Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Gerhard Wohlmuth sen. in Freising
Weingut Wohlmuth is one of Austria's top wine producers. It is also one of those Austrian producers that sells its wine all over the world. In the US, Weingut Wohlmuth’s importer is Artisan Collection; during a recent winemaker tour in the US, I had the pleasure to meet Gerhard Wohlmuth jun. in Washington DC and have written about it here.
Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Gerhard Wohlmuth jun. in Washington DC
This time, I was over in Austria and I was very happy to visit Weingut Wohlmuth in Freising/Kitzeck. Gerhard jun. was on a sailing trip in Croatia, but Gerhard sen. showed us around, tasted the wines with us and invited us to a fabulous dinner at Panorama Hotel Steirerland Kitzeck, where we enjoyed the delicious food of co-owner and chef Ruth Stelzer and the entertaining conversation with Gerhard sen. This posting focuses on the first part of the afternoon/evening, the winery tour and tasting in Freising. A second posting focusing on the dinner will follow.
The home of Weingut Wohlmuth is Freising in the Suedsteiermark, but Weingut Wohlmuth also makes wine in the Mittelburgenland. Gerhard Wohlmuth sen. was awarded “Austrian’s Winemaker of the Year” in 2001.
Pictures: Austrian's winemaker of the year 2oo1
Wine Producing Country Austria
Austria has about 50.000 hectares of vineyard, equivalent to about half of Germany’s total vineyard area and one fifth of France’s vineyard area. In terms of world output, Austria’s vineyard area accounts for 0.7 % of the total. Almost all of it in the east of the country. “In the west we ski, in the east we make wine”, says Willi Klinger, head of the Austrian Marketing Board. About 70 % of the production is white wine and 30% red wine. About 75 percent of Austria’s production is consumed in Austria and 25 percent is exported.
Picture: The Wine Regions of Austria
Austrian wine culture is ancient; people have been producing wine in Austria for 4000 years. But everything changed in 1985, when Austria was rocked by the “antifreeze wine scandal”. Some vintners were caught illicitly sweetening their products with glycol. As a result, the market for Austrian wine, especially the semi-sweet styles then in favor, evaporated overnight. Yet the scandal initiated a revolution that has propelled Austrian wines on to the world stage. It led to a broad rethink, with an emphasis on higher-quality production and innovation that soon became noticed. Young winemakers, drawn by the new emphasis on quality over quantity, brought cutting-edge techniques and farsightedness to vineyards and cellars, revolutionizing both.
Under the leadership of Gerhard sen.,"Wohlmuth" has become four wineries under one roof. The “Stammhaus” – the original Wohlmuth Estate - is located in Freising/Kitzeck in Suedsteiermark. This is where we met Gerhard sen. and where we tasted the wines. Gerhard sen. is not only a winemaker, who loves his wines, but also an entrepreneur. Since 2003, Weingut Wohlmuth has also vineyards in Neckenmarkt in the Mittelburgenland and produces Burgenland reds. Gerhard sen. also acquired two additional wine estates in Styria – Weingut Meinhardt Hube and Weingut Branigg – in the last 5 years.
Pictures: Weingut Wohlmuth
Weingut Wohlmuth, encompassing all four branches, is currently run by Gerhard sen. and Maria Wohlmuth, the seventh generation in line. The eighth generation, consisting of Gerhard jun. (who I met in Washington DC), Daniela and Dieter, is also already fully involved in the business. Team work is the motto here: Grandma Agnes pampers the vines, Maria and daughter in law Marion look after the customers, the two Gerhards handle the winemaking and the vineyard management, assisted by the Dieter, and daughter Daniela manages the lab. These tight family bonds have had an enormous impact on the development of an unparalleled product portfolio, for which Gerhard Wohlmuth sen. paved the way in the 1970s. At that time, he was one of the first Austrian winemakers to catch a glimpse of the big wine world and widen his enological know-how in Switzerland and Germany. It was Gerhard sen. with his strive for quality, who made the wines of Weingut Wohlmuth a much sought-after trademark in the Austrian and international market.
