our winery in 1988. At that point, we only slowly started to bottle wines into 750 ml bottles (before it was more common to have 1L or even 2L bottles and deliver once a week directly to all the taverns that were customers). Our parents collaborated with their first distributor in Austria and slowly started to expand, to countries like Germany, Switzerland, USA, Singapore.
Us three kids, we have always been very much involved in the winegrowing and winemaking process. We loved it as kids, but when we were teenagers, we all just wanted to do our own thing and definitely not become what our parents were. But when my Sister and I moved into the same apartment in Vienna (while we were studying/working), we realized that we actually miss the countryside. We loved growing up there, knowing that our Mum is in the vineyards and our Dad is either doing some tractor work or something else in the wine cellar. We started to taste wines and well, we also realized that the very classic wines are not so much our thing.
LM: Why natural wine? Has it evolved into this style over time or did you always endeavour to make wine in such a way?
SR: Our parents were farming organic since 2009, they haven’t added any yeast since the early 90s. They didn’t fine the wines. So, it was actually not such a big deal to go into the natural winemaking direction. Our Father also tried a Chardonnay fermented on whole bunches in 2012 without additives or sulphur, no filtration, so we were all on the same track somehow. We got to taste a lot of nice low-intervention wines and we were all amazed by the life and freedom that those wines carried with them. So when Susanne and I told our parents that we would like to come back home and help them and also create our own wines, we told them we’d only do it if we can try out new things and go very much into the natural wine direction. Lucky for us, our parents are the biggest fans of the style that we’re doing now.
LM: Have you ever noticed a difference in male vs female produced wine?
SR: Hmm. I honestly don’t like that question. I find the character and nature of a winemaker much more decisive than gender. I think that it’s a big prejudice that female made wine necessarily have to be more elegant, less full of tannins etc. I could name a few male winemakers who make super delicate and very silky wines, too. And at the same time I could also name some female winemakers who prefer a rustic, harsher style of wines. So I say: No.
LM: On the notion of describing wine from a gender context - what is your take? There have been some commentaries recently touting that certain terms need to be removed from the wine vernacular, such as feminine, masculine, slutty, elegant, or pretty. What's your take?
SR: Please see answer above. I totally agree. If I as a woman fight for gender equality, I shouldn’t use those terms too much either. And also I don’t want to. Our Father always used to say about his style of winemaking, that he makes wines with rather feminine tannins. We are trying to teach him now to use other vocabulary Even though I know that it is sometimes easier to describe things with special words, that now everyone finds accurate. I think elegant is totally fine, because both a woman as well as a man can be elegant, right ?
LM: How would you describe your wine style? Does it have a telltale characteristic or trait?
SR: I think there is a lot of instinct in our winemaking. Since we all haven’t really learnt it so much in a school or university, there is just a lot of feeling in it. It’s the same with cooking. Sometimes we look at the recipe first, but then while we’re in it, we just completely forget about it and do as we feel and think is right. And it might happen – well it always happens – that things don’t always work out the way we planned, but we actually appreciate those surprises. We definitely know that we still have the potential to learn a lot, but that is also a kind of motto for life: there’s always new things to discover, we will never be able to know everything. And we definitely don’t want to drink or make the same wine every day, or year. We want nature to be in our lives and in our wines and we want to be delighted about new characteristics of our wines every year.
LM: Who are your inspirations?
SR: Our Mum. That always sounds weird, but she is a great person with a lot of feeling for nature and plants. She has taught us a lot about the farming, but also handling life with all its facets as a woman. Working hard in the vineyards, caring for our garden, raising three kids, cooking for the whole family. Being a loving person, a great and patient teacher and always positive no matter how hard life might be. And I guess now that we are grown up and run our own business, I realize more and more how much she has pushed through and how much strength she’s got. Cheers to our Mums!
LM: How would you counsel someone looking to get into winemaking? What would you warn them of?
SR: I would tell them that they should of course know the rules if they want to break them. So a basic know-how is definitely necessary to understand the process that goes on during fermentation and aging of wine. I am personally a big fan of chemistry and I think that’s definitely a small advantage. But even more important, I would tell them to ask winemakers they admire to spend a vintage with them. You will never ever EVER have a better time in your life than when you spend around 2 months picking grapes, making wine, drinking wine, chatting about wine and life and love and much more. You will work a fucking shit load, but you will love it and no matter where you are, you will always learn so much about yourself and about what you might want in your own wines. And: taste, taste, taste wines and talk about it with friends or colleagues.
Warn them: it is hard work, it doesn’t always pay off, you can’t do it on your own and I think you shouldn’t. It’s a social thing. Wine should be able to connect people. While drinking and while making it. (In times like these that is an even more intense thought.)
LM: What's in your glass these days?
SR: Our Pet Nat !! Bubbles are always great. And since there is a lot of stress with the Corona crisis right now, we just need some sparkle in our life. And if that is too much fizz, I’d go for Superglitzer, a light red/rosé.
And of course, if I am not only drinking our own stuff, hmm I can’t name anyone. I have been drinking a lot of great Austrian colleagues lately (Claus Preisinger, Judith Beck, Heinrich, Werlitsch, Gindl, Matassa, Tom Shobbrook, Johan Herman Meyer of course)
LM: What's a wine destination you are hoping to get to soon?
SR: I still haven’t seen enough of our Austrian friends and colleagues, but what’s been on the list for so long is Alto Adige. Marion and Martin from Pranzegg are such lovely people and we have been talking for what feels like years now, that I should finally visit. But with the whole situation now, we will see how soon it can be. The good thing is, we can go there by train and that is something that we find very important.
Thank you to the Rennersistas for their time. You can find out more about them here: https://www.rennerundsistas.at/en/ or follow them on Instagram @rennerundrennersistas