Willi Bründlmayer at Heiligenstein, holding the stones that are typically found on these windy terraces.
Riesling flowering on Heiligenstein
"If you're very sensitive," said Willi Bründlmayer, "you can smell that it's softly sweet, the wine flower."
This statue of St. Francis, "a saint who is supposed to be able to talk to animals," once stood in the vineyards, Bründlmayer told us. "He was supposed to tell the birds that they should eat the worms and not the berries."
Bründlmayer among the vines
At the right, you can see a v-shaped vine-training system called the Lyra (one of Bründlmayer's best wines is named after it.) The system allows for better shade on one side and better photosynthesis on the other, and lets air circulate among the vines.
"My father planted Pinot Noir because my mother loved it," Willi Bründlmayer told us. "My wife is French, and when she moved to Austria, she brought her taste for Champagne." Hence, the sparkling wine program at Bründlmayer. In the photograph, the Sekt bottles receive the dosage, a mixture of more Sekt, older wine, plus a little sugar depending on whether they're meant to be brut or extra-dry.)
Michael Moosbrugger at Schloss Gobelsburg
The castle at Gobelsburg dates back to 1074, and in the 12th century, Cistercian monks had a monstery and cultivated vineyards nearby. In the late 18th century, monastery winemaking moved to Gobelsburg, and continued to make wine there through 1995. "In Austria," Moosbrugger told us, "it's rare for people from other trades to go into winemaking," but he and his wife took over management of the property and winemaking in 1996.
"This place is more than just a winery; there's a dimension of culture and history, always the question of what fits in the context of our history and our traditions. We have to develop, but there also has to be continuity with the past."
Wine on Wheels
In the Schloss Gobelsburg cellar, the large wood casks are on wheels. "In the 90s, peopel were getting rid of wooden casks and using stainless for temperature control," winemaker Michael Moosbrugger told us. "My question was if we could find a different solution. If you can't bring temperature to the wine, could you bring wine to the temperature, moving casks to warmer and cooler areas in the cellar. Now the whole cellar is a dynamic system. Here, with all of my decisions, I have to take into account where we come from."
Old Bottles in the Schloss Gobelsburg Cellar
"The wines in this library reflect the development of this area," Moosbrugger said. In older times, vineyards were planted with a mixture of grapes, 20-30 varieties were planted in field blends. "It was only after the war that the vineyards were replanted—in this process people went into single-variety planting."
Over time, some varieties were phased out. "By the 80s, there was just gruner and riesling left. These wines tell the story of the development of identity here. Over time, you come to the point where you can say 'this is the right expression of this vineyard.'"
In Austria, many of the vineyards are sliced into small plots owned by different winemakers. "To prove an overall truth about a vineyard," says Moosbrugger, "you must have not just one producer, but many. We sit together, and taste the wines together, and try to find out the appropriate expression of the site."
Ruin in the Backyard
Behind the winery at Nigl in the Kremstal, steep vineyards and a ruin that dates back to the 11th century. No big deal—there are even party lights strung up at the top.
Some of the grapes for the beautiful mineral-laced wines of Nigl are grown on these steep slopes. "For me," Martin Nigl told us, "wine is a thing you are drinking with food. I think you can drink a whole bottle of a dry wine."
Christine and Nikolaus 'Nikki' Saahs
The Nikolaihof winery was one of the first biodynamic wineries in Europe, but it happened nearly by accident. "My father was 18 years old in 1960," Nikki told us. "It was a hard time, there was no money, no machines. He couldn't afford the chemical fertilizers, so he just did without. By the time he had some money, he knew he could work without it, so he didn't want to spend money on the chemicals. It wasn't an organic way of thinking. But the soil was healthy, and when we started to use the biodynamic preparations, it wasn't really a changing process, it was easy."
The cellar at Nikolaihof
Each child in the Nikolaihof family has his or her name on a cask in the cellar. The winery is located at what was once a Celtic holy site. Parts of the cellar remain from the Roman era—the walls are 8 meters thick and have never flooded.
Cellar Walls at Nikolaihof
This part of the cellar is original from the Roman era, including the cement walls. (The other part of the cellar is only 400 years old: "it's brand new!" jokes Nikolaus Saahs.)
OId Grape Press at Nikolaihof
Nikolaus Saahs believes this 320-year old grape press is the biggest existing wooden press in the world. He convinced his father to teach him how to use it after it had been left unused for awhile. "I always said when I came home from my education, I wanted to work with that press again." It takes 10 hours to press the grapes, he said, "and sleeping is after the harvest."
"When I plant, I think of my children," Ott told us. "My best vines, they're 50 years old—my father planted them."
Anfora at Ott
At Ott, these beeswax-lined anforas from Georgia are used for a small unfiltered wine project, fermented with the skins and sealed for 6 months, buried as shown on the right.
Alzinger makes mostly single-vineyard wines. "Often the vineyards are just 50 meters away from each other, and the wines taste completely different," Leo Alzinger told us. Picking as late as he does can be risky, "in former times, it was dry in the autumn," he told us, "but this is changing a bit. We have more extreme situations now."
Walls in Alzinger vineyards
"The soils on the hills cannot store water," Alzinger told us, "so we have irrigation on the terraces. We don't use it every year."
"I think it's amazing that the preparations work," said Hirsch about biodynamics. "But I don't see it as a Holy Bible...you still have to use your brain, your farmer brain." Like several of the biodynamic growers we spoke to, Hirsch feels that his grapes reach physiological ripeness earlier than those treated with chemicals. "I think the answer is in the healthy soil," he said, "and less vigor, a smaller crop. Spraying seems to hold back the ripeness, taking out botrytis and then forcing the really bad guys to increase. It upsets the balance," he said.
Sometimes it's all out of your control, though—Hirsch estimates that he lost up to a third of the potential harvest in some vineyards during this year's freak late-May frost.
The grasses and wheat that grow at Hirsch are taken to the goats at a local cheesemaker. The result: delicious cheese (plus the manure essential for the Hirsch vineyards.)
Ludwig Hiedler (and Ludwig Jr.)
"Though I'm 4th-generation here, we are the first Hiedlers who work as vintners as a main vocation. My father was a doctor," Ludwig Senior said, "and my grandfather and great grandfathers were leather manufacturers." Ludwig Jr. is 20 years old and will study winemaking for 3 months at a winery in Germany this summer before going to study export management and enology. "I think it is a great profession," he said. "I dream of seeing wines that I make all over the world."
Right on the edge
You can see the Hungarian border from the gently sloping vines near the Krutzler winery in Südburgenland.
These rich salt or caraway-seed topped crescent rolls are traditional in Burgenland, near the Hungarian border.
Baby Blaüfrankish Grapes
Growing in the Prieler parcel in the Goldberg vineyard.
Looking at this shimmery rock, it's no mystery where the Goldberg vineyard gets its name.
Heidi Schröck on the Neusiedlersee
The lake behind winemaker Heidi Schröck is essential for making the historic Ruster Ausbruch, which Heidi calls "the crown of the noble sweet wines." Humidity from the lake makes botrytis (essential for these wines) possible. "There are about 12 producers who put their heart into this old traditional wine...it's legendary, and we want to bring it back." The wine itself is fresh and complex, with serious acidity to balance the sweetness. Though it works as a dessert wine served with a cheese plate, it doesn't need to be relegated to after a meal. Skurnik's Kevin Pike recommends pairing these wines with turkey, venison, or roast lamb, or any meat dishes with a good dose of fat and salt.
Cracking open the beef
At Cselley Mühle in Oslip, beef is wrapped in clay from the Goldberg vineyard, and other local soils, reeds, and clay before roasting.