Ask Chuck

Location: Whitby, Ontario, Canada

Born in Malta but in Canada since age 5. Has written three books and presently does several columns about wine and food for various magazines.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

June 3: Going Wild In Styria

Morning At Wirtshaus Moserhof
The morning was advanced by a plethora of bird sounds which preceded the first ray of sunshine by about an hour. I am late to sleep and early to rise---have always been and will probably so stay--- the cheerful chants made by my aviary friends was welcome. As light emerged, I went out on the balcony that overlooked the expansive horizon and marveled at the beauty of the landscape. In addition to the bird sounds could be heard the other sounds of country: roosters crowing, dogs barking, the odd barnyard noise and the distant rustle of farm machinery being primed. What a difference from the night before! The dark had indeed turned to light. The ominous had become sanctified. The foreboding was now elation! I thought of a song----the hills were indeed alive with the sound of music.
A quick breakfast and we bed adieu to the Moserhof and we were off to visit our first winery.

Weingut Armin Polz-Keifer
Heading down towards Weingut Erich-Walter Polz we came upon an interesting scene. It was what seemed to be a pleasant farm scene just next to a cottage style winery with ducks waddling around chasing one another and a large dog seemingly standing guard watching the goings on. A couple was sitting just outside the main door apparently enjoying the day. We stopped to take a picture of the scene and ended up talking to the young couple.
Armin and Ida Polz-Keifer were an absolutely charming couple that owned the Weingut and the Gasthaus where people could stay and be treated to a unique and relaxing farm/winery/vineyard experience complete with meals and hospitality.
The brief encounter left us feeling very energized at having had the fortune to "stumble' on this prize scene. We took our film 'footage' and were then off to our major destination.
Weingut Erich-Walter Polz
Not far from Armin and Ida's winery was Weingut Erich-Walter Polz. It seemed a larger operation that the previous winery with a fully functional restaurant, patio, boutique and even a vineyard "under glass" complete with fully formed grapes. Keep in mind that while the weather in Styria was a full month ahead of those vineyards in upper North America, the grapes on the vines were still in their formative bunches.
We were met by Marketing Manager Peter Keller who undid all stops to make us comfortable and give us information. First he treated us to a magnificent lunch made up of local dishes matched with the Polz wines. He then proceeded to describe the operation and the wines with great detail----later taking us on a tour of several vineyards and the winery. Finally, he arranged a "photo shoot" outside, in front of the winery. Bringing out some large bottles, he made sure that the "shots" were perfect. That was a good way of describing Peter. He was obviously one who sought perfection and demanded it. Nothing he did seemed extraneous as all his actions were purposeful and precise.
The winery was founded in 1912 and is looked on as somewhat of a "trail blazer" in the area. They were the first to move from a mass production status to quality products. The vineyards are planted with both white (Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay/Morillon, Rheinriesling, Muskateller, and Pinot Blanc) and red grapes (Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Zweigelt and Blaufrankisch). These innovators also helped organize the first national association of grape production in the late '90's. The Polz's also own major holdings in neighboring country of Slovenia.
From a point overlooking some of the Polz vineyards, Peter pointed to a peninsula shaped group of trees and bushes jutting in between the vineyards. "That clump of trees is Slovenia," he said.
We ended our visit with a toast of Polz Sauvignon Blanc which was superb with its fruit forward nose and equally fruit driven taste.
Weingut Willi Sattler
Sattlerhof consists of three main vineyards: Kranachberg, Seranauberg and Pfarrweingarten. The Kranachberg consisting of mainly chalky soil is planted mainly of Sauvignon Blanc. The Seranauberg with its sandy/gravel soil has mainly Sauvingnon Blanc and Chardonnay (called Morillon in Austria). Pfarrweingarten with its shell and coral/limestone structure is very suitable for and planted with Burgundian style vines. Pfarrweingarten has been rented from the Catholic Church by the Sattlers for a long time and some cases of fine wine go to it as part of the rent. The Pfarrweingarten has mainly Pinot Blanc and Morillon (Chardonnay) but does have one special bottling of Sauvignon Blanc Pfarrweingarten that goes to an Austrian retailer called Gottardi.
