Category Archives: Austria

Winemaker Interview: Anna and Martin Arndorfer, Kamptal, Austria

 

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Anna and Martin Arndorfer, Owners/Winemakers for Arndorfer Wines

Signature Wines: Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Neuburger, Chardonnay, Zweigelt; Riesling die Leidenschaft

Importer: Indie Wineries

I first met Anna and Martin Arndorfer in New York. My favorite NYC-based Austrian from the Austrian Wine Commission, Stephanie Artner, hosted a dinner party in Brooklyn to celebrate the Arndorfer’s arrival that day. Naturally, they had a slew of wines with them which kept us tasting and talking late into early morning.

What stood out to me about Anna and Martin was the not just the eagerness with which they poured and discussed their wines, but their inability to stop smiling and giggling all night. It reminded me why I love winemakers who actually love farming and winemaking. They spoke giddily about each bottle as though it were a loved member of their growing family, one not any better than the other, just babies with unique personalities they are only meant to foster not manipulate.

Like hands off parents, each wine picks its future. All juice ferments spontaneously; sometimes it finishes and sometimes it doesn’t. Whatever the wine chooses, the result will be its destiny for that vintage. The Arndorfers won’t force a dress on a little girl who wants to play in the mud.

They happen to also be parents of real children – two small girls, in fact, who help out around the vineyard, in the dirt, back home. I didn’t ask if they wear dresses.  Although the Arndorfers like to speak about themselves as though they are just a pair of aging, old souls who are mere stewards of the land, they have an unusual freshness of spirit; they view the world with wonderment that’s more grade school than grandparent. Jaded New Yorkers could rip a few pages out of their book.

Their winery is located in Kamptal, Lower Austria. It has been family-owned since 1770, and they are the third generation working with wine as a main business. Their first vintage together was in 2002. I attended Vie Vinum in Austria in June where I tracked down their table and tasted through their wines again, including my first ever Zweigelt rosé fermented on Grüner Veltliner skins (they explain why that’s logical, below).

Through an email interview, we touched on a number of topics including the benefits and drawbacks of working and living in Kamptal; whether winemaking in such a historic place can inhibit progress; and where they’d like to be traveling right now (hint: Denmark).

©Arndorfer

What philosophy guides your viticulture?

We think that the most important part of the vineyard is life and balance. Both things are very closely connected with our soils and the work/management we do with the soil. There are lot of little animals and partly very big mycelium in the soil which help the vine to get water and nutrients, but they need their “home” and food. So in our viticulture we try to provide them what they need so they will provide our vines what they need… if we assault our vines (fertilizer and herbicide) we will not have life and balance in our soil.

What philosophy guides your winemaking practices?

We think a lot about our work in the cellar, but at the end of the day, we just press good grapes, ferment the juice, age the wine, bottle it, sell it and get paid for it – usually. We try to give the wines a good environment and home to feel comfortable developing the character of the vineyards. The thing we use most in our winemaking is water to clean, and patience combined with a bit of risk and strong nerves.

What is your biggest challenge as a winemaker (e.g., volatility of Mother Nature, expense to income ratio, having to actually market your wine)?

Time is probably the biggest challenge. If some wines need longer to develop because of a slow fermentation, it would be nice to have more time. The problem is if your customers and partners need/want the wine. You see that you could be selling it right now, except that it is still fermenting in barrels. The situation does not help your expense to income ratio – especially in “expense-intense” seasons like summer and harvest. It would be very nice to get in the situation where you don’t have to worry about the market and we could just be worried about our vines and wines.

Next to time are two more things which are not really nice: lack of water and hail. All the other things are more or less manageable but if we/our vines don’t have water we are not very happy. If hail goes over our vineyards it is not nice either – of course you know why…

Describe some of the unique wines/projects you are working on?

Since vintage 2012, we have produced a Zweigelt rosé fermented on Grüner Veltliner skins. Why? To get a rosé with more structure, complexity and expression… sounds pretty logical, no?

There are centuries and generations of winemaking history in the Kamptal, and Austria in general. How do you feel that history impedes your progress, if it does? How does it help?

We’re absolutely proud to live and work in Kamptal, especially in Strass im Strassertale. There is a very long history of winemaking and viticulture, but we don’t feel it creates problems for our personal work. Talking with the older generation provides a way of learning and understanding about the vineyards of our village; to see pictures of the vineyards from the past is very inspiring.

