WOMEN IN WINE #10
WINEMAKER, WEINGUT INGRID GROISS, WEINVIERTEL, AUSTRIA
When you meet Ingrid, you cannot miss her innocent charm and her cheerful demeanour. But delving deeper, she is a woman who seems to have captured the entire history of Austrian wine into her youthful years of life. Born in a small town Breitenwaida in the north east of Austria, bordering Czech to the north and Slovakia on its east, her childhood days never saw Weinviertal as a celebrated region on the world map but her family still owned a small number vineyards around there, with an aim to making simplistic wines, just enough to serve locally in the tavern that they owned.
Ingrid is a promising winemaker of this region, and that too a woman working hard to bring out the essence and beauty of Weinviertel DAC (Districtus Austriae Controllatus- specific regional status that displays broadly similar style of wine), one of the oldest designated regions of Austria. Although she left her parents to pursue a city career, she realised after a few years that her heart always belonged to this region, which drew her back, where eventually she made her family vineyards as her first home (In der Shablau, Henne, Pankraz, Fahndorf) and the winery, her second one spending her time between the two! Since 2010 she has been pursuing her goal to bring a change in the philosophy of Weinvertel DAC, working hard joining other winemakers to bring it to the international forefront. For her adding glamour is by connecting with nature and her vineyards thereby bringing out the genuine historic character of her soils, which has been highly shadowed by more popular DACs of Austria. Gruner Veltiner a signature grape of Wienviertel is now finally receiving its due respect and applaud, as a wine showing the most versatility amidst other traditional Central European grapes.
Ingrid is also one among a handful of winemakers reviving the medieval Gemichter Satz (field wine) of the Vienna territory, and creating a savvy wine fit for modern consumption. It used to be a blend of 40-50 grapes but she has narrowed it down to an ingeniously small set of select grapes such Gruner Veltliner, Welchrielsing, Neuberger, Pinot Blanc, Roter Veltliner, Muller Thurgau, Riesling all grown in a single vineyard and blended in variable amounts to bring out a consistently concentrated and textured wine that is complex yet easy to pair with food.
Here is a featured interview where I discovered what Ingrid is truly made of. She is kind and humane yet her vision is unrelenting : work and work hard, give in everything and trust your land to pay back!
SUMI: How did you get into winemaking and what led you to open your winery?
INGRID: In my Family, there was always wine. Both my mother's side and also my father's side, owned vineyards and when my parent got married, both their vineyards and their wine knowledge came together. When I was a small child, I was always outside with my parents in the vineyard and I am fortunate to have had a beautiful childhood with them mostly spent outdoors with nature! In Austria, we have a famous winemaking-school, "Höhere Bundeslehr- und Versuchsanstalt für Wein- und Obstbau" in Klosterneuburg. One starts at the age of 14/15 years old, and it takes five years to become the most qualified and respected winemaker. I always had an eye for this school, but during my time, it was not the norm for women to attend this school. Firstly, it was quite far away from my place, so it was not possible to travel there every day and secondly, there was no dormitory for girls. So instead I got a qualification in tourism and after I finished it, I worked with my parents and helped them open a wine restaurant. That became quite frustrating - I couldn't imagine working seven days a week in our tiny village of Breitenwaida - I felt closed…like my life had already ended. So, I decided to study business administration - but then on my parents' insistence, I joined them back again to work with them in our restaurant. So, the whole purpose of studying a Business degree was defeated. And to top it, I became a few years older (ha ha!)!! It is then, I decided to go out and get a job.
I started at Coca-Cola in Berlin in the marketing for a bit. Afterwards, I joined a company in Germany called Anheueser Bush-Inbev (a big brewery) - I got a fabulous job there: high wage, a beautiful company car and a company flat… and gorgeous opportunities to make career there. But deep inside my heart, this is not what I longed for... What I thought I wanted - city life, bars, shops, museums, theatre, career in the city... is not what my heart actually desired. I realised that I will only become happy if I do the winemaking degree which was always on my mind since I was a little girl. So after all this city life, I decided to go back to Austria and study "natural sciences' degree in viticulture and winemaking at the University of Vienna. It was eye-opening for me! I realised this is what I wanted to do always....I didn´t need big cities, shops and restaurants if I can work with my vines. And now if my small village becomes too small, I take my wines and just travel with them (say to London, that would do any time for a tasting (gleefully)).
During my studies, I also gained practical experience working across several wineries and simultaneously I also started making wine at home. I gave up the restaurant job to my parents' disappointment but then I started concentrating on my dream, bringing up the vineyards and making my wine. I took up decisions on how to work around the vineyards. We changed a lot of varietals, growing and pruning methods. I chose varieties that fit my soil (it is not necessary to produce a wide range of wines), the idea being that the character of the soil and the single vineyards MUST be recognisable in the wines. We gave the vines time to develop and show their uniqueness. What I wanted is that in my wines, I should find the character of the vineyards, of the vintage and of my personality. We since have turned organic and try not to intervene too much in the cellar but to work the vineyards meticulously, so that we bring out the best of our grapes (THAT IS THE BASIS OF EVERYTHING!).
SUMI: Any role model(s) in this industry?
