Q&A with Christof Höpler
Christof Höpler oversees 50 hectares of vineyards in the Leithaberg hills in Austria. After studying economics in college, he went into the wine business and took over the Höpler winery from his father Jost in 2008. They export most of their production, including to Stowe, Vermont, where it is the official Trapp Family Lodge wine (yes, those Von Trapps!).
1. What does your relationship with Opimian mean to you?
If I had to use two words: ‘loyalty and trust’. Opimian allows us entry into the Canadian market and direct contact with a customer base that is curious, open-minded and loyal. We have been supplying Opimian members for over 20 years. We strive to be consistent and to work within the realms that nature allow us, to stay true to our Hoepler style, quality and values, yet always provide something different each year too. Your trust in us and loyalty in consistently buying our products and testing the new things, allows us to do this. As family business we value this highly.
2. When did you realize that producing wine was your passion?
OK, don’t choke on your wine as you read this… in Panama! Ridiculous, I know – my father sent me there to do a wine fair in the mid 90s (It was an important duty-free market in those days). Like many young bucks at that age, I stood behind my stand all fresh-faced and energetic, and as the guests started coming and asked more and more questions I realised I really didn’t know anything. I was mortified. I went home and bought every book on wine I could and inhaled them. From that moment I was totally hooked. The magic of nature, science and alchemy!
3. Which of your current wines are you the most excited about?
I think you will enjoy the rosé that is new this year. In the winery there is a Blaufraenksich Kirchberg 18 in the making that I have high hopes for.
4. If you were not a winemaker, what would you do?
I would be a house husband—my wife is much more capable than me. If I was more organised, it would allow me to pursue my boyhood dream of doing anything fast in cars! Otherwise it would have to be in regenerative agriculture. It is part of the job I adore – there is so much to learn and try, and the great thing about being a ‘farmer’ is that we have to see things as a whole, in the cycle of nature. Many large companies and teams of scientists over the last decades have focused on the narrow minutiae, disregarding the impact their efforts may have on the whole.
5. What do you enjoy most about your job?
Being connected — to customers, my team, suppliers and nature.
6. Which winemaking traditions, if any, are most important to you?
We have a non-invasive wine making style. We believe the key is getting the base material healthy and ‘right’. Once in the winery it’s about being consistent. Regular, continual checking and tasting that everything is in balance. The more you ‘add’ the higher the likelihood that you lose balance and harmony. We are keen to avoid this—you would never forget to keep checking on your children. It is the same with our wines—we check daily and more if needed, and act when we need to.
7. What is the best wine you have ever tasted?
There are some impressive and inspiring wines that stay in my head for different reasons. The magic of wine is also being in the moment,—this cannot be replicated. For me there is no ‘best’ wine, just a lot of inspiration. This inspiration gives me energy and ensures that I will just keep striving!
8. What are you doing when you’re not making wine or growing grapes?
When the question is asked like that, it makes me laugh – growing grapes suddenly sounds so easy. Let’s not forget – I am a farmer who also runs a regulated business. That means I am CEO, head of sales, head of product development, head of HR, head of technology, etc,—you get the picture. With a family wine business of our size it’s important I make time to keep up-to-date—there are technologies and systems that can really benefit companies of our size. This keeps me fully occupied, but I understand it’s important to balance this with ‘me’ time. My favourite place is on my bike (mountain or road), depending on the season, or if snow allows ski touring in the hills nearby. The fresh air is always inspiring and the exercise vital for my brain and well-being. The final factor is my wife – she is a good pathfinder and without her I would no doubt cycle in circles!
9. What bottle is open in your kitchen right now?
Now careful here, you are asking a winemaker! I was tasting in the lab all day and I always bring the wines back home to re-taste with the family. So last night it was our Hoepler Zweigelt 18 – a tank sample vs. nine other competitor wines.
10. What is your favourite wine (either of yours or from another producer/region)?
There are many places, with excellent and great wines. Wine is versatile – I would never say I have a favourite, but I spent some time in Piedmont for which I do have a soft spot. For me it offers the whole package; it’s compact and beautiful, with winemakers of all styles, shapes and forms. The hospitality is charming, the food delicious and you leave with a touched heart. Uncomplicated, and for the most part affordable and hospitable.
11. What up and coming wine region would you recommend traveling to? Why?
Austria of course. It offers the wine lover a new perspective; most people are unaware we produce the same amount of wine as New Zealand, and because of our history we have some great innovation and high global standards. As for the enjoyment factor we can do that in spades. Just like our wines we offer a wide selection at a high quality. Visiting our region enables you to marry the elegance and sophistication of Vienna with the sunshine of our Lake Neusiedl and the beauty of our Leithaberg Hill, all within a 45-minute drive. We have opera and castles nearby, different styles of wines in the north and the south, and you can reach Bratislava and Budapest within 30 mins and 2 hours respectively. I could go on!
12. Your favourite book or movie?
One of the only films I can watch over again is Love Actually, a family Christmas favourite. The Green Book is a film I have just watched that I really enjoyed.
13. Who is a person you admire?
My wife, of course!
14. Red, white or rosé?
All three – there is a time and a place for each one!
15. Describe your philosophy in one word or sentence.
Creating wines in balance and harmony with nature that speak and connect with the consumer in an inspiring way.