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Experiencing Austria in Wine Glass

Thursday, December 12, 2013Me! In words

The Indian market increasingly seems to be on the radar of international wineries. The appreciation for the beverage is on the rise and even the neighborhood spirits store seems to always have a shelf dedicated to wine. There is however, an elitist image associated with the drink, perhaps for the simple reason that to truly enjoy a bottle of wine, you do need to swirl it, allow it to open up and then savor it and perhaps a little more. Understanding where your wine comes from gives you an added perspective to it. I confess to being a recent convert to wine, and do thoroughly enjoy a history and appreciation lesson every once in a while. 

Recently, I got an insight into Austrian wines, specifically of those from the Schloss Gobelsburg winery, which has an amazing 800-year heritage in wine making. Michael Moosbrugger, Manager of the winery took us through 2 of the 4 wines that Aspri Spirits has brought to India. These have been in the market for 4 years now. Michael's passion for wine making and  managing of the estate is reflected in his immense knowledge. 

Michael Moosbrugger - who manages the Schloss Gobelsburg estate and wine making
along with his wife Eva 

When it all began: Regaling us with the tale of Austrian wine, Michael began by telling us that wine in Austria goes back to around 1500 years before the Roman Empire. There were two major factors that affected its production back then - the first was that no Roman province was allowed to produce wine but rather had to import it from Italy. This went on till 250 AD, when the then Roman king finally allowed it. 

The second factor was that once the production of wine was allowed, it was largely done by the monasteries in the region. The monks were believed to be bastions of scientific knowledge and knew well the techniques to create the best of wines. From the 9th to the 14th centuries, wine was an important beverage in the region, mainly because its sanitizing properties for good health were well publicized. With time, it did get replaced by easier to make brews such as beer, but its relevance never totally died out.  

Schloss Gobelsburg winery in the Kamptal wine growing region in Lower Austria, around 50 miles north west of Vienna

The Schloss Goblesburg Winery: This brand name is part of Austrian history and dates back to the 1100s as part of the Monastery of Zwettl. Schloss is Austrian for Chateau. It is located in the middle of the Danube area. The settlements in this region date back to pre-Celtic times. In comparison to France which completely removed the system of monasteries, these continued to flourish in Austria, mainly as a compromise. Monasteries provided a great deal of social infrastructure to the region and hence were allowed to continue, and thus continued the tradition of Austrian wine-making. 

Originally a castle, which went on to serve as a residential space as well as a monastery, with wine making abilities, this is one of the very few places that has cellar attached to it. This happened mainly because of the number of vineyards that were accumulated and the need to have a cellars that were centrally located. 

Now when you take over a winery with centuries of history associated with it, it is not easy to ensure a balance between modern and traditional. Michael needed to bring it into the present generation with  complete respect to its past. Rather than bring in technology into the cellars, Michael came up with the concept of a dynamic cellar. 

Rather than artificially moderate temperature to create the ideal atmosphere for the wines to ferment, Michael decided to take wine to the temperature. Specific areas of the cellar have specific temperatures. Closer to the harvest time, wines maturing need to be kept warm and cozy. It is then move to outside cellars where snow keeps the wine at a stable 0 degrees and finally is moved to the maturing cellar. Wine is placed in casks, which are on wheels and these are moved from one area to another to let wines mature naturally. 

Casks on wheels in the Schloss Gobelsburg Winery

All of this was really fascinating to listen and Michael then took us through the first wine of the evening - The Domaine Gobelsburg Grüner Veltliner 2009. The Grüner Veltliner is Austria's flagship product and its claim to fame. About 1/3rd of Austria's wine production is of this variety. It is a staple at all Austrian weddings, most meals and even on a regular evening while watching TV or playing a game. The monks of the region refer to it as the "everyday wine", while the Riesling is believed to be the "Sunday wine". 

Domaine Gobelsburg Grüner Veltliner 2009

There is an interesting story to the rise of the Grüner Veltliner. Close to 15 years ago, thanks to the unquenchable American thirst for Chardonnay, market shelves were flooded with Chardonnay from every corner of the world. Sommeliers across the world were close to fed up of having to deal with demands for Chardonnay. The reason for its popularity is that this is a wine that you cannot go wrong with - whether you are serving up a multi-course banquet at a 5 star restaurant, or a serving up a multi-faceted meal to your family at home. It works just fine. The ABC movement or rather the Anything But Chardonnay Movement slowly took root and people, sommeliers and wineries began to look outside the realm of this popular drink. 

The Grüner Veltliner was Austria's answer to the Chardonnay. It is lean and acidic, being a weighty wine, yet light on the palate. 

Grüner Veltliner Grapes

Domaine Gobelsburg Grüner Veltliner - ₹2356

We next tasted a red, which was a Gobelsburger Zweigelt 2008 and the only red from the winery currently in India. Not as robust as the other reds we may be accustomed to but it was one that I thoroughly enjoyed. That is saying something, since I am not largely a red person. This wine, Michael explained is a "product of origin", which means is representative of "terroir" (terrain). According to Michael, the origin of the wine is as much about its clime and soil as it is about the historical significance of the region.

Gobelsburger Zweigelt 2008

Gobelsburger Zweigelt 2008 retails at ₹2180

Expression of Wine: Michael is passionate about his wine and spends a good part of his time reading up from ancient manuscripts dealing with wine making. Did you know that during the Baroque times pork belly and fish were used as fermenting agents for the wine. Now this is a tidbit of information you will not find in conventional written form anywhere. 

Michael believes that is the duty of every winemaker to express the personality of his region. He talks of how over the past 20 years wines are getting similar and you will find it difficult to tell where they have come from. He believes in making his wines speak for his region and perhaps that's why when you taste the Gobelsburger Zweigelt you will find a distinct fruity, berry flavor to it. The terroir of a region evolves over time, as does the soil situation and your wines will change accordingly. 

As far as enjoying your wines go, Michael says, "Believe in yourself and use your judgement and you will enjoy your wine."

And on a final note
A little on the wine in Austria: The structure of wine growing in Austria is still largely family based. Each winery is usually spread over 20-100 acres and the production is considered mid-sized as is the class of structure. Danube is the main river in Austria and with its valley-like structure, wine growing was predominantly close t the river, since these areas did not help with growing of anything except wine grapes. All of the cultivation is on a terrace level. 

Austrian wine production covers around 45,000 acres. In comparison other main wine producing regions stand at 50,000 acres in Burgundy, 34,000 acres in Champagne, 110,000 acres in Bordeaux. Austria produces around 250 million liters of wine, and consumes just as much, which would make it rather self-sufficient as far as wine goes. However, it exports around 24% of wine while importing approximately the same. 

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