We next got to visit the single vineyard Singerriedl which is one of the best in the region. Vines here are planted in narrow rows that climb up the mountain in terraces held up by mortarless rock wells many of which are 10 feet tall….all painstakingly built and maintained by generations of winemakers the old fashioned way…by hand. To get a sense of just how difficult it is to grow wine here, a typical vineyard in the Wachau valley floor requires 700 hours of labor per hectare to produce a crop. On the hillsides it’s 2000. And the view! Standing 400 meters above the Danube looking up river as it winds its way down from the Alps, with castles and fortresses dotting the peaks of the steep hills skirted with vineyards, each row separated by 10 foot high stone walls. I’m telling you folks, you can’t make this stuff up…you just have to see it.
We were then treated to a cruise down the Danube from the very west end of where the vineyards are planted in the Wachau while sampling wines served by the vintners as we passed each of their properties in turn…sip, see the vineyards, hear the winemaker, feel the passion. It doesn’t get much better than this.
And then it did! Because as we rounded the last bend we approached the historic village of Dürnstein. Way up at the tippy-top of the tallest, steepest mountain stands Dürnstein Castle where Richard the Lionhearted was imprisoned by King Leopold VI of Austria while being held for ransom back in the 1200’s. It was while Richard was here that his brother, King John signed the Magna Carta…how cool is that! (He ultimately got ransomed which nearly bankrupted Britain and the money was used to build the city walls around Vienna)
We then sauntered along the Danube to a lovely little Gasthouse and noted wine producer named Jamek in Joching. Once again, a family operation with Dad in the kitchen, mom in a Dirndl supervising the service in a flower encircled garden on a lovely spring day with views up through the vineyards. And the food…well, I guess the only word to use is fresh…because everything is and each of the dishes was paired with a selection of single vineyard wines that told the typicity story from the western reaches of the Wachau to the Wienviertel.
Well, we all asked, how are you going to top this. . Willi and his staff organized a party that was truly Imperial. There were three separate groups touring the country. Ours was for Austrian Newbies, and the others went to Styria and Niederosterreich. But for this night, we all gathered together for on e big blowout party.
We went to the Schönbrunn, the palace of the Habsburg emperors which is one of the grandest in Europe. And way up at the top of the hill is a building called the Gloriette, a fabulous Baroque hall that can be seen from every point on the grounds of the palace and itself overlooking the city of Vienna in the distance. A chamber orchestra played Mozart and Strauss while the guests waltzed before dinner. I’m not a dancer, but I couldn’t resist a chance to experience a taste of what life was like for the Emperor of Austria-Hungary by dancing a waltz with Sandra Auernigg of AWMB. We had another fabulous meal with newfound BFFs and sampling another 30 or so wines that showed off the wonderful ability for Austrian wines to pair with such a variety of foods. We were served hors d’ouerves from the countries of many of the guests including Japan, Thailand, Mexico, China and India and saw in one sitting the versatility and creativity of the wines of Austria.
After dinner the music shifted to a jazz band as the wine flowed, the guests danced and talked, and friendships kindled and strengthened. Then, to top off the evening, Willi Klinger
sat down at the piano and rocked the crowd with his unique stylings in three languages including the Beetles and Edit Piaf. We all agreed, Willi has found his calling at the AWMB.
So as I try to distill down the trip to some of its thematic elements, I realized Austrian wines are Wines that define a lifestyle that has developed over a millennium in one of the most beautiful places on earth. And here’s how they’re doing it:
-A sense of place