Bodega F. SCHATZ
When You Understand Nature,
You Understand Wine
Those that know anything about wine will already know all about biodynamic wine maker Friedrich Schatz. His family, synonymous with wine production since 1641, originated from the Italian Dolomites and settled in the south of Germany where Friedrich’s father and sister produced wine. But Friedrich, ever the pioneer, sought out his own adventure and that’s how he discovered his terroir in Ronda.
Clearly it’s not blood that flows through Friedrich‘s veins, it’s red wine enriched with five hundred years of knowledge and experience.
Finca Sanguijuela, Friedrich’s Spanish vineyard, is a hidden idyll in the heart of the Ronda countryside. The home where he lives with his wife and young daughter, his winery and the warehouses are converted Andalucian white-washed buildings scattered among orange tree-lined paths dotted with clusters of fragrant herbs. As soon as you drive into the property a hushed reverie envelops you, making you want to sit down, take a deep breath and just be. This is more than a working vineyard; it’s natures very own back garden...a perfect Eden of equilibrium and harmony.
As soon as you drive into the property a hushed reverie envelops you, making you want to sit down, take a deep breath and just be.
“When I turned 18 my father said I could go anywhere in the world and continue the family name in the wine industry,” he explains. Friedrich has an air of contentment about him, the healthy glow of a man that loves what he does and is eager to share his passions with others. “I was young, enthusiastic and I wanted to push boundaries. I was looking for a warm exciting climate to work in, but there was a catch – I could only choose a country where my father could visit by road. So Southern Europe it was.”
Friedrich wanted to discover a new region where he could develop his love of organic wine production. He was drawn to Ronda due to its unique atmosphere vital for biodynamic farming. With Africa just across the water, and winds travelling from both the Mediterranean and Atlantic seas, both the soil and the air carried with it plenty of promise. Whether you believe that it was luck, knowledge or Schatz family instinct – Friedrich’s gamble paid off and he has become one of the region’s most respected organic wine growers.
With Africa just across the water, and winds travelling from both the Mediterranean and Atlantic seas, both the soil and the air carried with it plenty of promise.
We enter his bodega, walls lined with barrels and framed awards. He’s proud of his achievements, and rightly so, because his team is small and intends to keep it that way.
“My aim has always been to have a job where I have no boss, but I am not a boss either, it’s about working in harmony with others and with nature. My family help out when they visit,” he says, pointing at his mother who’s in a distant field inspecting the vines. “At harvest time there are a small team of us, but this isn’t a big production...you lose quality when you get too big and lose control.”
On the rough wooden table before us there is local cheese, plus bread and cake made by Friedrich’s wife Raquel, a yoga instructor and meditation practitioner. The Schatz are a family that really understand how magical life can be. They give to nature as much as they take and they respect their environment, and in turn their land gives them their livelihood.
“It’s not blood that flows through Friedrich‘s veins, it’s red wine enriched with five hundred years of knowledge and experience.”
There are six wines in the Schatz range including four red (Finca Sanguijuela, Pinot Noir, Petit Verdot and his signature label Acinipo – named after the Roman amphitheatre nearby), a white (Chardonnay) and a Rosé.
“People come here and tell me that they don’t like white wine or rosé, until they taste mine,” he says, filling up another glass. “My Chardonnay is light and less oaky than others, it has a pop of mango and lychee and a crispness that you don’t normal find with that grape. A lot of the time people complain about aspects of wine they don’t like that have little to do with the graps themselves, it’s the chemicals that are added to the wine that create the issues. You don’t get that here.”
He hands me a list of complicated words I have never seen before, they are the ingredients that are legally allowed to be added to commercial wine. Unlike food production, wine growers don’t have to list the additives or synthetic flavours that they use...meaning that very few of us actually know what we are drinking. That is not the case with Schatz, his produce is pure. “Did you know that you can also make wine using grapes?” he jokes.
We step back outside and into the sunshine. Birds of prey circle in the distance, chickens peck at our feet and Friedrich’s four year old daughter, resplendent in her sparkly blue princess costume, waves at us as we walk past.
“Did you know that you can also make wine using grapes?”
“Life is all about balance,” he says, smiling at the scene around us, “and so are my farming methods.” He points at the clusters of herbs at our feet, grass and wild flowers grow in place of the freshly dug earth that accompanies most vines.
“Some wine producers think that the grass and the weeds compete with the vines for water and the soil’s nutrients so they rip them out. I don’t. Instead I work with nature to get the best out of my land. I plant herbs that attract certain insects that attract certain birds that will eat the vine-eating insects and therefore protect my plants. These herbs,” he says, moving on to another plant, “they soak up excess rain and in the summer they dry out and their leaves cover the soil and create insulation, so the sun doesn’t dry up the earth and affect my vines. These plants produce good bacteria, and some others repel certain insects that I don’t want on the vines. Why would I spray chemicals on my land if nature can do the job for me so much better?”
“Even my biodynamic herbs are like homeopathy for the soil.”
There is a beautiful synchronicity in his explanations and such common sense behind his teachings that you wonder why every producer isn’t working with nature instead of against it.
“Even my biodynamic herbs are like homeopathy for the soil.” He holds up a box filled with pots of dried leaves and mulch. “Only 13¨% of the grape’s nutrients comes from the soil, the rest are found in the unique combination of weather, photosynthesis and atmosphere, yet I still ensure that the ground in which my plants grow is as healthy as can be. I use ground quartz buried inside an old bull’s horn to enrich the earth. I combine camomile, wild nettle, dandelion, yarrow and valerian to add nutrients to my plants. All of this is absorbed into the grape which is turned into wine which is drunk by us, so why wouldn’t I want to make my produce not just clean of additives or chemicals, but also good for me!”
“Life is all about balance and so are my farming methods.”
Friedrich rarely has an empty glass in his hand, and who can blame him? Organic wine doesn’t make you ill, it doesn’t give you a headache and (allegedly) it doesn’t give you a hangover. The man himself is like a perfect bottle of wine - a rich and balanced blend of Italian passion, German professionalism and the Spanish love for life. He has embraced Ronda as his own; enjoying the odd local bullfight and talking about his love for horses.
As we go to leave he reminds us of his favourite quote, “Madame de Rothchild once said, making wine is easy, it’s only the first two hundred years that are the hardest.” Luckily for us the Schatz family has double that under their belt and even more to come.