I first read about the wonderful work of Karl and Eva Schnabel several years ago. However, in the space of a few short months in 2016 I received very, very spirited recommendations about their wines from two of the most respected farmers in France, François Blanchard and Gilles Vergé. Both François and Gilles make incredibly age-worthy and mineral wines from their respective regions and I listened keenly as they explained their sheer delight at experiencing Karl and Eva's wines for the first time.
I'll never forget Gilles' impassioned description of their work during a visit last year when he stopped the conversation, took a deep breath and with utter authority labelled the wines as "EXTRAORDINAIRE!!!!!"
And this coming from a man who makes some of the finest white wines in France - I was very excited.
Thus, in November 2016 I finally arrived in Styria to meet Karl and Eva for the first time.
Karl collected me from the train station in Graz on a perfect morning, plenty of snow had already fallen throughout the region, and we made our way to his home in Gleinstätten, roughly 40 minutes to the south-west.
After 20 minutes of knowing Karl I had immense respect for him.
12 hours later, after visiting his vineyard, tasting his staggering wines and spending time with his wonderful family I felt that this is a man with enough energy, passion and vision to make a very strong, resounding and internationally felt statement about the extreme importance of holistic farming. Quite simply, he's at the pinnacle of natural farming and winemaking and I'm incredibly excited to be working with he and Eva.
Karl grew up in this part of Styria and has worked with the land for most of his life. His family were involved in cattle farming and to this day he favours a closed circuit farming system and his small herd of cattle make up a fundamental part of the whole. To this day he and Eva and their three sons live in the home that belonged to Karl's grandparents and it still exudes the happy energy of its former days as an inn and dance hall.
He and Eva worked in Burgundy in 1997 and 1998 and their respective formal educations were taken in Vienna.
Since 2003, their 5 hectares of vines, all located on the famous Sausal hill, have been certified biodynamic and since 2007 every wine that they produce is free of added sulphites. The domaine is a member of Les Vins S.A.I.N.S. and Karl and Eva are among the most informed, capable and enthusiastic proponents of organic agriculture I have ever met.
Their terroir is very interesting. The Sausal hill rises quite dramatically from the plains and gently undulating countryside around Gleinstätten and its soil composition is just so wonderfully fascinating. The hill is a former island which rose roughly 300 million years ago and the resultant soils are loose and very stoney. The stones are largely a primary rock mix of quartz, flint and silica, though scarcely any clay or limestone, and the wines have very strong mineral presence as a result.
Karl farms three separate parcels across the hill and the plantings are a mix of Riesling, Morillon (Chardonnay), Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch and Pinot Noir. Visiting these vineyards with Karl is maybe the most informative and thrilling thing I could recommend for anyone interested in organic agriculture, healthy food and biodiversity. He is unbelievably knowledgeable and just simply driven when it comes to farming naturally and I learnt more about herbal and mineral vineyard applications in one day with him than I have ever learnt before.
His vineyards sing. Karl firmly believes that the vineyard will give you most of the remedies you'll need to combat ailments amongst the plants and his greatest tools are nettle, horsetail, the quartz itself and a complete willingness to encourage life in the vineyard. He combats mildew with nettle, oidium with horsetail prefers to never cut grass so that the proper composting cycle can take place and wholly encourages snakes amongst the vines so as to nullify the risk of a root eating rat that populates the region.
Vineyards like this convey a tangible energy and are immensely rewarding to visit - Karl eventually had to tap his watch as it was approaching time for lunch back at the house but I could have sat there for the entire afternoon. It's such a special place.
We arrived back at the house and winery for lunch and I tasted through the range of wines. For the second time that day I sat mouth agape at the results that Karl and Eva produce from their farming and winemaking. Their wines are beautifully made and ultra versatile. It's a fanatical style of winemaking that truly transmits terroir while also retaining digestibility and deliciousness. His white wines, both varieties macerated, are mineral to the core and posses real fluidity. The reds posses the same minerality as the whites and, thanks to Karl's rigorous winemaking, are at home on practically any dinner table anywhere. Apart from the type of elevage, Karl's winemaking is most similar that of Sam Vinciullo. Both understand bacteria incredibly well, both make extremely terroir expressive wines and both clean with nothing more than hot water in the winery.
Karl's wines are all made in a similar way. Perfect fruit is selected in the vineyard, brought to the winery and destemmed, fermented in tank and then run to old barrel for the year. It sounds simple but the work throughout the year in the vineyard means that not only is the fruit incredibly balanced with propitious PH, acidity and nutrient levels but the indigenous yeast cultures make for remarkably healthy fermentations and, ultimately, very high quality wines.
I flew home to Australia the next day feeling enriched. My day with Karl and Eva was every single bit and much more than I could have hoped and it gives me great happiness to know that our wonderful industry includes people with as much focus and driving passion as them. Their love for their work and love for the planet are a genuine inspiration and I'm so thrilled to present their wines in Australia.