In this anguished period of climate emergency and ongoing warfare, it took the Icelander Hoss Hauksson—the world’s only Icelandic wine producer—to bring smile back to my face and allow me to look to the future with real hope. His small but avant-garde company, his thriving vineyards in Switzerland’s Canton Argovia promise so much and not only for wine buffs. Hoss’s vision and dedication are, in fact, a luminous example for all those who believe that a respectful balance between man and nature is still possible.

When was it that you heard “the call”? When did you realise that the world of wine would so important to you?

Growing up in Iceland I have always been very drawn to nature. Fishing and hunting is ingrained into your way of life at an early age and as young as 9 years old I was working on my aunt's dairy farm during the summers. I think the seeds of my wine interest however were sown when I was studying in California in ‘94 - ‘98. There I visited many wineries and started to learn more about grape varieties and styles.

Wine has the capacity to listen not only to what is in the glass but also to what a particular area is capable of producing and what the market and the consumers are asking for. What are the motivations that pushed you to make these choices? What are the stories your wines are telling?

The needs and wants of markets and customers are typically only an afterthought for me. I am really keen to make wines that are “made in the vineyard”. We spend quite a lot of effort into building the biodiversity in our vineyards by integrating sheep all year round and some elements of agroforestry. Our cellar work is minimal and here we try to strike a balance between being completely hands-off and still getting a clean wine with beautiful aromas.

Tell us about the wines that come out of your vineyards.

We started our conversion to biodynamic farming in 2018, and our more recent vintages are showing the influence of that conversion with brighter acidity and stronger expression of the terroir.

Our style has been evolving, but from 2021 onwards, our wines are all whole bunch fermented; this applies to whites as well as to reds. We don’t do any punch-downs or pump-overs, but prefer to crush the top layer by foot and then keep that layer wet by gently sprinkling some juice over it by hand with a small bucket. The idea is to have a super-gentle extraction to only retain the most delicate aromas from the skins and stems. Since we include 100% of the stems, our wines tend to be herbal when they are young, which with time mutates over to a beautiful floral aroma. The inclusion of stems also helps us to keep the wine tasting super fresh.

We are primarily a Pinot Noir producer. We do make 5 different white varieties as well as Blaufränkisch, Malbec and Merlot in small quantities.

Those who make wine today are increasingly required to have an ecological conscience and an understanding of the on-going climate changes. How do you feel about this?

Unfortunately it is very common today to think of us humans as being something separate from nature. The fact is however, that we are a part of nature and we cannot thrive without a healthy environment. The requirements for organic and biodynamic production are a good start, but we need to go much further than that.

Think, for example about how the grapevine evolved over thousands of years as a part of the forest, where it climbed up a companion tree at the forest edge while burrowing its roots deep into the forest floor. The “prairie” style landscape that dominates today’s vineyards is completely different from the forest. No to mention vineyards of course where the soil is plowed regularly. I firmly believe that a grapevine would be much happier and healthier if it was growing in some sort of an agroforestry system that has some resemblance to the forest where it came from. Those wines will of course taste slightly different from the “prairie wines”, but I am convinced they will be delicious.

You come from a very special country—Iceland—a place where nature dominates the human presence and where even in the modern age there is room for mystery—everything which neither known nor understood—and for magic. How has you culture influence and how does it continue to influence you today in your work in the field of wine?

Don’t forget that I studied mathematics and physics, so I have in a way been able to see into two different worlds. I find it very likely that the current worldview generated by science is not the final one. When humanity believed in a flat Earth, then 99% of the people thought it was indeed flat. Then things changed! Now we believe something else. I am fascinated by the current research into conciousness and the structure of our universe, and am optimistic we will see another significant change of minds in my lifetime.

But how that concretely influences us in the vineyards? We work biodynamically, which includes a number of elements that are not strictly bio-chemical in nature, but rather more esoteric. We are also very open to experiment with various things in our vineyards. They are however just experiments for now and it is a bit too early to say anything specific about that.

What would you to say to a young person interested in wine and dreaming of the day they might own their own vineyard? What advice would you give? What training? What experience is fundamental?

I would encourage them to think about why they want to have a vineyard and make wine. If their focus is healthy nature, healthy products with happy employees and happy customers, they should just get started and learn as they go along. You can learn a lot by reading and asking other people questions. In this area I don’t know of any school or program you can attend. If they, however, want to focus on making money with conventional wine, then it would probably be good to learn that from someone who is good at doing that.

An eye to the future. Your projects, your experimental research, your dreams.

Completely wild vineyards with sheep grazing below the vines. Lots of fruit and nut trees as well as bushes with berries and plenty of herbs and flowers in the undergrowth. This will provide me with a big playground to produce all kinds of delicious beverages for our customers. Our PétNat vermouth is our first product in this direction as it combines grapes and herbs. It has been very well received.

Who have your maestros been? Are there any winemakers you particularly appreciate? Which are you favourite wine-growing areas?

I have not had any maestros per se. I am a big fan of the farming philosophy of Nate Ready at Hiyu and Mimi Casteel at Hope Well in Oregon as well as Hans-Peter Schmidt at Mythopia in Switzerland. Having a complex setup of grapevines, animals, trees, bushes, and herbs all mixed together makes a lot more sense to me than a prairie style vineyard with only grapevines and grass.

Do you drink the wine of other producers?

Some wines that have influenced me are Les Herbues by Nicolas Faure, which motivated me to use 100% whole bunch and Fred Cossard, which motivated me to go for it and try to make wines without added sulfites. I have also read the history of Josko Gravner and tasted a few of his wines. I understand he has now gone back to adding sulfites to his wines and I find myself at similar crossroads currently. We made 2021 and 2022 almost completely with no added sulfites and I find I lose too much of the terroir like that. Like Josko I think we will swing back to adding minimal amounts of sulfites to our wines to preserve the terroir expression.

The bio-dynamic choice is also an ethical choice. Do you live an all-round bio-dynamic life?

I draw a lot of inspiration from Steiner's lectures on agriculture, but have largely ignored the developments that came after his time. I think the later work overemphasizes making teas and preparations to spray on the land and does not emphasize enough building complex and healthy landscapes. In my view the teas are largely medicine for diseased and impoverished land and I think the focus should be on building complexity. If you look in pristine nature you will find that nature likes messy-looking landscapes with animals and plants of all sizes mixed together. I think that is what we should be aiming for.