Hannes and Petra, you have been running the family winery for 30 years and about 10 years ago you started the conversion to biodynamics.
Hannes: Yes, we have been certified with the organic seal since 2018 and with the Demeter seal since 2019. The conversion from conventional winery to organic to Demeter took about 10 years. After 20 years in which Petra and I focused on classic wines, the change to biodynamic and wine, which is connected to the land, followed.
Hannes Harkamp originally wanted to take over his parents' catering and accommodation business and, after commercial school, completed an apprenticeship as a waiter. At the age of 19, he found that the wine industry made his heart beat a little faster and trained as a winemaker and cellar master. In 1990, he took over the family winery with 4 hectares of vineyards from his father. With the aim of positioning the business as a premium winery, he keeps an eye out for the best grapes from the best vineyards. Together with his wife Petra, he gradually acquires some of the most sought-after soils in the Sausal: Oberburgstall, Kogelberg and, over time, more and more vineyards on the Flamberg.
What prompted you to make this change?
Hannes: Drinking wine has become more important than tasting wine. I am a fairly well-trained sensory expert and had the opportunity to taste wines at many international competitions. However, at some point it became too much for me. You get on in years and then you try to mature away from wine tasting, from wine making and fault finding, towards being a pleasure person. That's an important phase and you get to know wines that are very digestible and do not cause headaches. In most cases, these are wines that come from organic or Demeter farms. About 15 years ago, we started drinking such wines and this gave us the idea to go this way ourselves and do something good for the body. This way we can drink a bottle of wine every day.
Petra: At least. A bottle plus a glass at lunch. We are in the process of saving the midday wine. Far too little wine is drunk at lunchtime and too little time is taken for a good lunch with a good glass of wine or sparkling wine. Hannes, Anna, our wine academic and sales assistant, and I want to change that.
Petra Harkamp graduates from business school, obtains her A-levels and then works in a tax office. She met her husband Hannes when he was a business school student and even before their marriage he helped out in his parents' restaurant business. Petra has been co-owner of the family winery since 1994 and is mainly responsible for administration and sales. Petra and Hannes have two sons who are active in the business sector.
Biodynamics also includes animal husbandry. Chickens and sheep live on your vineyard. What do these animals mean to you?
Hannes: It is a very important dimension of the holistic approach of biodynamics. The animals teach us to have a better understanding of the natural cycle of the year. They also have a calming effect and help to come down to a base from which you can develop more vision for agriculture and the world as a whole. You observe the animals, look at the essence of nature and thus get a bit away from consumerism. Besides helping us to think more holistically, animals also do very valuable things like produce compost.
You also pursue the goal of increasing the insect population in the vineyards.
Hannes: In recent years we have started to stop mowing and mulching during the vegetation phase. We try to think and proceed in an insect-friendly way. If I have wild bees in the field, for example, I can calculate the approximate population. If I mow or mulch, I have to expect that I will decrease this population. We are thinking about how we can keep this population alive and increase it. We are only at the beginning of these considerations, but these are important issues for the future - that's where agriculture has to go.
You no longer mow and mulch, but instead the sheep take over this work?
Hannes: Yes, to some extent we can bring the sheep into the vineyards. We only do one mowing in winter when the insect density is very low. We use the sheep in the vineyards after the harvest, i.e. from September, to eat the greenery. They make sure that no bushes or trees come up. All other plants are very valuable for diversity and health in the vineyards.
Not only your vineyards are very diverse, your soils are also very diverse. What is this diversity all about?
Hannes: Southern Styria has a very wide range of soil profiles. We are in the north of southern Styria and at the edge of this area there was a primeval sea. This was pushed back and left us mainly with shells, which bring very calcareous soils with them. The soils are responsible for the style of our wines, or at least for part of it. We also have wines that are made on soils without lime and shells. These are places that protruded like islands from the primeval sea. In these places, slate soils predominate and the wines taste quite different as a result. Tasting this complexity and these differences is very exciting.
We have learned to act and intervene less in the wine cellar.
Is it true that the different soil profiles were already used in Maria Theresa's time?
Hannes: Yes, that's where the name "Theresian Cadastre" comes from. In the 18th century there were far more vineyards in Austria than today, especially in Styria. Styria also covered a larger area at that time. During the reign of Maria Theresa, mappings were made that we still rely on today to create soil profiles. Of course, these records have been refined over the decades, so that we now know exactly which soils predominate where.
How would you put your philosophy of wine and sparkling wine production into words?
Hannes: For me, the most beautiful thing is being out in nature - especially early in the morning - looking at the vineyards and watching how they grow and thrive and how they produce a great yield even without plant protection. This is getting better every year because of the conversion of the vineyards. We have learned to do less and intervene less in the wine cellar. If you let the wines become simple, you create something very special. Consumers are also becoming more and more interested in drinking wines that are made as naturally as possible. However, it is not the case that we do nothing. We have our style, which is also very important. Reconciling our style with doing nothing is the great art of making wine.
What do you particularly like about your job?
Petra: Actually, we really like everything about this profession. Working with nature and having the opportunity to produce the wines and sparkling wines that we like to drink ourselves is great. Because we are winegrowers, we can turn our hobby, good food and wine, into a profession or combine it that way. It's also nice that we now have a much stronger connection with the vineyard, nature and the animals. It took a long time until we finally had animals on the farm. That was a big concern and since then we have an insane added value on the farm. We don't have many animals, but exactly the ones we wanted.
Everything that lies outside the norm is our area of expertise.
What are your interests and hobbies outside of viticulture?
Hannes: I want to devote more time to my hobby, photography, as well as play the bass guitar more often. Music has always been a big topic for me. Creativity is very important to me in general, of course also at work. In my free time, photography and music offer me a lovely, creative balance.
Petra: I like to bake, go swimming or knit with my sister-in-law. With Hannes, I like to do culinary things in my free time. Lying on the beach and doing nothing is not really our style. Reading a book can also be done in the vineyard. We love to travel - preferably to places where wine grows.
Hannes: We visit crazy chefs and winemakers. The crazier, the better. Everything that is outside the norm is our territory. That's where we want to go, those are the people we want to meet.
Was there a winery on these trips that impressed you in particular?
Hannes: We spent quite a lot of time in the natural wine scene. A few years ago, we were in the Karst and got to know Stanko Radikon, who strongly influenced the natural wine scene in Central Europe. Being able to meet this icon of natural wine before he died in 2016 was a defining moment for me. We were also often on the road in Champagne and got to know a lot of crazy things there. Champagne is almost our favourite place to go. There are always new and unusual things to experience over there.
Can you tell me about a formative experience at the winery?
Hannes: In 2020, during the first lockdown, we sent our friends a barrel dove and paints, asking them to give free rein to their creativity. Everyone then painted a barrel stave and in the summer we put all the barrel staves together to create a work of art and had a big party outside. We were very impressed by the creativity of our friends. The totality makes up the artwork and reminds us of what we have created during Corona time. It is a memento that stands for connection and friendship. People come from all around to have a look at it.
What are your visions and wishes for the future?
Hannes: Of course, we want the winery to be continued and we want to be able to pass on our thoughts and information. We are looking for the right person with whom we can continue to develop the winery together for a few more years. We have taken an extreme path in favour of the region. It is very challenging and it involves things that are not learned in any schools. That makes the whole thing extremely exciting and we want to carry that forward.
Petra: My wish is that we can continue working in our profession just as long as we enjoy it. I also wish to be able to enjoy a lot of time with my husband for a long time - not only at work. We work together and spend our free time together, which is a challenge sometimes, but really fun.