Werlitsch - 'Ex Vero II' - Chardonnay & Sauvignon Blanc - Styria, AT - 2019
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"Ex-Vero" - Latin for truth is what Ewald Tscheppe of the Werlitsch winery is after. Ewald lets nature shape his wines, working biodynamically in the vineyard and with minimal intervention in the cellar.
This Sauvignon Blanc - Chardonnay blend comes from 12-55 yr old vines planted on higher parcels where the soil has fewer nutrients and retains less water controlling vine vigor and forcing the roots deeper into the earth, yielding fruit with more complexity and finesse. Hand-harvested, spontaneously fermented, and aged for 2 yrs in large 3 yr old French, Croatian, and Hungarian oak barrels.
The wine is at first very flinty, floral, leesy on the nose with tart, high-tones of green apple, yellow pear, and underripe pineapple on the palate. The wine has a fullness yet is incredibly stony, with very high acidity--think flint of a Sancerre mixed with the petrol notes of an Alsatian Riesling and the crisp, stoniness and tree fruits of a Chablis.
In today's time when natural wines are produced almost anywhere, its all too easy to forget how the revival of this ancient winemaking technique and rise to popularity came about: first there were a few visionaries along the Italy Slovenia border (Gravner in 1997), a few more in the Loire (Joly) and, yes, another few in Austria's Styria, the wine region bordering Slovenia and one that is known for Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, the latter being called Morillon locally.
One such pioneering soul was Ewald Tscheppe. When Ewald started experimenting with skin fermentation, keeping his wines on the lees for many years and with reducing sulfur to a bare minimum, and then skipping it altogether, his ideas seem rather out there.
Ewald works 8 hectares of steep and rolling hills surrounding his winery. His system is simple: he divides his vineyards into three categories, with the vines from the bottom of the hill going into the Ex Vero I cuvee, the vines on the slopes going into Ex Vero II, and the steepest and therefore most austere parts of the vineyard are reserved for Ex Vero III.
Ewald works his vineyards following Demeter principles of biodynamic farming. Having a lively and healthy balance between insects, microcosms in the soils and plants, create the kind of balance that is crucial to produce grapes of the highest quality,
The Werlitsch winery sits at bottom of steep vineyards that surround the winery like an amphitheater. Rolling hills provide the most austere soils and strongest winds close to the ridge, while deeper and more fertile soils can be found at the bottom, near the winery. Owner Ewald Tscheppe decided to make Ex Vero III from those highest elevations and the more fertile soils would produce Ex Vero I, leaving the middle part of the hill to the Ex Vero II. The vines grow on marl known locally as Opok. Ewald's wines are expressive and fascinating cuvées of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc (most of the time, anyway). High acidity from early harvest is tamed with extended time on the fine lees in used oak barrels of various origins. Ewald's skin-fermented wines, the Freude (joy) and Glueck (good fortune) are bottled in clay and will have fermented on their skins anywhere from a week to a full year.