I remember the first time our business partner Jimmy Toffola from Kiffe my wines brought up the idea of ‘cross pollination’ in the context of our day to day work. It was a term that I never realized would sum up so beautifully what we were aiming to achieve but in a way made perfect sense and ultimately would change the face of our company to be focused on something to which we have always been inherently linked and work with on a daily basis: Nature.
Our journey as Newcomer Wines began back in 2013. Me and my partner Daniela Pillhofer were studying in London and would be sitting together for weeks, trying to come up with a project or idea that would allow us to put the curriculum from our studies into practice. In a way it was one of the early stages of ‘cross-pollinating’ the theory side - the kind of lectures and seminars we would attend at campus - with the practice side - trying to launch a product or better, a venture that would allow us to put our learnings into real life.
At the same time, Shoreditch and East London was slowly becoming a place for young businesses with restaurant projects opening of the likes of Brawn, The Clove Club, Sager & Wilde and Lyle’s, who would all go on to define the next decade to come and would somehow put us in one of the globe’s most energetic areas when it came to gastronomy, wine and hospitality culture. But before all of this became a reality we were still wondering what it would actually be we’d like to start or launch.
At some point we came up with a focus on AUSTRIAN WINE - something we enjoyed and passionately drank with friends and family back in Vienna but at that time was very far apart from the growing restaurant scene that would later become defining customers and friends, and who would eventually allow us to expand our horizon - not just from a cultural point of view but by giving us a context to what we do. In a way, by drinking and eating ‘everything else’ we learned about Austrian wine.
The simple change of scenery, in our case the change of city, gave us the opportunity to become ‘cross-pollinated’ with people and ideas that have enabled us to grow in both personal and professional ways not previously imaginable and ultimately allowed us to look beyond the boundaries of ‘just’ selling Austrian wine.
A few months later, we went on holidays to sunny Alto Adige and one evening a waiter came to us with a bottle of ‘Caroline’ made and bottled by Martin Gojer - farmer and owner of the small biodynamic farm ‘Pranzegg’ on the foothills of the Dolomites. It was a wonderful experience drinking something so pure and profound - to this day it remains one of those moments I will remember forever - but more than that it started a conversation in our head: Why would we keep ourselves from exploring wines and importing growers purely for the reason that they did not fit into our initial ‘Austrian only’ selection. It felt weird, especially as 100 years before this, these growers were in fact all from the same cultural heritage - people from the same background with a common history rooted in the Alps and the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. After a visit to Martin and the farm we knew that opening up our self-defined dogma would mean that we were able to think further and eventually reconnect what was always connected before, regardless of how political borders might have been reset and changed in the meantime.
As our horizons were growing we also began to have an increasing awareness of sustainable agriculture and its inherent connection with the future of wine growing around the world. Let’s face it - making wine on mono-cultured vineyards is one of the most environmentally questionable forms of agriculture. Just like with many other things, time and more importantly the winemakers and people around us helped us to understand that what made their wines truly stand apart was the fact that they hadn’t just adopted organic viticulture as a minimum, in many cases biodynamic or regenerative principles were already being enacted. Making changes to ensure that our selection of growers celebrated these notions was a lot more than just a moral choice - it was supporting, as our friend and grower Christoph Hoch puts it, using ancient techniques to create ‘a new and modern form of agriculture’, working with nature rather than against it.
So what is next? The world of natural wine is a rich and multifaceted cosmos filled with personalities that just like with conventional and industrially made wines sometimes seem as though they could not be further apart: From nomadic hermits living a simple life out of conviction to young and dynamic new generation winemakers who are trying to balance respect of traditional family businesses with the need for evolution and more often than not a change of approach in the vineyards and the cellar. Can you compare? Is one better than the other? The answer is - it all depends.