Meet an extremist – Germany’s ‘Orange man’
Martin Cooper is an extremist. He’d have to be to choose to make wine in one of the most northerly places it’s possible to do so, climatically. And whilst there’s nothing extreme about an ancient Catholic monastery, you have to admit it’s not the first place you’d expect to find a straight-talking Ozzie.
Having trained, and won awards, as a winemaker back home, Martin arrived at Kloster Ebernach in Germany’s Terrassenmosel in 2014, as a Consultant Winemaker. Within six hours, he had taken over full time.
Love brought him to the Mosel – not just love for his German wife, but also for its native Riesling grape, the quality of which is “unmatched elsewhere”, according to Martin.
His risk-taking goes beyond being an ‘extreme terroir-ist’, Martin also likes to challenge himself in the winery, to experiment and push the boundaries. Hence, his Kloster Ebernach Experimental Orange Riesling (redsquirrelwine.com £26.99), which is his ‘hero wine’, riding the wave of the current fashion for ‘natural wines’.
A fan since trying Jura wines as a young man, Martin has taken an ancient winemaking style and updated it for the modern winery, eschewing the strict regulations of the German ‘Pradikat’ system. 100% organically grown Riesling grapes are spontaneously fermented, using indigenous yeasts, spending around 30 days on their skins, before being pressed off.
The tannins in the grape skins give the wine its distinctive orange colour and those tannins facilitate a natural wine, because they bind with oxygen, meaning there is no added sulphur.
“Orange wine is a separate category in itself, it’s not just an extension of white”, he says.
“Orange wine is a separate category in itself, it’s not just an extension of white”, he says. “It’s such a young category that the establishment is yet to take it on”. But he is confident orange is the new black.
Such was the demand for his first orange vintage that he has ramped up production from around 100 cases in 2014, to around 300 cases in 2016 – all of which has already sold. It’s available in a few specialist retailers, but most of his production is destined for the world’s finest restaurants, where sommeliers are increasingly adding sections for orange wines. “It’s an exciting and unusual food accompaniment”, he says.
Martin admits it has been a steep learning curve; “there is 50% heartbreak in a bottle of orange wine”, and he’s aware it’s a reasonably high price point “at the moment, it’s the wine geeks who love it, and they justify the cost”.
However, he is confident the market will grow and others will be encouraged to experiment, and he predicts the technique could find its way into other wines, whether orange or merely a bit cloudy, as the industry looks to new ways of reducing the use of added sulphur.