For example, why was the vintage 1947 so outstanding? Maybe the sun, maybe the small crop, maybe the pruning, maybe the” trellising system”, maybe crushing the grapes in the vineyard, maybe not having a tractor, nor herbicides and fertilizers, or maybe a little bit from everything. Anyway, I think it is good to learn from our history and use the experience from older generations, but combine it with the knowledge of the present time. The cheapest thing we can do is keep thinking about our work and our decisions…History gives us a bigger background for this idea…

Is the region, or perhaps other winemakers, ever resistant to change or new ideas?

The question is: what are new ideas or changes? Most of the wineries want to produce wines that show the character of the origin – village or single vineyard – to show a very typical wine from the region. Sometimes people call it traditional. We have these kinds of winemakers in the region, which is good.

The region itself is not resistant to new ideas (we can’t avoid them). It would be a pity if it were like this, because of all the diversity of soil, microclimate, varieties, and individuals, it would be a loss of resources if we just did the same thing forever. It is necessary to have new ideas and changes…

What are the benefits and drawbacks of grapegrowing/winemaking in your region?

At the moment, Kamptal is a really nice region in which to work with vines and wines. Climate, soil, varieties…nothing to complain about! One little thing is that we can’t write on most of our wines Kamptal even if they all grow in Kamptal, in Strass im Strassertale. They don’t fit into the “system” or model expected from Kamptal DAC wines… It is nothing to complain about really, because it is our decision that our wines should taste like they do!

What excites you most about Austrian wines right now?

Thanks to the work of a few very intelligent people Austrian wine has become known and now we can go to the “next” level. There is still big potential in our vineyards and it will be very exciting to see/taste/enjoy these wines.

Which wine or grape (in the world) is the least understood or respected?

Neuburger.

What do you drink at home when relaxing?

Wines with personality, preferably a little bit cloudy. It does not matter from where or from whom.

How do you spend your free time (if you have any)?

I spend it with my family. Work and free time are always very closely associated. It is a question of definition, really. Is it work if our daughters join us for a little vineyard tour?  For us it doesn’t matter if you call it free time or work, it is something we enjoy!

If you could be traveling somewhere else right now, where would you be?

Copenhagen.

Give one surprising fact about yourself.

We have never been to Jura!

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Postcard: Vineyard Hammock, Austria

HammocksintheVineyard

Hammocks strung across vineyards in Langenlois, Austria

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The Austrian Cure for Vinous Discontent

Selection of Austrian Whites. All Images by Lauren Mowery.

Selection of Austrian Whites. All Images by Lauren Mowery.

It’s mid-summer, I’m steeping in city heat, and thus reaching for a bottle of chilled wine when evening refreshment hour rolls around (which seems to creep up earlier in the day as the season stretches on). By now, most New Yorkers have probably guzzled the last of their Wölffer rosé allotment, dumped out enough wretched Pinot Grigio to fill a kiddie pool, or developed the Sauvignon Blanc overdose blues. The antidote for such vinous malaise: Austrian wines.

The country is home to a wonderland of unusual, high-quality grapes; the whites, in particular, offer a diverse array of styles and regional origins. And as New Yorkers with access to the world’s vast wine library, we can track down many of them.

You’ve probably seen Grüner Veltliner hanging out in your local wine shop or offered by the glass at the wine bar, or perhaps you’ve schlepped a bottle of Grooner to a potluck in Park Slope. Monika Caha of Monika Caha Selections, in conjunction with the Forstreiter family of Kremstal, developed the Grooner brand specifically for the American market, in part to provide our palates training wheels to discovering the country’s more serious wines.

Statistically, Grüner Veltliner dominates Austria’s white grape vineyard acreage and Americans’ knowledge of Austria’s wines. The rise in its popularity, however, has overshadowed the other fascinating grapes that make up the country’s catalogue of wines.

Not to dismiss Grüner Veltliner; the vines share an electric chemistry with the soils of Austria akin to the charged on-screen energy between Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz. It doesn’t taste as profound when grown elsewhere in the world (that’s terroir). I’ve tried Grüner from California (dull), Australia (bland), New Zealand (lacking spice). None come close to the complexity, stony minerality (a debatable term, but with no other descriptor available, I’ll use it), and characteristic white pepper notes that define both outstanding and modest Austrian versions. It’s a bit like Nebbiolo in that respect.

