I am always excited to travel/work & discover the wine regions of a different culture. This time the wind blowed through Austria:
One of Austria’s smallest wine regions is Wachau, with only 1350 ha (124 vineyards, 34 sub-sites). Wachau’s Wine History may date back to Romans, but the amazing viticultural landscape was formed by monasteries from the beginning of the 10th century. Indeed, it is captivating to see the vineyards stretch along both sides of the Danube River. Flat and terraced, these south facing vineyards grow next to the river to maximize sun exposure. This allows for Grüner Veltliner and Riesling, the most widely planted varieties, to develop highly concentrated flavours. This region is well-known for high quality dry wines. Each generation of winemakers has paid special attention to maintain this historic cultural landscape. The wines from the Wachau are fun to explore and make this an exciting place for a wine adventure. There are also a lot of restaurants, gästehauses, green areas, historical places, hiking and cycling paths… etc. that make this region the perfect option for an escape.
Here in Wachau, only hand harvesting is allowed: a traditional method of picking grapes and was the only option for thousands of years. This is a laborious process. Enjoyable, exhausting, crowded, humourous, passionate, loving… labor. Even when picking grapes, you are introduced to people from all over the world. They are all here to see the Wachau region through travel and work. Our group is made up of Turkish, Austrian, Macedonian, Albanian, Slovakian, German, Armenian, and Romanian people. I also met Hungarians and South Africans in the neighbouring vineyards. Some even have their own vineyards and wineries.
by Julia, Samuel and Johanna
For Wachauer winemakers, winemaking is a real passion, artisanal craft, and even family heirloom because they all grew up on vineyards. One of my colleagues, Julia, said she remembered doing her homeworks in vineyards while her parents worked there. Everyone works together with their team in both the vineyards and wineries. Not like a managerial boss, like a real LEADER. If you come around here, you will not only discover Wachau, but also learn about the relationship between being Wachauer and winemaking.
Wachau Wines are real terroir wines, which makes you surrender to a true reflection of the year, soils, and microclimate. Each wine is unique. Each with their own qualities, instincts, forms of pleasure, and desire for adventure. The only thing you can do is enjoy this passion.
In 1984 they set trademarks: Steinfeder, Federspiel and Smaragd, which are unique only to the Wachau region and well-known all over the world.
You might ask “What is so special about the wines here?” While perhaps there are many possible answers, to me, the most important points are:
- The wines are dry.
- No wood influence and chaptalisation (sugar addition) are allowed.
- Level of grape ripeness
- Potential for aging
The lightest wine in the category. The max. alcohol is 11.5% by volume. It has a light body, fresh acidity, and fruity flavor.
The alcohol is between 11.5% and 12.5% and labelled with their vineyard of origin.
The minimum alcohol is 12.5% by volume. These grapes ripen in the best vineyard sites of Wachau. Late harvest, concentrated, medium-full body, complex, and potential for long ages.
by Vinea Wachau Nobilis Districtus
The vines of the Wachau are rooted in an astounding diversity of soils and underlying parent rock. Several different types of Gneiss are present here. The soil types are predominantly sandy, well-drained and warm easily.
Especially on the steep slopes, the vines often find a very thin layer of topsoil, from which roots penetrate deeper into the ground.
Erosion towards the foot of the slopes provides deep soil. This gives good moisture retention and constant nourishment.
Near the Danube River, alluvial soils with sand and gravel are most common (ideal conditions for Steinfeders & Federspiels).
When you stop by the Wachau region for a harvest experience, you will see that the pickers need to pass through the vineyard several times. Because of warm air masses, the regulating effect of Danube River, slope exposure, warm sandy soils, and the cooling influence of the Waldviertel region, harvest takes place later here than in other regions.
Here is one of the beautiful wineries in the Wachau wine-growing region in Lower-Austria, The FX Pichler Winery. Without a doubt, it is a very successful winery. Their wines are sold to more than 40 countries, and have gotten good reviews from wine-lovers and critics alike, winning awards from multiple competitions.
The winery has 20 ha. They grow exclusively white grape varieties: Grüner Veltliner 50%, Riesling 48%, S. Blanc 1% and Muscat 1%. The vineyards are located in the valley floor (250m above sea level, 50%), at the foothills on terraces (20%) and in the mountain terraces, steep terraces where only manual work possible, 30%, (up to 450 m above sea level) from the 12th and 13th centuries.
On 25th of Sept 2020, I arrived at Oberloiben and was welcomed by the 5th& 6th generation of the Pichler Family: Franz, Johanna & Lucas Pichler. On the next day, I walked through the vineyard and tasted each wine from F.X. Pichler with Winemaker Lucas Pichler (5th generation of the family). By the way, I would highly recommend that you experience a tasting room here. On Sunday, they invited me outside for dinner in Dürnstein, famous for King Richard & Robin Hood.
On Monday, I started my first day of work inside the facility because of the rainy weather. When we began labelling Riesling Unendlich 2019 (100 points from wine critics), I learned that it was one of the most valuable bottles in the winery. Not only is it from the best vineyard, but also has fantastic reviews from critics.
Later on, as Julia says, “Dinner for One,” HARVEST STARTED.
Now let’s take a peek at what is hung on the wall: they have entered national and international wine competitions, winning medals & awards regularly.
After harvesting and vinifying the Grüner Veltliner from Kellerberg Terraced vineyard, Lucas opened a bottle of Kellerberg 2019 GV. It was indeed quite impressive.
Pale yellow color, green reflections with the aromas of bananas, melon, pineapple and green apple. On the palate it is medium-plus-bodied with refreshing acidity and slightly warm alcohol, but very well balanced. It is fairly long with many layers of complex flavors like citrus and mineral characters (grapefruit and lemon peel and minerals).
Because of my luggage, I could only accept 2 bottles from F.X. Pichler Weingut as a gift. Now, they are at home, waiting to be shared with real friends. In the words of Wm Lucas: Sharing is Caring.
On my last day, the Pichler Family took me out for dinner in Weißenkirchen. I ate a really good handmade pizza and drank a good beer. https://achleiten-stube.eatbu.com/?lang=de (hugely recommended 🙂 )
* Lucas mentioned that 2019 was a great vintage for Wachau wines. If you have not stored 2019 F.X. Pichler wines, then be quick. They will be sold out soon.
**Don’t forget: Wachauer Winemakers use their vineyard names to describe the wines. This practice dates back to the 13th century, a long-standing tradition in the Wachau region.
*** Spare 1-2 days to visit Vienna + Loisium WeinWelt
Special Thanks to Pichler Family to have hosted me, to Julia for her friendship, support and deep knowledge about Wachau , all Pichler Team for their friendship and to have shared their experience with me, to Anna for delicious foods, to Samuel, my colleague and housemate, and to my dear cousine Serene to have edited my writing.