At last! After a couple of unfruitful years due to small yields, the two qvevris on Laurent and Rita Kox’s wine estate (Remich) are full once again. Get your taste buds ready: welcome to a new world – the world of natural wines.
The boldest winemaker in the Grand Duchy, Laurent Kox has never been one to get stuck in a rut. And everything points to this being genetic since it was his daughter, Corinne, who in 2016 introduced the idea of burying two enormous 800-litre Georgian earthenware vessels in their garden.
Until proved otherwise, Georgia is the country where winemaking began. The oldest traces of making wine date back 8,000 years from this country which runs along the eastern side of the Black Sea. And ever since then the tradition has carried on down the generations of placing grapes in these large vessels which are then buried in the ground with only their neck protruding. Having remained in the shadows for a long time, attention is again focussed on these wines which are aged today exactly as they were thousands of years ago.
And it turns out that qvevris are ideally suited for this purpose as Georgian clay is rich in silver which has antibacterial and antifungal properties. By burying the vessels in the ground, the temperature of the must is controlled naturally and any impact from the weather is ironed out. Quite similar to ancient Roman dolia, the vessels’ egg shape allows the wine to move around naturally, homogenizing the fermentation process.
Since the idea is to return to ancient working methods and the taste of wine from times gone by, Laurent and Corinne Kox do not allow themselves to make any adjustments to the must. Adding anything to the qvevris other than the destemmed grapes is out of the question. “It’s crucial that the grapes are completely undamaged, otherwise we’ll end up with something unacceptable and not what we want,” stresses Laurent Kox. “The only slight deviation from nature is when we add a minimum amount of sulphur during bottling to stabilise the wine, but nothing else.”
Once in the vessel, the juice comes out of the grapes by simple force of gravity, as the weight of the grapes above exerts pressure on those underneath. “While fermentation is still taking place, it’s important to stir the grapes every day,” explains Corinne. Armed with a plastic pitchfork, she busies herself giving the contents of the qvevri a thorough stir.
We have to keep tasting to check how the wine is developing.
This year, for the first time, the estate has decided to try out its St Laurent in the qvevri. This red grape variety, very popular in Austria, is one of the vineyard’s specialities. “We don’t quite know how it will turn out, but that’s what’s so exciting!” says Corinne with a smile. Up until now, the estate has used only white grape varieties, Riesling and Pinot Blanc, in its qvevris. The second qvevri contains Riesling which is not stirred.
Any automated control is quite unsuitable for this winemaking technique. Here nature alone is at work, so it’s impossible to know exactly what will happen: “We can’t predict how long we’ll need to leave the grapes inside,” explains Corinne Kox. “We have to keep tasting to check how the wine is developing.”
In any case, previous vintages have been particularly interesting… although completely disconcerting. Very fruity, very aromatic, these are complex wines with lots of tannins due to prolonged contact with the grape skin. To enjoy them you have to be open-minded; however, anyone who makes the effort won’t regret it. You just have to see how popular this sort of wine is in trendy Parisian wine bars and elsewhere. Natural wines that couldn’t be more natural, these bottles of qvevri wine are crying out to be discovered. And in the Grand Duchy you won’t be spoilt for choice because only the Kox estate produces them!