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Wachau Region of Austria

So far, I’ve only addressed the “international” grapes. To help me track down esoteric varieties like Roter Veltliner, Rotgipfler, and Neuburger, I had dinner at Seäsonal with Austrian native and NYC restaurateur Wolfgang Ban. Co-owner and chef, as well as partner at Edi & the Wolf and cocktail den The Third Man, Ban stocks a lot of the wines I hoped to find back in NYC.While in Austria’s Wachau region, I drank exceptional terroir-transmitting Riesling. The wines were dry and structured, focused and lively, yet routinely overlooked in favor of neighboring Germany. I came to love, when tended by careful hands, Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) and Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris). I’d previously erroneously dismissed these two grapes as bland and neutral when grown outside of Alsace, but they are transformed in Austria, developing rich character and body, and nutty complexity with a few years of age. (They didn’t name Weissburgunder after white Burgundy without reason.)

I asked Ban which whites he liked to drink; turns out we both shared a fondness for Gelber Muskateller, a grape that delivers generous, exotic aromatics of flowers and nutmeg. “It’s a light, floral wine that’s easy on the alcohol and easy to drink in the summer,” Ban explained. He recommended chilling a bottle for a picnic, and suggested looking for a Gelber Muskateller produced in storybook-pretty Styria, a region known for the finest versions.

“Gelber Muskateller is one of the rare grapes fortunate enough to see plantings increase with increased consumer appetite for it. Our dollars do vote,” he added, commenting on the trend of converting good land otherwise suited to local grapes into Grüner vineyards. (Wines of Austria estimates Gelber Muskateller has seen a 267 percent rise in vineyard plantings as it has grown in popularity.)

I’d heard about the Grüner takeover while in Austria. Production of grapes like Roter Veltliner (the original variety of the Veltliner group), considered the oldest native variety in Austria, has dwindled because the best soils for the grape grow great Grüner, too. Grüner’s international success has tilted growers’ planting decisions in its favor; winning the economics war, and thus soil war, has ironically led to cannibalization of the wine industry Grüner helped introduce to the world.

HammocksintheVineyard

Hammocks in the Vineyards of Krems

The trend is unfortunate, as Roter Veltliner can make elegant, supple wines with great aging potential, and no one else but Austrians will likely plant it. However, California has an interesting historical footnote that mentions the rare grape: In the late 1880s, E.W. Hilgard, charged with determining which vines to plant in California, published a report recognizing Roter Veltliner as highly suitable for the state. Perhaps Roter will have a renaissance — in California. In the meantime, Ban says he likes the grape for its harmony with Viennese dishes, and recommends producer Franz Leth.

Another loser not yet lost is Neuberger (a cross between Roter Veltliner and Sylvaner). Ban keeps this wine on his list because he likes the “robust, full-bodied wines that show spice and flowers in youth, and deep, nutty flavors with age.”

More delicious oddities include Zierfandler (aka Spätrot), the yin to Rotgipfler’s yang. These grapes grow almost exclusively in Austria’s Thermenregion, as it has the magical balance of climate and calcareous soils for them to excel. They often combine for a happier marriage than as single varietals; Rotgipfler brings the weight and aromatics, and Ziefandler the tart citrus and acid structure, to create the fun-to-pronounce Spätrot-Rotgipfler. Stadlman, a small producer represented by Monika Caha Selections, produces happy expressions of all three.

Austria runs a small risk of being pigeonholed as a country of Grüner growers, which can be a double-edged sword; just ask non-Sauvignon Blanc producers in New Zealand about the shackles of consumer thirst for the gooseberry- and sweat-stinking grape, and you’ll likely get a long rant.

However, the difference that may preserve Austria’s indigenous varieties lies in the fact that they not only have them, but that most producers and estates own very small parcels of land — the large, commercial wineries found in New World regions don’t really exist here. For now, however, take a break from Grüner — and ubiquitous, international whites — and try something as fun to drink as it is to pronounce three times: Spätrot-Rotgipfler.

WienVineyards

View of Vienna from Nearby Vineyards.

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Postcard: Hallstatt, Austria

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Hallstatt, Austria

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Perfect Fall Reds From Austria–and Where to Drink them in NYC

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Copied from my column Unscrewed in the Village Voice

It’s frightening that we are already one week deep into September and are marching towards shorter, cooler days. For many, the change in weather means a welcome return to red wine. But what do you drink when the humidity abates yet temps still hover in the shorts and t-shirt zone?

Reds from Austria.