The original Wohlmuth Estate as well as the two newly acquired wineries are in Suedsteiermark - a lovely area. Millions of years ago, large parts of Styria were under water. Only a few mountain peaks rose above the prehistoric sea. The Kitzeck Mountain, which boasts most of the Wohlmuth vineyards on breathtakingly steep slopes, belongs to some of the oldest geological formations. Here, the vines thrive on paleozoic schist in optimum southern exposures. It is exactly these special soils which impart that unique and distinctive character to the wines.
Pictures: Gerhard Wohlmuth sen. in the Suedsteiermark
South Styria is influenced by Mediterranean climate. Gerhard sen. said: “The interplay of mild weather conditions induced by the southern location with cool breezes coming in from the Alps after sunset produces large temperature differences between day and night. This factor is crucial to the development of intense aromas and flavors in the grapes.”
With 14.500 hectares of vineyard land, Burgenland encompasses four sub regions: Neusiedlersee (Lake Neusiedl), Neusiedlersee-Hügelland, Middle Burgenland and South Burgenland. The spectrum of Burgenland wine ranges from great white wines and full bodied red wines to an array of noble sweet wines. The shallow Neusiedler See is one of the few places on earth where noble rot attacks grapes reliably every year. At the same time, there has been a red wine revolution in Austria during the last 20 years and increasingly Austria’ top red wines tend to come from the Burgenland.
Picture: Gerhard Wohlmuth sen. presenting a red wine from Burgenland
Wohlmuth in Styria
The Weingut Wohlmuth vineyard area in Kitzeck-Fresing totals 35 hectares. 75% of the area is planted with the white varieties including Sauvignon Blanc, Welschriesling and Riesling; the remaining 25% is planted with the red varieties including Blaufränkisch, Zweigelt and Cabernet Sauvignon. The vineyards of Weingut Wohlmuth rank among Styria’s best. Names like Steinriegel, Gola, Altenberg, Sausaler Schlössl and Edelschuh in Styria stand for exceptional quality.
The Weingut Meinhardt Hube vineyards are in the Steinbach area close to Gamlitz. The steep slopes have gradients of up to 55%. Weingut Branigg in Kitzeck is one of the oldest wineries in the region. “We decided to breathe new life into this important Sausal winery” said Gerhard sen.
Wohlmuth in Burgenland
Since 2003, Weingut Wohlmuth has also vineyards in Neckenmarkt in the Mittelburgenland. The vineyard area there totals 19 hectares, with holdings in the renowned Hochberg and Rabenkropf sites. The wines are fermented at Neckenmarkt, and then taken to Kitzeck-Fresing for aging. The reds from Burgenland are crushed and fermented in Neckenmarkt and then moved to the newly expanded barrique cellar in Fresing-Kitzeck, where they are allowed to mature before being carefully assembled and bottled.
“In the vineyard” Gerhard sen. said “ soil management and the encouragement of natural predators to control vine pests are the key elements.” Depending on the varietals, yields range between 3200 and 4500 liters per hectare.
Pictures: Gerhard Wohlmuth sen. in the wine cellar
As harvest approaches, the optimum picking date for bringing in physiologically ripe fruit is discussed by the whole family. Several manual picks are made to select berries unaffected by rot the overall prerequisite for producing razor-sharp whites. The fruit is then taken in small boxes to the press house, where it is crushed and further processed in small tubs. That is the very moment at which decisions on the potential quality of the wines are made: Whether squeezing, destemming or both are applied, whether whole-bunch pressing is chosen, whether maceration should be allowed for some hours or no skin contact is preferred. After all, the optimum approach towards the future upbringing of the wines must be chosen within a short time as a function of the varietal, quality and vintage. It goes without saying that the gentle and careful handling of the crop is essential in every phase of vinification. The fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks or in french barriques at precisely adjusted and controlled temperatures. This is to ensure long fermentation periods to allow aromas and flavors to evolve most advantageously.
New winemaking facilities in Freising were inaugurated with the 2000 vintage. The winery produces 240,000 bottles a year and exports 50% of its production to 20 countries, mostly European and North-American.
