Moric – without borders

It’s a unique experience to meet Roland Velich. He is self-assured, convincing, calm and open. He speaks firmly in the knowledge of the security of the concept elaborated in every detail that has met with considerable success in practice.

Ten years ago, he started working in derelict vineyards to prove that Blaufränkisch (Kékfrankos) can make sophisticated wines reminiscent of Burgundy. Today, he is the favourite of the most prestigious wine critics. He is visited in Großhöflein by renowned Burgundy winemakers, his wines are sold for record prices, and he has created a new school in Austria. He is passionate about Burgenland and Blaufränkisch, yet he’s not locking himself away. For a Hungarian, it feels great to hear how much he knows our country and how much he appreciates Somló, Tokaj and Furmint. 

Moric Moric Moric Moric Moric

The Velich suspicion
He’s called Velich but the winery’s name is Moric. The winery is Austrian but its name is Hungarian. It can be found in the most eastern province of Austria, in Burgenland, whose capital was once Sopron. Roland Velich comes from a winemaking family, but he first became a croupier, before turning to winemaking. Before that, he even studied political science and philosophy. At the turn of the 21st century, already as an experienced winemaker, he decided to see what Blaufränkisch is capable of in Pannonia if it’s provided with everything Pinot Noir receives in Burgundy. His idea was based on the fact that Blaufränkisch has the silkiness of Burgundian Pinot Noir, the tannin structure of Piemonte Nebbiolo and the spiciness of northern Rhône Syrah, which is a combination that something unique and truly big can come out of. Only a few kilometres away from the Hungarian border, in Neckenmarkt and in Lutzmannsburg, he found two vineyards that looked to be suitable for realising the hidden potential of Blaufrankish. Since then, he’s had 13 harvests and his wines are so highly praised by wine critics that David Schildknecht (from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate) gave 96 points to the 2006 Neckermarkt, Jancis Robinson MW 18/20 to the 2009, and Falstaff magazine 95-97 points to the 2011. The Velich suspicion seems to be verified as more and more people accept Blaufränkisch as a valuable, exciting and original variety.

 

Burgundy in Burgenland
Blaufränkisch was of course not discovered for Austria by Roland Velich, since in Burgenland 80% of the total amount of the red wine grapes are Blaufränkisch. However, it was Velich who first came up with the idea that Blaufränkisch is more like Pinot Noir than Cabernet Sauvignon, and that Burgenland has more in common with Burgundy than Tuscany. Velich opines that the one-time successful Austrian Blaufränkisch style turned into a dead end street at the end of the previous century, when it was all about ripeness, the pursuit of massiveness and the excessive use of barrique, which was based on the misunderstanding of the variety. Burgenland, just like Burgundy, has a cooler climate whereby achieving ripeness is never trivial. The positive side of the risk is that the slow ripening process and the daily temperature fluctuation results in unique and dynamic wines that are rich in detail. On top of that, in a similar way to Pinot Noir, Blaufränkisch plays a different tune according to its place of growth, and as such is perfect at conjuring up what the French call “gout de terroir”.
“This flavour that a piece of earth brings out of the grape – that’s the real big thing. It represents a veritable meeting with nature, the art that we let something be created, something that no technological innovation could ever conjure up,” says Velich.

 

Tradition reloaded
In the Velich way of thinking, the basic command is the recognition of self identity and from the point of view of the winery, this means two things: the sustaining of the historical roots of the wine region and its traditional cultivation methods. Europe in his eyes doesn’t consist of countries but instead of regions. That’s why he jumps at every opportunity to say that Burgenland (Őrvidék) used to belong to Hungary and that even 100 years ago, wines from the Burgenland were classed as imported goods in Vienna. It’s also due to honouring the Hungarian traditions that he decided to write the winery’s name with “c” instead of “tz”. In his opinion the Carpathian Basin has two world class varieties: one is Blaufränkisch, the other is Furmint. As for grape growing traditions, he believes that before the spread of modern, chemical-enhanced cultivation methods, farmers practically carried out biodynamic cultivation. This was because there were mainly only natural ways to protect the plants. They had to live together with grapes and intervene immediately upon seeing a problem.
The other important element, which may seem modern, is dense planting. In those old and neglected plantations that Velich saved in Lutzmannsburg and Neckenmarkt, the vine density was almost three times that of those optimised for machine cultivation. Another bonus is that on the bush vines, which are in places older than one hundred years, fewer and smaller bunches grow with scarce, tiny berries. Altogether, this is a lot closer to the Burgundy practice than to today’s Austrian way. According to Velich, the job of the winemaker is to develop the picture with the least distortion, capturing what the grapes take from the place of growth and the weather in that given year. When they cut the bunches from the vines the top limit of quality is decided. “The grape contains all the information necessary for it to become a big wine. My job is not to ruin that message,” he says. He believes in minimal intervention in the cellar and whatever he can, he leaves to nature. He doesn’t use cultured yeast or small barrels, but does carry out long soaking on the skins and lees, using minimal sulphur and bottles the wines unfined and unfiltered. The result: lively, fruity and mineral wines which beside their lightness are long and great to drink.

 

Dreaming big
It might sound like a bit of exaggeration that Roland Velich regularly compares Sopron to Beaune in Burgundy. However, it might have also seemed similarly out of proportion when 10 years ago he dreamt about putting Blaufränkisch into a new comet and his achievements will be measured by the most outstanding wines of the greatest wine region known to him. When he opened his 2002 Neckenmarkt for us, we also thought this 12-year-old shows something about Blaufränkisch that only a fanatic could have believed.