“This is our heritage” – An interview with Roland Velich

At the beginning of April, one of the most renowned Austrian winemakers, Roland Velich, was our guest at the Borsuli. Between two ‘Winemaker in the House’ tastings, he talked to us about past and present, the birth of Moric, and Blaufränkish. Interview.

The name of the winery is Moric, which with its Hungarian way of spelling implies Burgenland’s dual link. Why is this important?

I’m greatly interested in Burgenland’s sociological and political history. 150 years ago the region was an important centre of the Hungarian winemaking world. If you wish to determine the kind of wine you want to make in the future, first you have to look back and see what history shows you and then you can start in the right direction towards the future. We were so much connected, there are so many things linking us to one another. The varieties, the soil, the climate. We belong under the same vinicultural concept. Just as there is a concept for Burgundy or Mediterranean wine, there should be one for Carpathian Basin or Pannonian wine. This is our heritage that we should embrace it and forget about country borders.


How did the winery come into being?

My parents had a three hectare vineyard. At the end of the 80s, I told my brother that we should do something with it. We bought new barrels from Burgundy, we had new labels made and we started bottling Chardonnay, and were the first in Austria to do so. Around the millennium, I felt the time was right to quit the family winery and by then I’d already been interested in Blaufränkish for some time. This variety originates from our region and it isn’t there by chance but because it has proven itself over centuries. And here, I should mention what I regard as good wine. When I started getting interested in wine at the beginning of the 80s, I wanted to know what wines the world held in high regard. I went to Bordeaux, Burgundy and Piedmont. I found that, especially in Burgundy, that they are truly small wineries and they work with their own varieties. That’s exactly what I saw in Blaufränkish: this is ours and I tried to work with the same care with it: old vines, low yield, minimal intervention. We started MORIC in 2001 based on these principles.


How would you describe Blaufrankish to someone who doesn’t know the variety?

It’s a fundamentally sophisticated and elegant late-ripening variety. The Pannonian region is characterised by a long, warm autumn which is perfect for Blaufränkish. We usually harvest between the beginning and the end of October. Alongside a balanced yield, perfect phenolic ripeness can be achieved – and this is important since if it doesn’t ripen completely, Blaufränkish is unpleasantly green. However, our wines are fresh, fruity, and make you want to have another mouthful.


How are the wines made?

All our wines are made with spontaneous fermentation and beside the minimal amount of sulphur, we add nothing to them. Skin contact lasts for three to four weeks and we don’t usually destem the grapes. We don’t try to speed up the start of fermentation. We press after about four weeks, after that we put the wine into large barrels where it rests for 12 to 24 months. We only use as many new barrels, with minimal toasting, as is rendered necessary by the growth in our quantity. For me the variety is the articulator of the place of growth. When a terroir is valuable, the older the wine gets, the more the character of the terroir comes into the foreground. If the impact of the barrel is too strong, that will always overshadow it, and it never fades, especially in the case of a variety such as Blaufränkish.


What do you think about organic and biodynamic methods, and about ‘natural’ wines?

We don’t belong to any organisations, we don’t have any certification. Our grape cultivation can be called organic: we don’t use herbicides, we spray with a minimal amount of sulphur and copper. We are even stricter in the cellar, we don’t use any filtering or fining. Natural wine is an understandable reaction to industrial wine, although what I don’t like is that the character of the terroir often disappears from these wines. On top of that, the world ‘natural’ means nothing – it’s completely misleading as it suggests it’s something like water that falls from the sky. This isn’t true. Grapes are planted, cared for by people, the wines are made and drank by people. It’s one of the great achievements of human culture, an ancient value that falls close to nature but is never in fact natural. The making of the wine requires human intervention. 


How would you evaluate the recent vintages?

2013 was fantastic and one of our best ever vintages. The grapes recovered from the hot summer and the autumn was ideal, we could easily wait to achieve phenolic ripeness. The wines have incredible balance. 2014 wasn’t easy, but I couldn’t call it bad, although the quantity was really low. Fortunately, the ripening of the grape skins continued even during the rainy periods, which resulted in darker berries. The skins ripened, but the must degree remained fairly low. The wines are very promising, they are both light and structured and also show the Blaufränkish character extremely nicely.