Domaine Ciringa // 20 Hectares
Domaine Ciringa is a relatively young winery, beginning in 2009. The name comes from the Slovenian name for Zieregg, the incredibly steep and beautiful Grand Cru vineyard in which the Tement family has farmed for three generations. 1959 marked the beginning of the Tement family’s winery, started by Josef and Edina Tement, with just two hectares, in Zieregg and Grassnitzberg, on the right and left side of the house and wine tavern. Josef died young and Manfred Tement his son, took over at sixteen years old, while going to winemaking school at Klosterneuburg. Manfred has a drive and passion for improving the quality of the wines and slowly expands the holdings. In the early 1980s, Manfred met his wife Heidi and they had two children, Armin and Stefan.
In 2005 Armin joined his father at the winery after winemaking school and internships in Austria and abroad. In 2010, Armin’s brother Stefan joined the winery followed by Armin’s wife Monika in 2012.
When Armin joined his father, they agreed together to start organic cultivation of the vineyards of Tement and decide to replant sections of vineyards across the border, on the Slovenian side of the Zieregg, called Ciringa. The vineyard is a continuous, south and southwest-facing steep mountain hillside of pure 60-million-year-old limestone reef, formerly covered by the ancient Paratethys sea. The border between Slovenia and Austria runs directly through this vineyard.
Tement is a large and complex winery, tied to more than sixty years of tradition. In a single vintage, Tement may produce over 50 different wines with 4-5 different grape varieties from 10 different single vineyards. With Ciringa, the focus is on one single vineyard and one grape variety – Sauvignon Blanc. The name of the winery – Domaine Ciringa – and the name of the wines – Fosilni Breg (Fossil Mountain) reference this place and geology; even the front label shows a fossil of a large, ancient sea star.
If you compare the soils in Ciringa to Champagne or to Chablis, it is the same type of soil but much younger. In Chablis you have 200–400-million-year-old Kimmeridgean limestone but here this former seabed is 20-60 million years old. Above the limestone is a mixture of marl and clay, which gives the wines a very individual character.
“Sauvignon Blanc grown on these soils is not really tasting like Sauvignon Blanc. You have a big impact on the structure of the wines.”
The vineyard Ciringa starts at 330 meters above sea level and rises up to 490 meters. For each 100 meter rise, there is a loss of one-degree centigrade average temperature. This gives the vineyard very heterogeneous ripening stages on one single hillside. Because of these climatic and geologic differences, different rootstocks and massale selections were made from old vines in the Tement vineyards. “Each parcel is harvested and vinified separately to get more diversity in each wine” says Armin.
From the very beginning, the vineyards in Ciringa have been farmed organically and biodynamically and were certified organic in 2019 and Demeter & Respekt biodynamically certified in the 2022 vintage. Most of the work is done by hand out of necessity – it is impossible to drive a tractor into many of the steeper sections of Ciringa. Yields here are quite low for Sauvignon Blanc and vine density is about 5,000 vines per hectare, about one kilo per vine. “For us, this is a good balance. You have freshness, you have ripeness, but you have small berries and good structure in the vines.” Says Armin. The harvest is, of course, done entirely by hand.
In the cellar
Each parcel is harvested normally very early in the morning and then vinified separately. The wines see a relatively long skin contact, between 12-36 hours, as Armin feels it is important to “extract the secondary flavors, to go deeper than the primary flavors.” The time of skin contact is determined by a number of factors including the thickness of the skin, temperature at harvest and level of acidity. Armin’s thinking on acidity as it relates to skin contact is rather antithetical to some conventions, especially with Riesling, when skin contact is sometimes used to naturally reduce acidity:
“Of course, you are losing acidity when you are making much longer skin contact, but we especially make much longer skin contact when we have a yield of low acidity. We need the structure of the tannins. The tannins reflect the acidity and are the backbone of the wine when the acidity is not here”.
Armin works in the entire vinification process without sulfur, which would not be possible without the structure in the fruit and the skin contact. After pressing, the must goes directly into cask and is fermented naturally. “We do not make the pied de cuve” says Armin. “Each cask should start with its own fermentation. This takes, depending on the vintage 7 to10 days, sometimes 14 days. This is a very interesting time because this is the first oxidation, the first development of diversity, the first splitting of flavors in each cask.” There is no temperature control in the cellar, though the temperature is low, so fermentations proceed slowly, normally about three months. Sometimes fermentations stop with the cooler temperatures and the wines can have some residual sugar, but fermentations restart again in Spring or summer when malolactic finishes.
“Just before the next harvest, we make our first racking from the big casks. Every parcel has it’s own cask, traditionally from 700 to 4,000-liter casks. The oak is mainly from Styria, Lower Austria and Slovenia, produced by Pauscha in Corinthia. There is a very strong connection to this cooper, Pascha. He is always coming to taste with me because when he is selecting the oak he needs to know how much structure needs to be in the oak. The oak is seasoned for 8-10 years before being bent over a very light toast”
The entry-level Fosilni Breg, which is in effect a village wine, spends one full year on the full lees in oak followed by about year on the fine lees in stainless steel. The Fosilni Breg Reserve is a cask selection of the three strongest and most distinctive casks. These casks are kept for an extra year on the full lees before being racked and aging for almost another year in stainless steel. Pruh is the flagship wine, a top, parcel selection of which only a single cask is bottled in years in which the wine has the right character. Pruh means “quarry”, and the vines are growing in almost a pure limestone parcel. The first vintage of this wine was in 2015, and 2018 will follow. The 2015 was bottled after 66 months on the lees. Pruh is the first, but in the future, there will be small amounts of other individual parcels bottled and released. In some vintages, a Fosilni Breg Deserto Vino is produced with 20% Bortytis, fermented in cask, but with higher alcohol and 60 grams of residual sugar and 10 grams of acidity, like a BA meets Sauternes. All of the wines are bottled without fining or any filtration. “Our way is to go with the time. To give the wines the time they need. The wines reflect the soil and the process – they are structured wines, but not heavy with alcohol or rich in fruit.”
The wines of Domaine Ciringa are Sauvignon Blancs unlike any we have tasted; they are deep, resonant wines that somehow defy gravity. Armin is one of the most dynamic and driven winemakers we’ve spent time with and are delighted to represent this Domaine across the U.S.