Back in May (I know, I know…), I was a media guest for the 2019 Austrian Wine Summit, during which I was lucky enough to participate in a tour “along the Danube,” visiting and tasting through Austria’s classic wine producing regions.
It was pretty much as awesome as that sentence makes it sound.
Even so, I’ve (obviously over-)hesitated to jump into the coverage of that jaunt, mostly because such media group travels rarely lend themselves to overt story-lines. You visit; you taste; you all scramble to take pictures and find coffee; you eat; you drink; you move on to the next visit.
You also learn; in some cases, quite a lot, even if the stories being told lack the obvious dramatic flair of conflict. And so I think for our humble little coverage of Austria here, the stories will be the regions and wines themselves; many of which you almost certainly won’t have tried, because many lack appropriate representation in the USA (sorry!).
Our first stop: tasting at one of Austria’s oldest wine estates, Freigut Thallern, in Thermenregion. Bordering Vienna and the Wienerwald woodlands, where a mere two thousand or so hectares of vineyards are divided into a whopping forty-two different community villages, Thermenregion’s average plots are understandably small – and the average yields even smaller (in fact, the lowest in all of Austria). You’ll find a thermal fault and plenty of thermal springs here, but interestingly no volcanic soils. Another interesting tidbit: Thermenregion’s white wines (which dominate in the region’s north), tend to see a bit of skin contact during vinification, an historical remnant used to help preserve the wines for travel. Speaking of the wines…
The word rowen – which is of Middle English ancestry, from an Old Northern French variant of regain, and almost certainly will have your phone’s auto-correct annoyingly trying to change it to rower – almost literally means to make hay.
Well, technically, it means “a second growth of grass or hay in one season” – in other words, a lucky break of prosperity. It’s also the peculiar choice of Rodney Strong‘s latest (and most expensive) foray into a brand-within-a-brand, Rowen Wine Company – which, as I learned during a recent visit to their Sonoma HQ, began as a bit of a fluke.
RS winemaker Justin Seidenfeld, apparently thinking that he needed to keep himself even busier, approached the Rodney Strong ownership with a request to use some of their winemaking space for his own experimental label.
They told him no. But with a caveat.
If he would make a new label for them, then Seidenfeld would be given free rein to make the wine in any way that he deemed fit; which in his mind was to be hand-crafted, premium, and exclusive. The results are probably a bit more expensive than what the RS ownership had anticipated…
There’s nothing like a good scandal to encourage a hit of the reset button.
Or, in the case of Sonoma’s venerable Flowers Winery, it’s more akin to just hitting the next-phase button.
Flowers has always seem to operate a bit under-the-radar by upper-tier California wine brand standards; which makes sense, considering that founders Joan and Walt Flowers were Bucks County, Pennsylvania folk who just happened to fall in love with the Sonoma Coast area. By the close of the `80s, the Flowers saw an ad in an issue of Wine Spectator for available land in an area that most people cautioned them against using as a vineyard. But they saw potential there above the fog line, made the purchase, and, as history in the bottle has mostly borne out, it turns out that they were right.
According to Flowers, the Huneeus Vintners board is (understandably) more involved these days, after Agustin Huneeus Jr. was speedily sped out, and his father stepping in to retake the company reins. Flowers, due to its size in the Huneeus portfolio, acted with a good deal of autonomy through it all, being in, as one employee there put it, “the outer reaches of the solar system” within the parent company. And so Flowers went chugging right along, opening up a new Healdsburg tasting room, and basically just making the same thought-provoking, scandal-free stuff they always have. Speaking of which…
You can head over to the NVWA website to get the skinny on the new Austrian Sekt designations, its history, and what it all potentially means for the fine wine sparkling import markets. You’ll want to hit that article first so that you get the context of the new Sekt pyramid levels, and because you’re just that kind of informed person who digs learning and not just drinking, right?
As for what the latest developments in Austria’s Österreichischer Sekt mit geschützter Ursprungsbezeichnung (g.U.) means for your mouth, I did have my boots on the ground, tasting through several examples in every level of the Sekt g.U. pyramid. In a Sekt vineyard. In the Weinweg Langenlois, which sports a panoramic vineyard viewing platform, riddling rack, charming little tasting huts, and a couple of hammocks. Go ahead and hate me, I even hated myself for a few minutes after experiencing that embarrassment of riches (if it’s any consolation, it did rain on us, cutting short the tasting by about five minutes… ok, forget it…).
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