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"Winegrowers are now better able to respond to climate change"

December 17, 2021

reading time: 8 minutes

by Klaus Rathje, guest author

Stefan Tscheppe

Stefan Tscheppe, Head of the Princely Winery, faces the challenges posed by climate change.

Mr. Tscheppe, you previously worked for wineries in Austria and California. To what extent is that reflected at the Princely Wine Cellars? Did you change things completely when you started to work there?

Stefan Tscheppe: There was no need for a totally fresh start, as the Princely Winery has been quite successful over the generations. So the focus has been more on always bringing in new elements and further developing the style of the wines. Their origin should be embedded in them, meaning that wines from Liechtenstein should not be interchangeable. The wines we have been making since 2019 are now characterized even more by their origin.

You have introduced organic farming at the winery. Did you gain experience with this in the US?

Yes, I had also worked using an environmentally friendly approach in the US. But viticulture is a sustainable business per se. So applying this to an even greater extent is a logical step. Although how exactly you want to implement sustainability is a question of philosophy.

Princely Winery
Stefan Tscheppe underlines the origins of his wines. © Princely Winery

How did the switch go?

There was a generational change underway at the Princely Wine Cellars in Austria. A number of employees retired, so we were able to set up a completely new, young and very innovative team. Our cellar master in Vaduz is very open to sustainable viticulture. And we brought in a consultant from Burgundy, who advises many renowned wineries. So in 2019, we were able to swiftly take significant steps in terms of style. We also converted the first vineyards to organic farming that year. 

What role does the label “organically farmed” play in the Princely Wine Cellars’ image?

It’s important to me that we don’t propagate organic and environmentally friendly farming as the key sales feature. In my opinion, this should be only one of the many quality characteristics that have developed over the winery’s 600-year history. In the beginning, we discussed whether we even wanted to have our wines certified as organic. Together with the Princely Family, we ultimately decided that we would do so.

Are there any other aspects relating to sustainability that come into play at the Princely Wine Cellars?

Yes, we are also working on getting an American certification called B Corporation. It covers factors ranging from social commitment and fair pay, right through to having the lowest possible CO2 emissions. B Corporation certification recognizes socially and environmentally responsible company practices, and the Princely Wine Cellars meet those standards.

So you take a holistic view when it comes to sustainable agriculture. How environmentally friendly is the work you do at the Princely Wine Cellars?

We actually exceed the requirements for organic certification by sowing  15 different plant species to activate the soils. In addition, we successfully follow the phases of the moon for much of our work. The wasps and bees liked to visit our Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes – we’ve had to rein that in a little bit and we do that naturally with rock dust. Sustainable agriculture is particularly important in these times of climate change. But ultimately, the wine should always be high quality and delight the palate. Enjoyment should not fall by the wayside.

Princely Winery
"It’s not about the quantity we produce, it’s all about the quality." © Princely Winery

How do you deal with climate change as winemakers?

We deal with it very consciously at the Princely Wine Cellars. We already saw massive shifts during the 2018/2019 vintage. That doesn’t necessarily just mean that temperatures are rising – we’re also seeing precipitation at times when it hasn’t occurred before. The weather is becoming more difficult to predict.

So what do you think the future will hold for winemakers?

The next few years will keep us busy in that we will have to react more often to short-term changes in the weather. Wineries will have to adapt to more risk. But we also have an advantage, because we now know much more about the vineyards and the aromas and the sugar development in the grapes. That means we can respond better and in a more targeted way.

So generally speaking, you have to be a better winegrower if you want to address climate change and practice environmentally friendly agriculture.

Basically, yes. For a long time, organic viticulture didn’t exactly have a great reputation. The problem was that although the wines were organic, they didn’t meet other quality criteria, because it is more difficult to farm organically. For example, you’re only allowed to apply natural substances to the surface of the vines, so nothing systemic that could work from the inside. But things have evolved since then, and there are effective foliar fertilizers made from various plants.

So organic winemakers now have more possibilities and have learned from past experience?

Yes, our knowledge and biological possibilities have evolved, which means that organic wines can now also be very high quality. If a chef isn’t happy with their dish one night, they can cook it a little differently the next night. But we winemakers have only one chance, we only harvest the vines and produce our wine once a year. There are many aspects that require a lot of experience – from the plants, to the soil, to the cellar and the microbiology involved in the fermentation process. There are always a lot of decisions to make. Wine must be attended to from the vine to the bottle. With as little intervention as possible, but when necessary and at the right time.

Quadir wirecard
Due to climate change, Pinot Noir grapes are being picked earlier. © Princely Winery

Will Pinot Noir remain the “king of red wines” in Liechtenstein despite climate change?

Yes, the wine would not immediately lose acidity or aroma if temperatures were to rise slightly. If everything were left the same in terms of when the grapes are harvested, the wines would become jammier. But like I said, we can make adjustments in order to achieve the style we want.

How do you look back on your first two years at the helm of the Princely Wine Cellars?

We are in the fortunate position of having owners who think very long term. For us, it’s not about the quantity we produce, it’s all about the quality. That’s why we have preserved the old vines. We have made enormous progress in a very short time with the Princely Wine Cellars team. I’m really proud of our first Pinot Noir, which we produced in Vaduz in 2019. It has a different style and has become a much livelier wine, a much better representative of its origin. It’s a real treasure, and we’ll continue to develop it.

The Princely Winery

In 1436, the castle and dominion of Wilfersdorf passed to Christoph II of Liechtenstein. The estates also include vineyards in Liechtenstein and in Austria. Thus the Princely Winery was born. Director Stefan Tscheppe focuses increasingly on the careful use of resources and natural cultivation; H.S.H. Princess Marie von und zu Liechtenstein is responsible for marketing and sales.

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