Winery Magula with Alice Feiring
Just five days ago I had
- never visited the family Magula winery despite being a fan of their wine for some time
- never met Alice Feiring, James Beard Award winning writer, wine enthusiast and the ‘stuff of legends’ before
- was supposed to be working all day Wednesday, meeting upon meeting
Life doesn’t always go according to plan though – thankfully.
Before I continue I think it’s important to give Alice the introduction she deserves. When she asked me how I stumbled upon her work I actually failed to remember – all I remember is one day browsing through her website, discovering she runs a monthly newsletter aptly titled “The Feiring Line” and that she has a powerful, untamed writing voice that commands a presence yet is very articulate. Quickly falling in love, I subscribed to the newsletter, ordered copies of her books and have been following her work ever since. So what is her work? Alice is a wine writer (by accident as she says) and one of the most vocal champions of the natural wine world today. Despite wine not being journalistically the sexiest topic on the planet, she has managed through hard work and dedication to carve out a platform for herself where she unapologetically yet always honestly shares information about the wine world with her audience. I mean, it takes balls to title your first book “The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World from Parkerization”, directly taking on the arguably most famous wine critic out there today. Balls and love for what you do.
Alice was visiting Slovakia for the first time for a quite astonishing reason – her second book titled “Naked Wine”, a lyrical introduction to the world of natural wine was translated to Slovak! For those of you interested, you can purchase the book here – it’s really worth reading even if you aren’t that interested in wine because it’s about so much more than that – it’s stories of people who have for various different reasons and motivations decided to pursue something they are truly passionate about.
Following the book launch I was lucky enough to attend a smaller private dinner with Alice where several winemakers from our neck of the woods were present including Vlado Magula and his striking wife Lucia. We drank beautiful wines and talked about many things, one of the most resonant for me being how change is one of the driving forces of history. I was slightly surprised at the fact that Alice was quite timid and almost shy in person – her writing has such a resonating and fiery voice – but then again, I wasn’t surprised at all. Always carrying little notebooks with her, she would occasionally jot down phrases, notes and things to remember during conversation hinting towards a very rich and introspective way of thinking. Plus, it was very refreshing to be in the company of someone who although may speak little actually says something worthwhile and poignant when they do. I should definitely take note of that. Less is sometimes more.
Towards the end of the dinner Vlado asked if I’d like to join Alice at her visit to his winery the following day. Can you imagine saying no? So I cancelled all my meetings and off we went the following day after a much needed coffee in the morning. The weather was stunning – a true warm Indian summer fall day, not too cold, not too warm. Nothing better than frozen sun-kissed cheeks.
The story of the Magula winery is one of family, which is probably why it’s so touching for me. Vlado’s great-grandfather had owned vineyards and produced wine in the area of Suchá nad Parnou, being dubbed slightly eccentric for his modern methods at the time. I guess a rebellious streak runs in their blood. During the restitution, the family managed to get the property back, including beautiful grounds where a monastery once stood, the only thing left of it a small beautiful chapel of Our Lady of Lourdes. For a couple of years the family – Vlado’s parents, his wife Lucia and him –weren’t really sure what to do with the property. They all liked, nay loved wine but knew very little about it and they hadn’t exactly heard tales of glory about the state of winemaking in Slovakia. Then in 2007 after six years of deliberation and as an hommage to their roots they planted their first vines – Blaufränkisch – which produced beautiful and encouraging results with their first vintage in 2011.
Since then, a lot has changed and yet one may argue that nothing at all. The family travelled, tasted, learned and argued about what their path in winemaking was going to be. From what Vlado says, they still argue and continue learning but thank goodness for that. People should argue about this they care about. After stumbling across the natural wines of Strekov 1075, Vlado fell in love and decided that the path of bio vineyards and low intervention in the cellar was one they would take. The winery is still very young and it’s not always easy – Vlado’s parents often view the wine more conservatively than he does, resisting to experiment or sometimes encouraging experimentation where he doesn’t see fit – but what I absolutely loved was that despite all that they always reach a consensus and are absolutely honest about what goes into each of their wines. When we were in the cellar, he was very concrete about each and every single wine, citing how the opinions of each family member differed and how the consensus is the reason behind the way the wine looks the way it does today. Addition of sulfur? It has happened, although he would prefer not to use it in the future. Added yeasts? They tried at the beginning but weren’t satisfied and would never do it again. They have plans of going biodynamic starting next year, which is ambitious and wonderful and I can’t wait to see the results. All of this is all the more admirable given that every member of the family still keeps their day jobs in completely different fields to keep things up, sacrificing all other time and effort for their wines. I really hope and believe that they’ll be able to transition into full time winemaking down the road.
Wines that stood out for me during our tasting were the lovely Devín 2015, a local grape variety reminiscent of Traminer but with a very specific twist to it. Aromatic but not overwhelmingly so, the wine was just downright delicious. Following that, all of their Blaunfrankisch samples – although I much prefer the Slovak term Frankovka, easier to pronounce too! – are beautiful. Most resonantly the 2014 unplugged – in comparison to the unplugged version a more “textbook” natural wine if there is such a thing – with no sulfur added, it was beautifully structured with mouthwatering fruit. That baby is going to age like nobody’s business. What was also exciting was their first orange wine – Vlado let me sneak the remainders of a bottle from Tuesday’s dinner home with me to enjoy for Wednesday evening and it was delicious. Surprisingly, the idea came from his Dad who fell in love with orange wines two or three years ago! And to think you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
The visit was just magical – the vineyards, the estate, the fact that Alice was there. What has really stuck with me since and an idea that has been bouncing around in my head for quite some time now is that of honesty. I'm finding more and more that was is paramount for me is not the labels and the categorization, natural, not natural, bio, organic, this and that but the energy, attitude, actions and rhetoric of the winemaker. As long as I am fully informed then I am given the opportunity as a consumer to decide whether this style is what I prefer to drink or not. I’ve been really conflicted about whether I’m being honest with myself and the people around me in my professional pursuits – I work in a family business, building something for people who I care about most in the world which is primary motivation for what I do and why I get up in the morning.
My work has nothing to do with wine. Yet I am so passionate about wine and everything this world entails that I’m finding these world conflicting more and more. I am a master of my own time and the meetings I bumped back were nothing serious. No harm was done, yet I felt extremely guilty. But hey – as long as I’m honest about that too I believe that I’ll find a way to achieve balance and who knows, maybe one day these worlds will merge and find intersections. Vlado uttered an almost painful yet beautifully honest sentence during our visit – had he known what the road of winemaking entails, he never would have gone into it. But thankfully, brave and good things require people not knowing what hardship lays ahead of them.