Gerhard Wohlmuth sen.
Gerhard sen. said that his father Josef and mother Agnes introduced him to winegrowing and winemaking already when he was six. “It was then that I learned to live with and off nature. I remember with pleasure my first years in the vineyards. To watch my father talking to the vines, which I could not really understand when I was young. Yet, it is exactly that love for details which is decisive in the crafting of wines with personality.”
Pictures: Gerhard Wohlmuth sen.
At the age of sixteen, he his wine education at the Silberberg Enological School. At the same time, I took over most of the cellar work and created my first wines. During that time, he did various apprenticeships including at Boner-Fromm Winery in Malans, New Zealand. “There I picked up a lot about malolactic fermentation and red winemaking, in general, and also discovered my zeal for complex, characterful wines.” After graduating, he went to Germany to practice at the winery of Dr. Bürklin Wolf. “There, similar soil compositions as in the Sausal region aroused my interest in growing Riesling at my own estate.”
In 1986 he took over from his parents, to together with his wife. “She joined me from the very beginning in the accomplishment of my ideas and has never been above any kind of work. I love to call her the soul of our family. My marriage to Maria and the subsequent growth of the family through the births of our children Daniela, Gerhard, Karin and Dieter were the most beautiful moments of my life.”
Gerhard Wohlmuth sen. and Art
Like Mouton Rothschild, Weingut Wohlmuth uses art work for its labels. Every year, Gerhard sen. buys paintings he likes very or commissions paintings and uses them for the labels of the vintage. The label for the Klassik 2010 wines shows a painting by the Viennese artist Walter Schmoegner.
Pictures: A Passion for Art
The walls of the tasting room are filled with these paintings. When you talk with Gerhard sen. you quickly discover his passion for art. “I have been collecting art for over 30 years”, said Gerhard sen. He is friends with all these artists.
The Wohlmuth Wine Portfolio
A wide spectrum of wines is produced in several ranges.
The Klassik White Wines South Styra range is fermented in stainless steel and bottled early. These are Weingut Wohlmuth’s entry level white wines. The grapes come from different vineyards. Gerhard sen. said: “The grapes for the Wohlmuth Klassik-Range were picked and selected by hand from different vineyards, which have slate soils. Through the traditional styrian vinification the wines become fresh, fruity, very mineral driven and very typical for their varital and vintage characteristics.”
The popular Styrian Panther is a blend of Sauvignon blanc, Muskateller, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Riesling.
The Single Vineyard White Wines South Styria is the premium white wine range. Gerhard sen. said “We have always put a special emphasis our single-vineyard site wines. The single vineyard wines form the backbone of Wohlmuth quality. Names like Steinriegel, Gola, Altenberg, Sausaler Schlössl and Edelschuh in Styria stand for exceptional quality”. Grapes are generally picked at must weights in the Auslese range, and the wines are matured in barriques of French and American oak.
Pictures: Wines we tasted from Suedsteiermark
The Red Wines South Styria range comprises wines in the basic Klassik range and single vineyard red wines (Altenburg). The red blend „See me” is very popular, made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Zweigelt. Schilcher is also produced.
The Red Wines Neckenmarkt-Burgenland range comprises the red wines from Burgenland estate. The vineyards in Neckenmarkt include the premium single vineyards Hochberg and Rabenkropf. Again, the Klassik” wines are the entry-level wines. Moving up the quality scale, Rabenkopf Blaufraenkisch is aged for 2 years in barrique and Rabenkopf Privat Blaufraenkisch is aged for 4 years in barrique.
Picture: Wines we tasted from Burgenland
Finally, Weingut Wohlmuth also makes sparklers at the Champagne level, Kosher wines and brandies
I tasted 1 Meinhard Hube wine with Gerhard sen in the vineyard. These are all easy-drinking wines with screw caps. At present, Welschriesling, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Muskateller vines yield fruit. Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay vines were additionally planted on south-facing sites.
Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller and Gerhard Wohlmuth sen. tasting a Meinhard Hube wine
These are entry-level wines.
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