Haloze is a hidden place, says Michael Gross. He comes from a winegrowing family, and with his brother, was running the family domain, Weingut Gross, in Südsteiermark in the south of Austria. It’s a well known winery, making excellent wine, but he had his head turned by a beautifully scenic region over the border in Slovenia. ‘My wife and I are really happy to start our story here in Haloze,’ he says. They are in the process of building their family home near Maribor, where they have some other vineyards, and they have a small but perfectly formed winery in the middle of the Haloze vines.
This hilly region is quite distinctive, and almost all the vineyards are grown on terraces that were constructed during the communist era to make mechanization possible. It’s also an extremely green region. It’s really beautiful, and the whole region is either woods or vineyards – the soils are too poor for arable farming.
There are 700 hectares of vineyards here. Some 30 years ago there were 2000 hectares, but many vineyards were lost because this is not a good place to make cheap wine – with the slopes viticulture is more expensive here. With just one row of vines per terrace, the planting density is low: just 2000 vines per hectare. ‘We hope slowly they will come back,’ says Michael. ‘The state is encouraging people to replant. For me it is one of the most important wine regions in eastern Europe.’
Michael Gross farms his vines organically, and there is a lot of biodiversity here. On the terraces themselves there’s no bare soil, and in the vine row weeds are managed mechanically with a sort of flailing spinning horizontal cylinder that has cords that cut the vegetation but don’t damage the vine trunks. They also do the job of removing water shoots. He’s just bought a new flexible arm mower for dealing with the terrace walls behind the vines.
Furmint is a variety that is new to him, but he says his grandmother knew it in Austria as one of the grapes in the Gemischter Satz blend they made. There she remembered it as being acidic and hard to ripen, but Michael has fallen for it here, where he’s getting great results.
Soils are opok and marl, and there’s around 25% calcareous marl content. Rainfall is 600-800 m, and they have some influence from the alps, but also some Pannonian influence: it’s always windy, which helps with organic approaches.
How did he come to be in Haloze? ‘My father bought a house here in 2005,’ says Michael, ‘and I knew I wanted to make wine here.’ So he made experimental wines for a few years, and in 2008 started replanting sites with Furmint and Sauvignon Blanc. In 2012 he renovated a house to turn it into a winery (he describes it as a ‘non-technical cellar’), and then by 2016 was sure this was the right project in the right place, and the Gross brand was launched, and he stopped working with his brother to focus solely on this project.
‘The potential of this region is outstanding,’ says Michael. He now has quite a bit of Furmint and Sauvignon Blanc, along with a bit of Laški. He’s also grafted some old vines over to Blaufränkisch to see how it does. He’s now farming 25 hectares of vines and is looking to cap production at 50 000 bottles (it’s currently at 35 000).
The wines are fermented in oak (600-2800 litre), fermented for one year on gross lees with no sulfites (so they do malolactic), then after 1 year the wines are racked and go to stainless steel to settle down for at least six months before bottling. Michael decided year by year and cuvée by cuvée whether or not to add sulfites at bottling. ‘It’s based on a feeling,’ he says.
Vino Gross Haloze Blanc 2020 Štajerska, Slovenia
40% Furmint, 40% Sauvignon, 20% Laški Rizling. No added sulfites. This has a complex, inviting nose with apple and citrus, leading to a fruit-driven palate showing keen acidity under the wonderfully expressive pear, apple and lemon fruit. It’s slightly smoky and salty and finishes taut and mineral. Such a lovely wine, with real intensity. 93/100
Vino Gross Maribor Blanc 2020 Štajerska, Slovenia
13% alcohol. No added sulfites. A village wine, from a region on the border with Austria. 70% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Laški Rizling, from steeply sloped vineyards. Same philosophy, just different soils, with very different structure. This has taut citrus fruit with some herbal hints and lively acidity, finishing bright and expressive. There’s some flesh here with a salty, citrussy edge to the palate. Very fine. 93/100
Gorca is the only cru that is allowed by wine law, and is 100 hectares. ‘Gwartza’ is how you pronounce it. Gross makes selections from Gorca, which is already in the law (which was made in the 1960s and 1970s), but overall it is big. So Gross makes Gorca, the Cru, and then does parcels out of it
Vino Gross Gorca Haloze 2020 Štajerska, Slovenia
