Thursday, June 7, 2012

Meeting a Wine Maker and an Art Lover: Gerhard Wohlmuth sen., Weingut Wohlmuth, Austria

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller with Gerhard Wohlmuth sen., Winemaker of the Year 2001

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.

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.

Earlier postings focused on the first part of the afternoon/evening, the winery tour and tasting in Freising: "Visit: Gerhard Wohlmuth sen. and his Weingut Wohlmuth in Austria" and on the dinner with Gerhard Wohlmuth sen. at Chef Ruth Stelzer’s Panorama Hotel Steirerland."Dinner with Wine Maker Gerhard Wohlmuth sen., his Wines and the Food of Steierland’s Chef Ruth Stelzer, Austria" This third and last posting focuses on the art lover Gerhard Wohlmuth sen..

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.

Weingut Wohlmuth 

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: Christian G.E. Schiller with Gerhard Wohlmuth sen., Winemaker of the Year 2001

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 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.

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.

Pictures: Impressions from Styria, including Gerhard Wohlmuth's new Residence on the Hill

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.

The Art Lover and Wine Maker 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.”

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.”

Like Chateau Mouton Rothschild in Bordeaux, 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.

Pictures: Gerhard Wohlmuth sen. and his 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, under the different labels: Weingut Wohlmuth, Meinhard Hube and Weingut Brannig.

Weingut Wohlmuth 

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: Gerhard Wohlmuth sen. and Christian G.E. Schiller

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.

Finally, Weingut Wohlmuth also makes sparklers at the Champagne level, Kosher wines and brandies.

Meinhardt Hube 

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.

Weingut Branigg 

These are entry-level wines.

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