Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Meeting “John” Nittnaus from Gols, Burgenland, Austria

Picture: Hans (John) Nittnaus in Rust

On my recent trip following the EWBC 2010 in Vienna to the Burgenland, I met Hans Nittnaus (who is called John by his friends and known under this name in Austria’s wine scene) from Weingut Anita and Hans (John) Nittnaus in Gols in the Neusiedlersee area of the Burgenland. Weingut Anita and Hans (John) Nittnaus is one of Austria’s top wineries.


Burgenland is one of Austria’s 4 wine regions – Lower Austria, Styria, Burgenland and Vienna. For many years it was a bit on the margin, although it has a log wine growing tradition. Burgenland belonged to Hungary until 1921 when it was annexed to Austria post WWI. It is a melting pot of Magyar, Slavic and Austrian cultures. Many of the towns have two names, one Croatian or Hungarian and the other name Austrian.

Picture: Austria's Wine Regions

The vineyard area of Burgenland totals 14.000 hectares and comprises 4 areas: (1) Neusiedlersee: At the edges of the vast and shallow Lake Neusiedl, a variety of grapes are grown on 9,100 hectares of vineyards, including world-famous noble sweet wines. (2) Neusiedlersee-Hügelland: At the foot of the Leithagebirge and west of Lake Neusiedl, a variety of grapes are grown on 4,150 hectares of vineyards, including the renowned Ruster Ausbruch. (3) Mittelburgenland: On 2,100 hectares of vineyards, one red grape variety plays the leading role: Blaufränkisch and 4 towns are the wine-growing area´s main producers: Deutschkreutz, Horitschon, Lutzmannsburg and Neckenmarkt. (4) Südburgenland: One of Austria´s smallest wine-growing areas, where excellent terroir wines are produced from 500 hectares of vineyards, which are situated mainly on the Eisenberg, with Blaufraenkisch being the typical red wine.


The vineyard area of the Neusiedlersee stretches from the wine town of Gols in the north, where Weingut Anita and Hans Nittnaus is based, through the flat terrains of the Heideboden and down to the Seewinkel, adjacent to the Hungarian border. The wines produced there range from dry and sweet white wines to the new generation of full-bodied, supple red wines.

Regular autumn fog and high humidity at Lake Neusiedl provide the ideal conditions for the noble rot (botrytis cinerea), the basis for sugar-sweet dessert wines, such as Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese, especially made from Welschriesling. These noble sweet sweet wines have undoubtedly contributed to the international recognition of Seewinkel. Alongside Welschriesling, the region's leading white variety, a wealth of white wines are produced from Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and other varieties. The favourite red variety is Blauer Zweigelt, followed by Blaufränkisch, St. Laurent and Pinot Noir, as well as a choice of more recently planted international grape varieties. The red wines from Neusiedlersee are clearly on the right road to success, and come in a wide variety of styles from unoaked, fruit-driven examples, to those matured in oak, and as a single varietal or as a blend.

Weingut Anita and Hans (John) Nittnaus

The Neusiedlersee region has seen quite a bit of national and international recognition in recent years and the good work and wines of Anita und Hans (John) Nittnaus are one of the reasons, why this has happened.

Nittnaus is a very common name in the Burgenland. I believe there are at least 3 Hans Nittnaus in the Neusiedlersee, producing wine, which creates a problem for the consumer. So, one way of distinguishing themselves from the others is via their spouses (Anita) and the other one is via nicknames (John).

Weingut Anita and Hans (John) Nittnaus is located in Gols on the east side of Lake Neusiedl. The history of Weingut Anita and Hans Nittnaus goes back to the 17th century. Since then, the family has always been in agriculture and viticulture. The winery as you see it today was constructed in 1927 by Hans’ grandfather. Two generations later, in 1985, Anita and Hans Nittnaus took over the family business. They had met in Vienna, where they both were studying. Together they decided to continue with the family business. Anita and Hans (John) have four children.

Today, the vineyard area totals 35 hectares, with about 90 percent planted with red wine. The plots are widely scattered. The main varieties are Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt, but there is also Pinot Noir, St. Laurent, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Picture: Hans (John) Nittnaus in Rust

The winemaking philosophy of the Nittnaus' is very simple: terroir-driven and naturally produced (in the sense of as little intervention as possible) wines of the highest quality. Since 2007, Anita and Hans (John) Nittnaus have fully switched to biodynamic viticulture.

Hans (John) Nittnaus clearly is a wine pioneer. With his cuvees he has set new standards in the Burgenland wine culture. If you would want to write a book about the red wine revolution in Austria, you could take Weingut Anita and Hans (John) Nittnaus as a case study.

Wine Portfolio

The premium red wines are among the best wines in Austria: (1) the Pannobile red, a blend dominated by the local varieties Zweigelt and Blaufraenkisch, (2) the Comondor, an international-style blend from mainly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and (3) the Pinot Noir from the Kurzberg, a burgundy-style wine. In addition, Nittnaus produces (4) the Blaufränkisch Leithaberg, (5) the Blaufraenkisch Kalk & Schiefer and (6) the Blaufraenkisch Tannenberg.

Picture: Nittnaus and Other Blaufraenkisch Leithaberg

The white top wines are (1) the Sauvignon Blanc from the Spiegel, (2) the Pannobile white, (3) the fruity blend Heideboden and (4) the single-variety Chardonnay Leithaberg.

The entry-level wines are (1) the red blend Burgenland and (2) the fruity Zweigelt.

Finally, Nittnaus also makes one noble sweet wine, a Trockenbeerenauslese, composed primarily of Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc.

Pannobile and Comondor

With the 1990 vintage, Weingut Anita and Hans (John) Nittnaus presented two new wines: the Pannobile and the Comondor. The Comondor, named after an Hungarian dog, is a premium international style wine (mainly Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon) with lots of complexity, depth and character. By contrast, Pannobile is a premium wine dominated by the indigenous variety Zweigelt (80%) cut with Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent.

Pannobile is a word created by Hans Nittnaus combining Pannonia and noble. The Pannonian plains is the vast territory that stretches from Russia to eastern Austria, bringing steady winds that helps grapes ripen perfectly. The first vintage of the Pannobile was a great success and the name proved so catchy that Hans Nittnaus decided to share this brand with his friends from Gols. The group produces both white and red blends based on local varieties. 20 years after the invention of the name, Pannobile has become an internationally understood synonym for first class red wines from Gols based on indigenous grape varities.

The concept behind the Comondor was completely different; the wine is targeted more at internationally-oriented wine preferences. The first vintage was a blend dominated by the first significant harvest of Cabernet Sauvignon.

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