12.5% alcohol. Pure Furmint from different parcels. No added sulfites. Appley and intense with a lovely limey drive, and some intense mineral characters. Juicy, concentrated, chalky and salty with lovely depth and precision, with high acidity as well as incredible detail and structure. Such intensity, complexity and also precision: reminds me of top Jura whites. It’s the sappy salinity and the subtle oxidative hint right in the background. 96/100
Vino Gross Haloze Blanc 2019 Štajerska, Slovenia
12.5% alcohol. Added 15 ppm sulfites before bottling. Taut and slightly smoky with intense citrus fruit and a twist of pear and apple. Juicy, mineral and fresh with dried herbs and nice mineral character. There’s a lovely precision here with nice fruit and good aromatics. 93/100
Vino Gross Colles Haloze 2019 Štajerska, Slovenia
13.5% alcohol. A single parcel of Sauvignon Blanc. Yellow/gold in colour. This has appealing fruit intensity with bright citrus, green apple and pear notes, with a crystalline, mineral edge and some dried herbs. Intense but balanced with nice intensity. Michael Gross says that Sauvignon goes through waves of being oxidative and reductive in the cellar. The wine is very sensitive to weather conditions, he says. ‘I don’t want to sell Sauvignon Blanc, I want to sell Colles, the parcel,’ he says. There’s a slight chalkiness on the finish. 94/100
Vino Gross Korže Haloze 2019 Štajerska, Slovenia
This plot is pronounced ‘Kwarger’, and it’s planted with Furmint and Sauvignon Blanc. Delicate, precise and expressive with lovely precision to the lemon, mandarin and pear fruit. There’s a great acid line here with juiciness and minerality, and a sense of purity. Tapering, lemony finish and some fine green notes. Nice combination of green and yellow. 94/100
Vino Gross Iglič Haloze 2019 Štajerska, Slovenia
13% alcohol. Pronounced ‘eee-glitch’. Furmint grown on very hard sandstone 20 cm down on the plateau at the top of a hill. In 2020 this all went into Gorce. Powerful, intense, pretty and mineral with crystalline citrus fruit and some spicy notes. Powerful, layered and mineral with some yellow fruit richness, some mandarin, and a nice lemony finish. Has some apricot even. Lots of appeal here. 95/100
He also makes some regional wines: wines defined by the winemaker’s hand, according to Michael
Vino Gross Renski Rizling 2020 Štajerska, Slovenia
This is Rhine Riesling grown on pure limestone soils in Maribor. Fresh, direct, citrussy and fine with lovely lemony characters. Bright and quite chalky and mineral with lovely citrus fruit. Has purity, good fruit, and a lovely acid line. This is such an enjoyable, pure expression of Riesling. 93/100
Vino Gross Hišno Vino 2020 Štajerska, Slovenia
10.3% alcohol. This means ‘house wine’, and it combines the experiments in the cellar. This year it is a blend of varieties with some skin contact. Next year it will be a red wine. Beautiful aromatics: fruity, aromatic, very enticing with some table notes. Juicy, light, refreshing – easy drinking with some structure, and a hint of seriousness. Really pretty and expressive with great balance and drinkability. Light and delicate. 93/100
Vino Gross Traminec 2020 Štajerska, Slovenia
Pronounced ‘traminets’, which is traminer. This was planted by Michael’s father because he loves this variety. This is the variety the birds eat, and it wasn’t until 2015 they had any grapes. This is maceration carbonique. Complex, spicy, lively and bright with ripe table grape and citrus, as well as some dried herbs. Fruity and expressive with a white pepper edge to the fruit. Has some grippy structure with a bit of lively acidity. So distinctive. 93/100
When Micheal’s sister was pregnant she said why isn’t it possible to make high class grape juices? So they tried to figure out how to make grape juice so you can use them like wines. They do this project with their neighbours. They encouraged them to go organic by paying double the price for grapes: €1.5 when they were getting 45 c
Flein Sauvignon Blanc 2021 – bright, grassy, lively – sugar level is 62-65 Oeschle, have to deacidify from 15-10. Low crop gives the flavour even at this level of ripeness. Harvested just for grape juice. Pasteurized – bottled cold then goes through a tunnel where the bottle gets heated up by steam and then cooled down quickly. Has a grassy edge, catches Sauvignon character.
Flein Gelber Muskateller 2021
Very grapey and fruity with nice intensity and good acidity. So juicy and bright. Has some grip.
Flein Prickelnder Traubensaft Fizz 2021
Fizzy and grapey with nice acidity balancing the sweetness and some herbal hints. Juicy and lively with a hint of grassiness and some green tea notes. Refreshing and appealing with a slight savoury twist.
UK agent is Newcomer Wines
Find these wines with wine-searcher.com