Aune Lohmann – Norwegian Charm Meets Portuguese Finesse in a Natural Wine Extravaganza

Wine Producers

Aune Lohmann – Norwegian Charm Meets Portuguese Finesse in a Natural Wine Extravaganza

A Norwegian couple making innovative wines in the traditional spirit of the historic Dão wine region is Aune Lohmann.

Surviving the Driest Summer in 350 Years: A Vineyard’s Battle with Fire and Drought

It’s been the driest summer in Portugal in 350 years with the smell of smoke, the sound of fire planes, and the fear of the ravages of the flames. Roar Aune and Petra Lohmann may not be used to it, but they’ve learned to live with fire as their neighbour. The Aune Lohmann vineyards have survived, but the drought is palpable.

“Traces are everywhere. The oaks dropped leaves in August – they usually do so in January. But do we water the vines? No. Irrigation is an extensive discussion, and many do it. But I’m against it. It goes against nature. If you irrigate, you get a shallow root system that can’t withstand drought. Without irrigation, the roots will eventually reach 10-15 metres (11-16 yards)”, says Roar Aune.

Roar doing vineyard work.
Roar doing vineyard work.(Photo: Aune Lohmann)

From Fashion and IT to Wine: Roar Aune and Petra Lohmann’s Journey to Portugal’s Wine Paradise

Roar Aune and Petra Lohmann met in Bergen, Norway, and cultivated a dream of a life beyond cold and snow. Roar had worked as a fashion designer and Petra as an IT economist. At first, they looked for something in Italy or France, but when that was too expensive, their eyes turned to Portugal, where Roar had many contacts through the textile industry.

“I started working here during the revolution in 1974, and at that time, the wines of Dão were the best in Portugal. I had become a fan of the style. It reminds me a bit of Burgundy. At that time, it was primarily red wine, but now there is also a lot of white”, says Roar, raising his voice an octave: “Encruzado is ‘our’ grape in Dão, a little jewel. Minerally, sophisticated – it’s reminiscent of Chablis in style.”

From Neglect to Nectar: Reviving a Roman Farm for Exquisite Wine Making

Eventually, Aune Lohmann settled on the Quinta das Mercês farm, which dates back to Roman times. Situated between the Serra da Estrela and Serra do Caramulo mountains, 370 metres (383 yards) above sea level and more than 110 km (68 miles) from the Atlantic Ocean, it is made for viticulture with its mineral-rich granite bedrock. However, the 3.5 hectares (8.6 acres) were badly neglected when the couple arrived in 2011.

“It was a real mess”, Roar recalls. “The vines were not pruned but grew wild. We needed help sorting it all out, and by chance, I came into contact with Virgilio Loureiro, an enologist who is a legend in Portugal. He taught me how to make wine according to old traditions, and now we can do most of it independently.”

A vineyard at Quinta das Mercês with the surrounding landscape.
A vineyard at Quinta das Mercês with the surrounding landscape. (Photo: Aune Lohmann)

Aune Lohmann: Exploring Portugal’s Indigenous Grape Varieties

The first wine under the Aune Lohmann name was made in 2014, which Roar speaks of in mitigating terms; back then, the paperwork exercise was all the more frustrating. “It’s unusual for foreigners to buy land and make wine in Portugal, so the bureaucracy was awful. It’s worse than in Scandinavia.”

The grapes Aune Lohmann has are of indigenous varieties, such as the black Tinta Roriz (Aragonez), Alfrocheiro, Bastardo, Touriga Nacional and Jaen, and the white Encruzado, Malvasia Fina, Bical and Cerceal Branco. In Portugal, replanting with international varieties was historically less common than in other European countries. “We have so many Portuguese grapes, so why invest in anything else?”

Roar Aune and Petra Lohmann harvesting white grapes.
Roar Aune and Petra Lohmann harvesting white grapes. (Photo: Aune Lohmann)

Portugal’s Wine Revolution: From Dictatorship to Global Acclaim

While we’re on the subject of history, it’s inevitable not to get into Portugal’s darker period under the dictator Salazar. His idea of the new state, Estado Novo, introduced in 1933, was anything but good for enjoyable wines.

“Salazar set up large cooperatives where growers had to deliver their grapes, which made all the farmers focus on quantity. Today, the situation is entirely different. Some cooperatives have gone bankrupt, others have modernised, and we have a new generation of winemakers. Portuguese wine is among the highest rated in the world, especially if you look at the relationship between quality and price.”

