What do you particularly like about the history of your winery?
Susi Steiger-Wehrli: Our grandfather was already passionate about winegrowing and was actively supported by his family. I am impressed by how the whole family stood up for the business and still does today. When there is a need, we can rely on each other. The vine unites us, and we all feel very connected to the product we make.
Susi Steiger-Wehrli completed her apprenticeship as a winemaker in Vaud, in Spiez and at Salenegg Castle in Maienfeld. Her years of travel take her to Margaret River in Australia, where she learns about varietal specialisation, to Banyuls in the French Pyrenees, where she gains experience with a variety of vinification methods, and to Pouilly-Fuissé in Burgundy, where she explores different terroirs in depth. After returning to her parents' farm, she obtained a federal diploma as a master winemaker and a sensory licence for wine at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences School of Engineering. Since 2007, she has been working as a cellar master on the family winery, and since 2018 she has formed the management team with her brother Rolf and her parents. In addition, she is also a jury member for various wine competitions and an examination expert in winemaker training.
How big is your team?
Susi Steiger-Wehrli:We are 5 permanent employees and 12 to 15 part-time employees - including our parents and 2 apprentices. We are a medium-sized business, where everyone lends a hand in every area. Franz, my husband, leads the team in the vines with our viticulture technician, but also supports me in the sensory department. Damaris and Rolf go full throttle in marketing, sales and strategies. We do everything ourselves and have to stay flexible. If someone is absent, I sometimes work in the vines and Rolf takes over the tractor work on the steep slopes.
How can you still count on your father's support?
Susi Steiger-Wehrli: Our father supports us mainly with the machine work as well as in fertiliser and crop protection planning. He has a lot of experience and practice in these areas. Rolf and I also have 20 years of experience, but he has his 40. We pay great respect to our parents who have built up this farm on a solid foundation. The gratitude and appreciation towards the family is overwhelming.
Was it always clear to you that you wanted to work on the family farm?
Susi Steiger-Wehrli: For me, it was already clear at the age of 16: If I would do my apprenticeship as a winemaker, then I also had the goal of continuing my parents' business. For Rolf, that came apparent a little later.
Rolf Wehrli: I have worked on the family farm since I was young. I haven't missed an autumn yet - I was always here for the 2 to 3 weeks during the harvest. I decided to become a poly mechanic and worked in this field for a few years. After that, I went on a world trip. I enjoyed this freedom and broadening of horizons very much and knew that after that I wanted to focus on family, business and career. Back home, I had to decide whether to join the family business or continue working in my profession. I decided on the former, but I didn't want to do the vintner's apprenticeship, but rather take an overview in the sense of a manager. Training as a technical merchant is perfect for this, as it covers a wide range of business areas, from marketing to law to business management.
Can you tell us more about the three special sites where your vines grow?
Susi Steiger-Wehrli: Our father originally chose the different sites not for sensory reasons, but because of the meteorological risk distribution. We have a lake location - coincidentally on moraine rock. Then we have the midland climate and the shell limestone in our Küttigen location. In Erlinsbach, it's a little cooler and the soil is infused with iron ore. I have always been interested in the organoleptic differences between the sites, and during my years of travelling in Burgundy, the South of France and Australia, I learned how much the terroir shapes the wine. In my diploma thesis to become a master winemaker, I analysed our three own vineyards and was able to determine what the sensory differences are based on.
I extremely appreciate the spontaneity and flexibility that you become in this profession.
You have discovered the terroir story of your farm.
Susi Steiger-Wehrli: Yes, we can use our three main soil types with their different climatic conditions incredibly well for wine diversity. It is important to us that we develop the sites well separately.We don't make so many blends, because we have a wide range of wines due to the vineyards. We have 6 main grape varieties, 3 white and 3 red, and make most of our wines from single varieties. But of course we don't want to give up the "Stierenbluet", for example, a selection from the oldest vineyards. There are many wineries that now rely on cuvées and make very special wines. We also have such a wine in our range. For me, there is also the question whether I want to realise myself more and more as a winemaker with my sensory perception or if the wines should reflect the region as authentically as possible.
