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20.05.2017 | Words by: Alise Akimova.

In the northern Frisian town of Stavoren, close by an embankment near the sea, a wine cellar is situated in a farm surrounded by cows where two wine-loving brothers regularly receive beautiful orders from France.  

At the restaurant at De School, we initially started working with just one wine supplier, De Vier Heemskinderen, our host Jim explains. Jim and sommelier Nina compose the wine list. “Our wines are considered light, crisp, with flavours situated at the fresher side of the spectrum. Elegant wines are what we prefer, and not those who are in particular bombastic and have spent a long time in wood. Wines from the De Vier Heemskinderen complement our taste and especially the food at the restaurant,” host Jim explains.

Nowadays, modern production methods coming with standardisation and industrialisation have hugely expanded the supply of wine. Mass-produced wines made under pressure to save money are making supplies bigger and therefore cheaper. A fascination for richness in the taste of the wine, the appraisal for the winemaker or an attraction towards every wine’s unique flavours is lost in the process.

Still wine suppliers form the link between what they purchase at the winemaker and what is poured in your glass at the restaurant. In an environment where industrial produced wines are in abundance dominating the market, we do need people like Jan en Sybren who value wine not purely for their economic value, but appreciate the aesthetics of the product for the art of wine. 

As Sybren of De Vier Heemskinderen and I had a talk, he explained their philosophy. “We always search for wines with an individual character, with regards to the soil and the location, that is an important starting point. People who treat those well, and who try to make wine as purely as possible and do not let wine go to a waste. And then I don’t mean in particularly on the vin nature kind of way, because then the wine is conserved on not such a good manner. You get a lot of distillations in the flavours which can be animalistic – that is not what we prefer. I do respect if people treat their soil well when making wine, and have a certain respect for that.”

When asked if they buy exclusively biological and biodynamical wines – “we buy especially at people who make good wine, and if it’s biologically and biodynamic produced that is only a plus. We try to work with farmers who work with nature – a certain quality label works really binding for smaller producers. Often it entails that they choose to produce on a biological kind of way. We just find that you need to have good wine, and not only that you need to buy it because it has the label that it’s biological.”

Jan en Sybren mostly work with wine makers they know personally. Like Francois Cotat, whose wine can be found on the wine list at De School. He is an icon with a glorious reputation in the Sancerre wine region. Sybren explains: “That meeting was a very special one. The intensity, the harmony and originality of his wines - we have known him for almost thirty years know, so we see him as part of the family. Sometimes you just run into each other like that in life.”

Sybren and Jan were not in particular raised with good wine, but with good food instead. Sybren’s wife is from the Bourgogne – the epicentre of classic wine making. “Everyone should go to the Bourgogne someday,” Sybren notes. Well, dreaming of road-trips through those wineries, I second that. “Those are wines that reflect so much of the soil, the surroundings, the small-scale wineries. Pinot noir is a grape that reflects that excellently, and not for no reason. Some things have evolved naturally like this. Historically, monks were already cultivating pinot noir in the Bourgogne.“

What will the future of wine be, also considering the rise of standardisation and modern production techniques? “Currently our challenge would be that we have to make the most out of natural and biological materials for cultivating wine that are less harmful for the environment. All birds and insects have their own function – if you remove them, you also get other plagues. We have to search for those – you should not exhaust the soil. Those are things to start with.” 

Sybren is positive about wine culture, and the way it is constantly evolving. “The last 15 years, a lot has changed with regards to the exchange between people about wines and how they operate. Everyone is exchanging a lot of information, trying and learning from each other. Not choosing to drink only by the labels, but tasting what is actually in the bottle and in the glass.”

So some good advice from Sybren to me, is that it’s time to try a lot of different wines. When buying wine the brothers mostly take in account what the wine does to them – they say wine can be like music you hear for the first time. It does something to you, and if that experience is appealing, it won’t let go of you anymore.

Wines from Francois Cotat, Paulinshof, Domaine de Trevallon are one of many on the wine list of De School from De Vier Heemskinderen.

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