INGRID: There are no particular role models. But there are many passionate winemakers that put in a lot of love, feeling and attention to their vineyards and wines - so all these people are role models for me. No matter which style of wine they produce or in which region they grow grapes. If people love what they do, the wines will always turn out gorgeous and I love that wines can have so many different styles, so it is not important to know what each and every person does and what is his/her philosophy! So long as there is passion for following the nature.
SUMI: Have you come across many Austrian women winemakers?
INGRID: Austria unfortunately, has been very conservative concerning in this regard. It´s mainly family business and if there is a son, he usually takes over the winery. Often the man makes wine, works the vineyard and the woman is selling and doing office jobs. Many a times, people know the woman´s face, but there are only a handful of women making wine. I´m so happy that this is changing now (but slowly). There are a few women that are winemakers and I love their wines: For example Birgit Eichinger, Heidi Schröck, Birgit Braunstein!
SUMI: Challenges have you come across to get to where you are. And how have you overcome them
INGRID: One is the dearth of women in the business as I explained above. Just getting people to believe in you is tough! Additionally, when I started making wine I had no customers! My parent always had wine but they just produced for local market and when I started, I completely changed the style and philosophy of mine for an international market - so I had to go out and develop an entirely new market and customers for my wines. At the beginning, nobody knew my name and Weinviertel as a region never sounded as "sexy" for example Wachau (but there have been big developments in my region in the last 5-8 years, so many young winemakers now go out now demonstrate the exemplary qualities of my region which I am also supporting whole heartedly). Weinviertel has such great soil and attractive climatic conditions to make wine - but the region was "sleeping" for the longest time - but we have been working hard and all this is changing fast now! People who used say initially "Oh, Weinviertel - not that interesting!" - now 10 years later, when they tasted our wines they are awestruck! With improved styles of wines, I am finding that finally it is paying off and we have an excellent international market demand building up.
SUMI: When you are not making wine…
INGRID: When you are a winemaker you are actually busy 24/7. The wines need your attention the whole year - then after summer comes harvest - a time when we work every day for 16-20 hours and in winter there is work in the cellar when pruning starts. When I do get some time, I try to visit winemaker friends, visit other wineries in other countries to learn more. I also enjoy cooking during my off times.
SUMI: How would you describe your wines? Do you have any favourites?
INGRID: In every of my wine you will find the character of our soil and our vines. For example Grüner Veltliner Weinviertel DAC comes from loess soil - loess in the entry level category gives Grüner Veltliner this yellow ripe and juicy fruits: a ripe pear, quinces, a juicy apple and so on - but also a really full structure backed with lively acidity - so the perfect partner for food every day but also beautiful on its own, for example on unwinding while standing on the terrace.
Our Gemischter Satz and Riesling Braitenpuechtorff come from conglomerate soil - more mineral, salty and more complex – also a great partner with food. The single vineyards also have their own character: More complex, deep, mineral, perfect also for letting age in the cellar - wines that develop beautifully and stay long on your palate. So, you see, every wine has a character and idea.
In Summer when I´m outside and it´s hot, I go for the GV Weinviertel DAC or my Rosé Hasenhaide - these are my summer favourites that I enjoy with light foods and salads. In winter or when I have hearty dinner or a special occasion to celebrate, the single vineyards Sauberg or Pankraz are my favourites that I pair with Beef.
The style of my wines? I try not to intervene too much in the cellar. I think in the cellar is a place not to destroy the character and the fruit you bring home from harvest. You cannot add something in the cellar to the wines the grape doesn't bring already. My focus has always been to work in the vineyards where the grapes are made. In the cellar, we try to preserve everything the grape offers us. We try to bring the character of the soil to the wines, the wines aim to show the character of the variety but most of all, my intention is to make wines that can create joy when drinking. Of course, if made delicately, the wines will also have ageing potential.
SUMI: After Austria, which is your favourite wine producing country?
INGRID: Well all around the world, I am always finding interesting wines! I love it when I taste wines where you find the character of its origin ie the soil and the variety. German Riesling from Mosel, Burgundy, the "new" Alsace, are among my favourites but equally, there are many interesting projects coming up with sparkling wines in the UK bringing out the soil character. I also find characterful wines from Italy, Spain, Portugal and some new world wines. Especially there are made by promising young winemakers who really focus on origin and character, I do appreciate that! I don´t like "fat", alcoholic "marmalade" wines - but wines with minerality, that are elegant with a good broad structure and complexity.
SUMI: Message for women looking at joining this industry?
INGRID: If you follow your heart beat, you will be successful and you WILL overcome all obstacles. Following your heart’s desire will take you to the right place and keep you satisfied and happy! No doubt, the job is sometimes hard because it is outdoorzy (esp in winter, when you are pruning, it´s really cold and sometimes in summer it´s excessively hot… you get dirty and grubby, your hands are not pleasant and soft anymore (smiling!). Sometimes you back may really hurt and because you wear gum boots all the time in the cellar, your nails will not be always looking stylishly manicured and pedicured - but should that be a problem when you love what you do?
SUMI: If not in wine, what would you have been doing.
INGRID: I have never found happiness anywhere else….I cannot imagine doing something different
SUMI: Thank you so much for your time! So much to learn…