This September the Gonzalez Byass team took a trip to the latest winery to join our portfolio; Domäne Wachau. Read the blog to find out about the wonders they discovered.
The search for the Garden of Eden has inspired European explorers for centuries. One wonders how the course of history would have run had they realised Eden might just possibly have been in their backyard all along. We’re standing high in the Spitzer Graben valley, at the extreme western end of the Wachau wine region, itself the most westerly wine region in Austria. Gazing across at the vertiginous slopes of the Bruck vineyard, we are surrounded by an unkempt paradise of trees laden with fruit; apples, pears, and apricots (a Wachau speciality), not to mention vines. It’s peaceful here, the silence only broken by the distant fut-fut of a tractor carrying grapes to the press house. Few words are spoken, the group being content to soak up the surroundings in the blissful morning sun, our contemplation aided by a scintillating glass of Neuburger grown in the very same vineyards. It’s hard to imagine a more bucolic setting, as the vista of vines gives way to groves of Christmas trees, postcard-perfect cottages, and in the distance, a shimmering grey-green slick of the Danube shifting furtively passed us, like an actor glimpsed in the wings between scenes. But what an actor on the Wachau stage!
The Danube is Europe’s longest river, its fastest too in places, regularly flowing at 10 or even 15 knots, a fact to which I can attest. The distance from Dürnstein at one end of the Wachau, to Spitz at the other, is a mere seven miles as the Nazgul flies – yes, dragons do live here – but an arduous 45-minute journey in our boat, its outboard whining against the current. As the river canters through the Wachau gorge it brings a constant airflow, aerating the vines and moderating the climate.
Gneiss and Loess have big roles on this stage too. Gneiss, pronounced ‘nice’, provides the fissured bedrock to which the vines cling, buttressed to the slopes by hundreds of miles of dry-stone terraces. Loess is a fine airborne silt, blown in from the plains to the east and deposited over the Gneiss bedrock like a dusting of icing sugar on an apple strudel. Behind the terraced slopes the forested hills of the Weinviertel provide a stunning backdrop to the Wachau, and they play an important role too. Cool air descends onto the vineyards delaying physical ripening to the advantage of physiological development in the berries. We are told that in the mighty Kellerberg vineyard harvest can be up to five days later for every 100 metres closer the vines are to the forest.
It is the interplay between all these variables that gives rise to the endless nuances in the vineyards. Little wonder then that Domäne Wachau bottle some forty different wines every year, each one an expression of time and place that is the epitome of terroir-driven wine making. The Wachau may have a classification system based on must weights (Steinfeder, Federspiel, Smaragd) but one feels that it is terroir first and foremost that defines these wines; from the razor-like freshness of the Riesling Federspiel Reid Bruck, through to the fat, oily, smoky richness of the Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Reid Achleiten.
Seemingly not content to rest easy with over 20 different vineyard expressions, Domäne Wachau winery director Roman Horvath MW and oenologist Heinz Frichengruber have also created a fascinating portfolio of ‘backstage’ wines. Here, they have free reign to show off their creative wizardry, conjuring up weird and wonderful creations such as amphora-fermented Riesling and fortified Grüner Veltliner V.D.N (Veltliner Doux Naturel). Their spellbinding old-vine Gemischter Satz (field blend) was a particular favourite, along with the Pinot Noir 1805 rosé, named in honour of a famous Austrian victory over Napoleon in Wachau; it’s said the Danube ran blue with French coats. Clearly Nelson wasn’t the only one to give Napoleon a good spanking that year.
With this creative streak on the one hand, and the respect for varietal characteristics and terroir on the other, Domäne Wachau is a credit to the growers of the Wachau region, and a great ambassador for Austria as a whole.
For more information about Domäne Wachau wines speak to your Account Manager or email Brand Manager Ben Wyse.