For the natural wine scene in Los Angeles, Austria has much to do with the recent frenzy of wine drinkers seeking out “funky” and “orange.” Wines like Meinklang and Koppitsch, affordable and chuggable, were flying off the shelves when I worked at Silverlake Wine.

Ewald Tscheppe of Werlitsch in Styria, the southernmost wine region in Austria, perpetuates the dreamy biodynamic farm vibes coming from Eastern Europe, and what he’s done in the realm of biodynamics restores my faith that there's brilliance to be found in the far reaches of natural wine.

Today, I'm happy to offer the 2018 Werlitsch vom Opok Sauvignon Blanc.

Really, Ewald is a true biodynamic geek. His eight hectares of vines share a home with fruit trees, wild herbs and vegetables, and forest. He follows all of the “woo-woo” intricacies of preparations and compost teas and uses ground quartz and rainwater as “fungicide.” And absolutely no sulfur, ever. He’s referred to as an agronomist, an uncompromising naturalist, with the motto that nature always does it better.

Ewald was studying wine in university around the same time Austria’s reputation took a big hit; a 1985 winemaking scandal revealed that some wineries had been using antifreeze to add sweetness and body to their wines. On the other end of the spectrum, Ewald and friends had discovered biodynamics; he identified so deeply with the ethics of organic and biodynamic farming that despite his father’s wishes, he secretly started farming their vines this way in 2004. Coincidentally, his father passed away that year, which gave him the freedom to go full steam ahead.

There are two factors that set Styria apart from the rest of Austria: its grape varieties and soil. Three-quarters of the appellation is planted to white varieties: mostly to Sauvignon Blanc as well as Chardonnay (called Morillon here) and other native varieties. Then, there’s a distinct soil component called “opok,” a mixture of limestone and clay, rich in minerals and marine fossils. Planted on a steep hillside behind his home, Ewald's vineyards are made up entirely of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, and opok is such a defining factor to the terroir, it’s the heartbeat to all of the Werlitsch wines.

Our staff blind-tasted the 2017 Werlitsch Ex Vero I, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. It had matchstick on the nose, then white florals, fresh citrus, and coconut milk, electric acidity on the palate—but it was really about the wine’s energy and thin wax texture. I thought it was from Jura. It had that Burgundy gone rogue feeling in Jura Chardonnay and Savagnin, except maybe it’s more appropriate to say Sancerre gone rogue given the context of Sauvignon Blanc.

The 2018 vom Opok Sauvignon Blanc is sourced from the lower part of Werlitsch’s hillside where the vines are around 30 years old. The fruit is directly pressed, stored in old foudre, and that’s basically it. It goes through fermentation then rests on the lees with no interference for at least 18 months. This wine is a great introduction to Ewald’s other projects, including the Ex Vero series that scales higher up the hill and the skin-contact wines.

I was aware of the allure surrounding Werlitsch for years, but at the time, these were just enough outside of the budget I'd normally spend on natural wine. Though, I wish I had dived in sooner. They're among a higher tier of wines that will expand your awareness of Austria.
 
—Sydney Love
Photo Credit: Little Wine