It is never easy to fill the shoes of a powerful and polarizing figure, like Gerald Malat. Gerald’s tall, handsome and forever smiling son, is doing just that. In fact, the shoe size seems to have gotten even bigger under Michael’s direction. The previous level has been elevating under Michael’s eagle-like eyes which have set him on his upward climb. There is something extraordinary and unique about the expression of these vineyards under Michael’s direction. Even the entry-level wines find absolute deliciousness and express enough intellect to enamor us wine geeks. There is a range of yellow fruits and spiciness that walks you through a stone fruit grove and into a baker’s shop first thing in the morning. These wines seem to be born with a natural gravitation towards the highest level and each vintage seems to trump the previous one. The limit of the quality this estate is churning out has not yet been established.
Lay of the Land
Kremstal is one of the most recent DAC to be added to Austria. Founded in 2007, just west of the Wachau, this large appellation is divided into three significant zones. The most western part of the valley, near Stein, is primarily rocky soils, ideal for the elegant, yet intense, Riesling varietal. As you move east towards the historic town of Krems, deep loess soils cover the vineyards allowing Gruner Veltliner to express its highly aromatic and fresh nature. The third zone of the Kremstal is located on the southern banks of the Danube River, where some of the most pleasant wine villages are found. The deep valley is protected by the northern cool winds, though the warm Pannonian winds from the east are still strikingly present, resulting in a riper style wine.
Malat - 2016 Gewurtztraminer Orange
24+ in stock
This category is subdivided into Forbidden, Never and Sometimes. The first implies that it’s against the regional wine law, the second that it isn’t forbidden but not needed or never used, and the last pertains to those who use it when necessary.
This detail has been included for no other reason than to stimulate thought and discussion about the subject. It’s an interesting debate and there are many good perspectives on all sides. Whether it’s important to the quality of a wine or not is up for grabs and we are always open to try to understand different viewpoints.
Irrigation is worth noting because there are many places in the world where it’s forbidden by law, like much of France; most believe it’s still completely forbidden there but in some regions, especially in the south, growers are now able to attain legal permission in the wake of climate change. For example, many of the stony limestone vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape are being irrigated, and some believe these zones shouldn’t have been included in the appellation altogether for this reason.
Dry farming is the practice of not using supplemental irrigation but relying completely on the rainfall (and subterranean water) that occurs on the plot of land being farmed. In theory (a word I feel obliged to use when speaking about wine concepts), dry farmed vineyards are likely to develop deeper root systems than those that are artificially irrigated. Roots grow to where the water flows and vines won’t work hard for water if they don’t need to. If going deep is the only option for survival, they will dig.
Drip irrigated vines often tend to have clustered root systems at the surface where the water supply is located, especially when the frequency is very regular and the length of time of the drip short. Frequent shallow irrigations in one particular spot will keep roots from working deeper into the soil, and in theory miss possible opportunities to uptake soil components deeper below the surface that could potentially increase the complexity of the grapes. However, in more attentive and precise agricultural approaches to those who value a soil’s contribution to the complexity of a wine may consider irrigating for longer periods with bigger gaps in frequency, simulating a somewhat natural rainfall. This will saturate deeper below the topsoil and if the soil has good water retentive capacity, it will develop a reserve the roots can dig deep to reach.
Dry farmed vines with more deeply developed root systems have the benefit of not relying on an unnatural water supply because of their access to water deep below the surface, so they can weather a drought on their own. However, the climate is changing and dry farming may no longer be so easily taken for granted in some parts of the world.
According to soil scientist and California vintner, Ryan Stirm, late season compensation for drought by the use of artificial irrigation may—depending on how the root systems have developed—promote more vegetative growth via the hormone auxin, which tricks the vine and keeps it growing and developing more sugar in the fruit at the expense of ripening the seeds. Physiologically, dry-farming naturally balances the plant hormone cycles throughout the year and saves an enormous expense and can potentially make more compelling wine with deeper complexity in certain elements. This is not to say that wines grown with artificial irrigation are not complex, but perhaps express their complexities in different ways.
As mentioned before there are regions where irrigation is forbidden by law, and those where it’s permitted but the winegrower doesn’t apply it or isn’t even equipped to do so if it’s needed. The last category, “Sometimes,” is not a mark indicating good or bad. I believe that conscious winegrowers interested in quality are prudent with this countermeasure to drought but they likely understand the pros and cons on both sides of the theoretical argument.
Notes compiled in 2019 by Ted Vance (The Source) and Michael Malat