Gruner Veltliner, Austria’s white wine darling, is almost a household name (maybe not in Iowa), but what about red grapes like Blaufränkisch, St. Laurent, and Zweigelt? About a third of Austria’s wine production is red, concentrated southeast of Vienna primarily in the Burgenland region on the border of Hungary. Warm winds flow off the Pannonian plain, making red wine production possible in an otherwise cool country. Many vineyards lie on the shores of the Neusiedlersee, one of central Europe’s largest lakes and also a source of warmth. But you needn’t worry about the geography in order to appreciate the grapes’ charms. Their lean, aromatic, and acidic profiles make them food friendly and easy to drink–and an ideal way to transition into fall.

Here’s a quick crash course:

Blaufränkisch: Although a fickle grape to grow, this is Austria’s oldest red, and some say it’s also the finest for its ability to loyally reflect the nuances of terroir. It’s generally medium bodied, bright, and spicy, showing a range of dark fruit flavors. It’s also known as Lemberger in Germany, Washington State, and the Finger Lakes.

St. Laurent: Satin-textured, sometimes lean, sometimes plump, this wine draws comparisons to a Pinot Noir with brawn (or a cross with Syrah), and it displays a wide expression of flavors from smoky-mocha-blueberry to meaty-wet earth-Morello cherry.

Zweigelt: Genetically a cross between the first two, this grape was created in 1922 by Austrian scientist Fritz Zweigelt. Generally lighter in body, it’s often juicy, cheerfully fruity, smooth, and quaffable, supplemented with notes of spice and floral aromatics like cinnamon sticks and violets.

Now that you know your grapes, hit these four spots in the city to get your Austrian fix. 

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Café Katja, 79 Orchard Street
Once a microscopic speck of a joint, this recently expanded restaurant offers authentic, homey fare at reasonable–and not just reasonable for New York City–prices. When the Austrian importers are in town, they come here. The homemade liverwurst is spectacularly good in its simplicity, as is the emmentaler sausage that oozes rich cheese from its cavity when sliced open. The wine-by-the-glass options are so affordable you can sample a few for the twenty in your pocket.

Edi and the Wolf, 102 Avenue C; The Third Man, 116 Avenue C
An instant hit when it opened, this East Village resto features a contemporary take on rustic, hearty fare in an equally rustic, woodland fantasy-like setting bedecked with overgrown plants and reclaimed wood. Executive chef/owners Eduard Frauender and Wolfgang Ban were inspired by Heuriger, the casual, neighborhood wine taverns prevalent in their native Austria. The wiener schnitzel with potato salad, creamy cucumbers and lingonberry is a classic, but less identifiably Austrian dishes like squid ink risotto with scallop are also skillfully prepared with soul. If you get stuck waiting for a table (the line can be outrageous) or are interested in lighter fare with your wine, head a few doors down to The Third Man, a Viennese-inspired cocktail bar from the same owners.

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Seäsonal, 132 West 58th Street 

Another Eduard and Wolfgang tribute to home, this midtown spot is on a re-design hiatus and will reopen in a few days, the interior refreshed by Brooklyn-based designer Florian Altenburg, who also contributed to the duo’s two downtown haunts. The menu will continue to honor their seasonal food agenda, but the renewed space departs from its former monochrome white with warmer elements including hand-made brass light fixtures, natural wooden tables, and forest-green leather banquettes. The revamped beverage program and addition of a raw seafood menu will make the bar a more prominent focus of the space.

Upholstery Store, 713 Washington Street 
One can’t talk about the steady proliferation of Austrian restaurants in the city without acknowledging Kurt Gutenbrunner’s influence. With four successful establishments, each offering a twist on the cuisine of his homeland, Gutenbrunner undeniably spearheaded NYC’s Austrian food campaign. Wallse, Blaue Gans, and Café Sabarsky are all good places to daydream about Viennese and Alps getaways, but the Upholstery Store is a straight-up bar in a no-nonsense setting for getting down to the business of drinking wine. Supplement your drinks with charcuterie, cheeses, and other gourmet snacks, all available for nibbling while you explore the depths of your three new vinous friends.

Wines to Find: 

Heinrich, Bläufrankisch 2011, $25. Medium-bodied, balanced wine with an attractive punch of fresh blueberry and blackberry fruit.

Paul Achs, St. Laurent 2009, $30. Spicy and earthy with cherry aromas, the delicate structure and fine tannins evoke Pinot Noir.

Umathum, Zweigelt Classic 2011, $20. Good complexity for the money, tastes like a bushel of black cherries stuffed in the bottle spiced up with fresh black pepper.

Where to Buy:
Sherry-Lehman, 505 Park Ave, 212-838-7500
Astor Wines and Spirits, 399 Lafayette Street, 212-674-7500

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