Good things happen when you discover yourself
As we arrive at the home and bodega of Austrian wine maker Martin Kieninger we are met with the pungent scent of springtime and two over-enthusiastic dogs. His home is surrounded by lush countryside, wild flowers and sheltered by a large Tilia tree that stands proudly in the centre of his courtyard.
“This tree was planted when my daughter Sara was 5 years old. Following Celtic tradition it corresponds to her zodiac sign and every time I look at the tree, so strong, vibrant and colourful, I smile and think of her.”
This is what Martin is all about, family and nature. The more time you spend with him the more you realise that this isn’t a man that set out to make great wine from a young age...this is a man that followed his spiritual path to happiness and in turn naturally became one of Ronda’s most respected ecological wine producers.
“Nature called me. I wanted to enter the world of wine being true to myself, respecting the land and the organic process."
“I moved to Spain from Austria eighteen years ago with my two young children and my wife pregnant with our youngest son Paco,” he tells me, as we enjoy a cup of vanilla scented white tea in his kitchen. “I was born into a large successful construction company. That was my future before I had a say in the matter. My father was very strict and expected me to be like him, to work long hours and to dedicate my time to the family business. It took a lot of strength for me to finally break away and be true to myself; to seek out my own destiny.”
Martin set up his own sustainable architectural business from the picturesque town of Ronda and bought three hectares of land, with no idea of what he wanted to do with it except to build his family home on it.
“In the year 2000 I planted my first vines as a hobby. I also planted all kind of fruit trees. I now have tangerines, cherries, almonds, lemons, apples, figs and walnuts. I love the idea of being able to step out into the garden and pick my own food throughout the year. After seven years of learning about wine production, experimenting and investigating what it meant to set up a Bodega I began to research the idea of producing wine professionally. I still had my architectural business so there was no financial pressure to make it work.”
“I take my time now. I know who I am and I know where I’m going..."
We pick our way among the wild flowers and abundant fruit trees as Martin shows us around his vineyard. “From an early age I wanted to be a farmer. Nature called me. I wanted to enter the world of wine being true to myself, respecting the land and the organic process. That was my biggest concern when working in construction, how hard it was to achieve my objectives and work alongside nature. In this house we have a natural water supply from the mountains, and everything is done by hand and organic. We don’t use any chemicals (besides a bit of copper and sulphur for the fungus, because that has no natural enemy which we can use to combat it) and simply treat nature with nature – we had a plague of tiny spiders once, we simply researched its natural enemy and introduced eight nests of mites to my land. I now don’t have a spider problem. We have spiders and we have mites, but when you understand the importance of biodiversity there is perfect balance.”
With little experience in wine production but filled with enthusiasm, Martin sent his wine to a prestigious Barcelona wine club in 2007 who gave him a much-coveted five star rating. That was the push he needed to move away from architecture and concentrate on becoming a leading name in Spanish wine.
“I just want to create high quality wine and have people enjoy it.
“I don’t care about points or the awards for my wine,” he says laughing, as he pours out a glass of his Vinana wine, named after his wife Ana. “I just want to create high quality wine and have people enjoy it. I love to see them breathe in the fruity floral scent; looking at the colour as they swirl it in their glass; to see their faces as they take their first sip. Our tastings are normally conducted right here at this small table with tray of nuts and dried fruit from my garden, in the shade of my nut tree, looking out on to this wonderful vista.”
I perch on the wall, the sun hot against my back with his dogs sitting expectantly at our feet and a butterfly fluttering lazily above my head. We sip and we sit, enveloped by the silence occasionally punctuated by the soft drone of a bumble bee or the cry of a nearby starling.
“Understanding yourself is vital to life, and having an outlet for your creativity is a form of meditation.”
“This beauty is my life and my wine is a representative of that,” he says. “I treat my land and my grape with love and respect. If I’m angry or sad then I walk through the vineyard with my dogs and I am soon calm again. I can feel the deep connection with life again.”
So what has been the biggest change for Martin moving from the cold mountains of Austria to the heat and laid back life of Andalucia?
“Everything is looser here,” he tells me, his Spanish impeccable. “It took a long time to understand the culture and the way of life, to realise that things went at a slower pace here. But I love the openness you find in the south of Spain, that their emotions and their hearts are out for all to see. I have learnt a lot emotionally and in exchange I hope I have had my own small influence on the area too.”
His first wine Maxx is named after his firstborn son and his Rosara rosé is named after his daughter... and his Vinana wine, named after his wife Ana...
Ronda is Martin’s home now. His eldest son went on to study architecture and his daughter studied design - the fruit never falling too far from the tree. His first wine Maxx is named after his firstborn and his Rosara rosé is named after his daughter. His younger son was born in Spain shortly after they arrived, luckily Martin has more plans for future wines that may well bear his youngests’ name one day. He is very close to his children and even used to play the saxophone in a jazz band with his son who plays the flute.
“Family, work and having enough money are important things,” he says, as we stand in front of a plot of land he plans to build a bodega on, so he can start to separate his home from his business. “But what we all need is something that connects us to our soul. Our point of peace. I learnt the hard way through my previous work in construction that actually, selling, money and working ridiculous hours is not where happiness lies. Understanding yourself is vital to life, and having an outlet for your creativity is a form of meditation.”
“One must understand and be aware of the connection between us and nature, that’s the insight I wish to bring to my vineyard and wine “
He talks of his plans to make his label even more organic by producing a wine that will carry no sulphates at all, and how he will never risk the quality of his grape by expanding his business too large. “I learnt from a young age that you must give one hundred per cent to everything that you do. I have now three hectare of land but I don’t want to get much bigger than that,” he says. “I am involved in every aspect of my business now – from the planting and growing and picking to the sampling and bottling; I now get to be fully immersed in nature every day. I get to touch and smell and taste my work and every year brings new surprises.”
“This is a man that followed his spiritual path to happiness.”
The serenity and natural beauty of his home and land is palpable in the midday heat. You can practically hear the tiny buds forming on the vines as they dream of the grapes they will soon become.
“Wine has taught me to slow down and appreciate nature,” Martin says. “I take my time now. I know who I am and I know where I’m going. I guess you could call that happiness.”