They say you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family….
One of the great things about working with the best winegrowers from all over the world is that there is never a shortage of quality producers getting in touch looking for someone to represent them, thanks to the appeal of being bed-fellows with some of the greatest names in wine. Such is the tight-knit nature of the motely crew of growers from home and further afield that make up the CellarHand portfolio, it takes a lot for someone new to even have a shot of merely getting a place on the tasting bench for consideration of potentially joining the CellarHand ‘family’.
When you flick through the pages of the CellarHand portfolio, the theme of family comes up time and time again. It is a portfolio built on passion and dedication but also one that is built on family, mostly in the form of succession within growers, as the baton is passed from one generation to the next. But there is much more to it than simply that. There is a deeper connection with each and every grower in the portfolio so to consider bringing someone new into the fold means that they must have something extremely special to offer.
And boy do the wines of Velich have that ‘special’ something, and it is with great excitement that we introduce the fascinating and delicious wines from this brilliant estate, based in the hamlet of Apetlon in Austria’s Burgenland, to you.
The Velich name might seem familiar to those in the know….we are already incredibly privileged to represent the wines of Roland Velich & his Moric project, who is busy exploring and producing the best of the best that Bläufrankisch has to offer.
These terrific Velich wines on the other hand come from the cellars & vineyards of his family estate, and more specifically the hand of his brother, Heinz Velich (2012 Falstaff Winemaker of the Year), who for more than 3 decades has been presiding over the family property. The Velich property can be found in the village of Apetlon, in the Seewinkel area of Burgenland’s Neusiedlersee region. Originally planted by Otto Velich in 1933 it has been in the Velich family ever since. Heinz has been guiding the estate forward since the early 1990’s (originally alongside Roland) and in the ensuing 3 decades has dedicated himself to exploring, understanding & expressing the unique landscape where he farms his vines.
The family vineyards are dotted around the eastern flank of Lake Neusiedl, the largest so called ‘steppe lake’ in Europe (a shallow lake found on plains mostly without trees and dominated by short grasses). Lake Neusiedl is one of the most unique & unusual landscapes on the continent, with a water level of no more than 1.8m (that can effectively dry out in hot years like 2022), and a high salt content. Lake Neusiedl is also one of Europe’s most important wetlands with a large amount of native flora and fauna. It is a unique place that helps create unique wines.
The region also sits right in the heart of the ‘Pannonian’ climate zone, where the warm winds from the southeast are not the only Hungarian influences to be seen in the region. The climate is warm, with dry summers & moderate rainfall & the vineyards are generally characterised by sandy, loamy & gravelly soils that are silty & rich in quartz.
The Seewinkel region, found to the very south of the Neusiedlersee, bordering Hungary, is where we see the widely-planted Zweigelthat makes up the majority of plantings in the northern part of the region, make way for a host of white grapes including Welschriesling, Chardonnay & Muscat Ottonel amongst others, and it is here that Heinz organically farms 12 Ha of exclusively white grapes.
Chardonnay accounts for 45% of the Velich plantings (Heinz & Roland’s father Helmut originally planted Chardonnay in 1959), alongside Welschriesling (25%) with Muskat Ottonel, Neuberger, Pinot Gris & Bouvier making up the balance of plantings. An unusual mix of varieties, but a mix of grapes that when in the hands of Heinz, leads to a fascinating range of aromatic, textural & cerebral wines that are as enjoyable to drink as they are to discover.
A man of few words, Heinz prefers to let his wines do the talking. They are wines of the earth and the idiosyncratic nature of the region is reflected in the unique and compelling wines he gently coaxes into bottle. Not one for interfering too much, long & slow ferments help to define the wines.
All wines are fermented naturally, sulphur is kept to a minimum (a small addition at bottling only) and all wines go to bottle unfined, The aromatic varieties, Muskat Ottonel & Welschriesling, are (unusually) fermented through to dryness in stainless steel and break from the traditional expressions of these two often ‘work-horse’ grape varieties. In the hands of Heinz, they become seriously interesting, thought provoking, thirst-slaking dry wines that defy their humble reputations without sacrificing any of the fragrance that makes them so appealing.
The top Chardonnay wines are raised in old oak, spending long periods on full lees, with no battonage and are complex, vital and compelling. These are not copycat wines, rather they are wines of conviction. Conviction in the place they come from and conviction that the vineyard can deliver an abundance of flavour yet remain fresh and focused. They are pulsating, and ripple with flavour, and the intensity of flavour is matched only by an inner energy & drive that makes them stand out from the crowd.
To go back to the original statement, ‘you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family’ and we’re lucky that we get to pick both when it comes to working with new growers, but once more it is family that shines through. The wines of Heinz Velich are a truly exciting and welcome addition to the CellarHand portfolio and we can’t wait for you to taste them and join us on the next stage of the journey of the Velich family’s wines in Australia.
The CellarHand Team