Susi Steiger-Wehrli: You're always a bit at odds with yourself and ask yourself where you can give the wines your own signature. Maybe it takes a wine or two where you are allowed to put your signature on it and realise your palate. In the end, we remain true to our philosophy and make sure that each site is fully expressed in a site wine.
What would be an example of such a signature?
Susi Steiger-Wehrli: For me, a signature is, for example, a special vinification. We have a Pinot gris from Küttigen that is vinified dry and one from Brestenberg with a very subtle residual sweetness. In the case of the Küttiger, we aim for the minerality to be in the spotlight and for the complexity of the deep soils to come out. If I was to add a very light, spontaneously fermented barrique ageing to this wine, it would bring in a whole new sensory complexity. Of course, this would change the pure site a little. The minerality remains, there would simply be a more structured wine. That way, it becomes an example of a handwriting, a signature. We are living in very exciting times for wine production. We will make some wines even more complex in the future - you can be curious about that.
What do you particularly appreciate about your work at the winery?
Susi Steiger-Wehrli: I really appreciate how spontaneous and flexible you are and can become in this profession. You can basically plan your work - but most of the time it turns out differently than expected.
Rolf Wehrli: I appreciate the versatility. Whether I'm sitting in the office, selling wine, sitting on the tractor or repairing underneath - the possibilities are endless. Time is more of a problem. You do far too much yourself, but you understand your farm as a whole.
Rolf Wehrli completed a polymechanic apprenticeship and then worked as a mechanic on his parents' farm. This was followed by military service as a Senior Constable and then further assignments as a mechanic. For two years he participated in the project construction of a plastics and technology plant in the Czech Republic. After that he went on a world tour for 9 months. After his return, he trained to become a technical businessman with a federal certificate of proficiency and has been contributing his versatile knowledge and experience to the family winery since 2008. Whether in mechanics, purchasing and sales, administration or marketing - as an operations manager, Rolf keeps an overview. He has been in charge of the management since 2018, together with his sister Susi and parents Peter and Marlise.
how important is localness for you??
Rolf Wehrli: That is very important to us. One example: We are probably the first to use Swiss wooden wine boxes on a larger scale. We work with regional wood that is also assembled in the region. Of course, this is also a question of price, but whenever possible, we use regional products.
What about the digitalisation of viticulture that you are promoting?
Rolf Wehrli: We are part of PFLOPF (Plant Protection Optimisation with Precision Farming) and are making progress in the automation of viticulture. I come from this industry and have experience in programming and robotics. In Switzerland, we have the advantage that the Federal Office for Civil Aviation allows us to work relatively freely with drones in viticulture. The drones are much more precise in applying the plant protection products, so we need much less of them. I think that in 10 to 20 years, agriculture will look very different and be much more autonomous than it is now.
What hobbies do you have outside of viticulture?
Susi Steiger-Wehrli: Sport is very important for me as a balance and to clear my head. I do team aerobics with my friends in the gymnastics club. We are all very ambitious and for the fact that we only do amateur sports, we have already enjoyed real success. When we do sport, we do it properly (laughs). I also like to go jogging and biking and generally spend a lot of time outdoors with the children.
Rolf Wehrli:For me, work and hobbies flow strongly into each other. I am constantly collecting new ideas and developing possible projects. I always do this in exchange with my colleagues and family. I also like to do handicrafts, either for business, with friends or for my own home. In addition, the fire brigade, political activities and my Vespa scooter also take up time.
What are your visions for the winery?
Susi Steiger-Wehrli: Do not stand still. We want to work even more sustainably and naturally in viticulture, e.g. with understock planting and herbs. We want to work together with the changing nature. We are also striving to increase our market position by producing even more complex wines. A conversion is also on the agenda for the next few years.
Rolf Wehrli: We still have an old winery building and want to build a new one so that we can also bring in more automation. We are developing a concept that makes sense in terms of energy. My vision would be a Smart Winery - an automated operation. We are already one of the first wineries with tank control and I have many more ideas up my sleeve.