The fact that there are so few Portuguese wines in the international shops is more due to the Portuguese mentality. “Portugal has never been good at marketing, while Italians, for example, are excellent salesmen.”

Modern Portuguese Wines: Where Tradition Meets Nature

Aune Lohmann’s wines are typical of modern Portugal: indigenous grapes, a natural approach and a vinification that combines the old with the new. Chemicals are banned, sulphur is kept to a minimum, and nature is left to do the work to preserve biodiversity in the vineyards.

The climate does its part to bring a naturally good balance to the grapes. “We have a temperate Mediterranean climate. It’s hot in the summer, but we have cold winds from the Atlantic that preserve freshness. We can have 38°C (100°F) during the day, 17-18°C (63-64°F) at night.”

The wine bottles of Aune Lohmann.
The wine bottles of Aune Lohmann. (Photo: Aune Lohmann)

From Blends to Varietals: Roar’s Journey with Jaen and Alfrocheiro

Via link, we taste the wines together. White, rosé, orange and three reds. All with a round, pleasant mouthfeel and a freshness in the intense fruit.

“Our wines should reflect the vintage. In the beginning, we made a lot of blends, but now we are moving more and more towards varietal wines”, Roar says and continues about his discovery: “Jaen is a new favourite. It’s a grape with a thin skin and many aromas, but it doesn’t become alcoholic. I like including the stems in the maceration process to get more tannins.” The 2019 vintage is like carbon paper in the description. Big on the palate, light in body.”

Alfrocheiro is another local grape with deep colour and distinct tannins that add structure. Like their other red wines, this spends a maximum of eight months in old barrels to avoid a dominant oak flavour. However, Roar admits, “I never buy new barrels, mainly because it’s too expensive.”

Unveiling the Exquisite Flavours of Vinho Branco Natural: A Complex Universe of Flavours and Ageing Delights

The white Vinho Branco Natural is from the 2016 vintage and my and Roar’s favourite — a complex little universe of beech apples, pears, sherry and vin jaune.

“It’s a blend of all our white grapes aged in steel tanks. However, we bought the yeast, the same variety they use in champagne.” Maybe the yeast contributes to the breadiness, I think, and I forget to spit. We nod in agreement behind our screens – this definitely benefits from ageing. Anything younger than five years is a baby.

The Mesmerizing Tale of Aune Lohmann’s Experimental Orange Wine

This orange wine is Aune Lohmann’s first attempt — twelve days of skin maceration and foot treading in open vats known as Lagares. Roar doesn’t quite know how to describe it and asks for my opinion. He says: “Every time I try it, it tastes different. We wanted a skin-macerated white because we like new influences and fresh winds.”

In my mouth, the typical orange wine fruit of apricot in its dried state dominates, combined with the soft texture characteristic of orange wine from Portugal. It’s an instant hit.

The Rosé Wine: A Captivating Experiment with Pure Touriga Nacional

The Aune Lohmann Rosé is also an experiment, a pure Touriga Nacional, where 900 litres (237 gallons) have been drained from the barrels to partially make a more concentrated red wine. It is vinous for its genre and has an unmistakable fruit character with pleasant acidity; it is very versatile.

Roar Aune filling the traditional basket press with black grapes.
Roar Aune filling the traditional basket press with black grapes. (Photo: Aune Lohmann)

The Red Trio: Deep Fruit, Energetic Acidity, and a Touch of Norwegian Charm

The Aune Lohmann red trio are all characterised by deep fruit and energetic acidity, woven into an almost balsamic whole.

The indigenous grape Touriga Nacional is presented in the 2017 vintage and has a broad drinking window. Roar Aune notes that the grape has a delicate fruit that he wants to highlight and says, like the Norwegian, he still is: “It goes well with stockfish.”

Roar Aune and Petra Lohmann in the winery.
Roar Aune and Petra Lohmann in the winery. (Photo: Aune Lohmann)

The Rise of Portuguese and Natural Wines: Embracing Minimal Intervention and Authenticity

Portuguese wines are in vogue, as are natural wines. Petra, passionate about the pared-down style, says that since the beginning, they have been cautious about any intervention. “Just light filtration and some barrels. I like natural wines – nothing added, nothing removed. That’s how I like to drink my wines.”