You are the only "Winemaker of the Year" at the Grand Prix de Vins Suisse from the German-speaking part of Switzerland and you are also frequently awarded other prizes. How important are prizes and awards to you?
Basically we do not want to praise these awards too highly. But they are certain handshakes for our work and a confirmation that we are not on the wrong track. This is also a confirmation for our customers. They buy and drink the wine of a winegrower who is also seen positively by the expert jury. In general, such competitions are a platform to be seen and to remind people of the wines from the region. They show that we no longer have to hide ourselves.
As a child, Stefan Gysel was and still is allowed and obliged to help out in his parents' vineyards instead of going swimming. Nevertheless, he decided to take up this profession after school. After training as a winemaker in companies in the canton of Graubünden, Schaffhausen and Zurich, he caught up on his vocational baccalaureate and studied oenology in Wädenswil. He did an internship in South Africa before he was allowed to join his parents' business. Stefan Gysel Saxer is married to Nadine Saxer and produces the wines in their shared cellar.
You say that in your company knowledge is mixed with new ideas over generations. How can I imagine that? What did you learn from your father and what is still done as before?
We work with tradition. Not only in the name Aagne, but also, for example, in the grape varieties such as Riesling-Silvaner and Pinot Noir, which are among the oldest local wines. We believe that we can also make contemporary wines from it. Just as there is a new philosophy in varieties and vines, so tradition can also express itself in new styles. But we must also be open to new things. Sauvignon Blanc did not exist here 40 years ago. But not because it couldn't grow here, but because cultivation was prohibited.
Your plots are located in the middle of the Schaffhausen Nature Park? How important is the terroir for your wines?
For me, the terroir is more than just the soil. If you give grapes from one vineyard to different winegrowers, they make different wines - the reason is not just the soil. I believe that it is not only the terroir that is decisive, but also the people who work the vines and make the wine. That's why we invest a lot in this and we have been running a line for years and have a range of varieties that is constant and of good quality.
What do you pay particular attention to in the vineyards?
I think so, it's the targeted vine care. If we want to produce good wines, we can only do so from good grapes. We cannot do magic in the cellar, we can only refine it. That's why we focus on quality early on in the vineyard and produce quality grapes with great passion.It is not a matter of course that we are allowed to harvest. In case of frost, hail and capricious weather, no care of the vines will help. For this reason we are already used to unknown factors in agriculture.
What are you doing to live up to your claim of sustainable ecological production?
I believe that it is not only the terroir that is decisive, but also the people who work on the vine and in the winemaking process.
I believe that it is not only the terroir that is decisive, but also the people who work the vines and make the wine.
On your homepage you mention that your wines are unmistakable. Why? What is characteristic for your wines?
We try to develop our wines with exact vine work and careful vinification in a pure and clear way in a direct manner. This brings us to very aromatic refreshing types for white wines and clear wine images for reds. We work reductively with white wines: we want to keep the oxygen away. According to the traditional method, we work with static clarification. We ferment the wines very clear, cool and thus slowly. The idea behind this is not to lose neither the aroma nor the freshness. Later we leave the yeast on and in the wine for a long time and filter moderately. With this style of ageing we obtain aromatic, tangy white wines. With red wines we try to control the fermentation and the pre-fermentation periods.
You are married to the oenologist and winemaker Nadine Saxer, who has her own winery. Which wine is served on the table?
(laughs) Both. So far I have not disliked any of their wines yet yet. We talk a lot about work, the wines and the operations. Our combination also helps in private life. As a winemaker in the family structure, if you run a business like this, it helps that you understand each other. Our conversations then continue and we have similar ideas about making and producing wine. But maybe that is the challenge, not only to talk about the wines.
What hobbies do you have besides viticulture?
The biggest hobby are our three children. In the last few years, when we were allowed to expand the business a little, the hobbies have come a little too short. Whenever possible, we go hiking in the mountains and when time allows, I try to move. Once the girls will be fledged, there will be more time for that again. But business and hobby are also mixed up: we don't count every hour as working time that we spend discussing wine with colleagues or when we go visiting another wine region.
What were the most impressive moments for you as a winemaker?
There are positives and negatives. In 2017 when there was a heavy frost in spring, it was an extreme moment. You stand by and watch all the vineyards freeze to death. This powerlessness in the situation makes you more thankful for years like 2018. If you are allowed to bring in a beautiful, healthy and quantitatively suitable harvest, these are great moments that reward the work.
How do you understand your profession?
My basic attitude is to give people pleasure with our wine. "Wine gladdens the heart of man," as Solomon said, and that is also our philosophy. When I see that someone is enjoying our products, then our goal is achieved. We just have to find the way there. We don't want the wine to convince only wine connoisseurs, but rather that it tastes good to the normal wine drinker and delights people.