Willi Sattler says that the the vineyard/farm has been with the family since 1887. On meeting Willi one gets the impression that he is dealing with an wrestler of sorts. His compact 5'10" frame and stance were certainly reminiscent of such. He introduced us to his son Andreas. While Willi delivered the initial introduction to the winery, Andreas picked up the gauntlet and became more passionate as he related the history and structure of Sattlerhof. We were given a tour of the winery, hotel which is run by Hannes Sattler who is also the chef.
Willi went on to describe how the three different soils in he vineyards made three different types of wine. One which is fruit driven and spicy, one which is mineral and the other that is typical Burgundian.
We went out to examine the vineyards. The vineyards themselves are very steep and a 60 degree angle of slope was about right---ranging from a height of 500 metres to 325 metres. Travelling through the vineyard in Willi's Mercedes Four Wheel Drive Vehicle, we attempted up a steep incline almost at the surface. The night before had been a stormy/rainy one so it crossed my mind that the vineyard could be a bit problematic. I was correct. In spite the magnificent vehicles design and power, the slippery slope almost became our undoing.
The vehicle encountered difficulty in trying to get to the summit but the "grip" was not there and it floundered. Looking down I could see the steep slope that we were on and getting out would have met with some problems. The bottom of the hill was a long, long way down.
At this point, Willi tried to give one last attempt at securing the hill but the Mercedes, as powerful as it was, could not manage and worse, started to slide sideways. Scenes from past movies of cars rolling down hills crossed my mind and, knowing that both Sandie and I needed to move, I was also aware that the vehicle was crucially balanced. Willi got out of the front slowly and I suggested that Sandie get out first since weighed more than she and was at the upward portion of the slope sideways. This way any balance would still be kept. After she got out, I eased out and Willi went to get the tractor. Excitement it was!!!
In spite of all that was going on, I still had the presence of mind to notice the many limestone and coralline rocks around the vineyard and thinking that some samples may come in handy in the future, I picked up a few. At worst, they would occupy a place of honour next to my rather large fishpond in my backyard. At best, they could be used as an example of they type of soil structure and deposit at this vineyard.
We went back to the winery where we tasted some wines from the three different soil structured vineyards. The vineyards have definite if not subtle differences. For example, Sernauberg wines are very expressive and complex and can age many years. Kranachberg and Pffarweingarten are more expressive of the terroir with its minerality and have a distinctive character and complex aroma structure. We tasted many fine wines and found them to have excellent fruit, great freshness with just the right amount of minerality and acidity. Some older vintages showed excellent integrity and capability for more aging.
Sattlerhof also has a unique restaurant and hotel with vineyard views is managed by Willi's brother, Hannes. That and a great hiking trail through the vineyards allows the visitor to get the best out of the magnificent Styrian wine, food and scenery.
Weingut Tement
Off we went again to yet another winery and this one had several unique features. This was a modern winery with open concepts and bold windows showing the vineyard expanse. Once through the meticulously clean and new concept bar and foyer, the eyes immediately went to the huge open window concept that viewed a very large outdoor deck high above the vineyards that sloped down the hill plateau on which the winery was located to a road far below near which was a farm house that looked for all intents, like a miniature toy amidst an artificial roadway.
"One part of this vineyard is in Austria and the other is in Slovenia. If you look to your right you will be viewing the country of Slovenia!" Armin Tement the son of the owner Manfred Tement went on to say that they made two types of wines---one Slovenian (Ciringa) and the other Austrian. In order to make these wines Tement must fulfill the requirements of both Austrian and Slovenian authorities. Two countries and two appellations lead to two equally great wines from one vineyard. Looking down at the mist shrouded valley below the whole setting seemed surreal. It was hard to imagine that such a quiet pastoral setting could exist.
Sandie Kraft conducted a first class interview with Armin who explained the family history and reasons of the traditional yet modern approach to wine making that his family had. Then he beckoned us to go back into the building and showed us the reason for the high minerality and lusciousness of his wine. Sea shell fossils abound in this area and thus are responsible for the complexity and minerality of the wines. Yet his best white wines such as Sauvignon Blanc are long lived and mature very nicely with flavours ranging from citrus lime to passion fruit to floral to petrol.
The labels on the bottles are also equally interesting. The Slovenian Domaine Ciringa Sauvignon Blanc has the Fossil Shell on its label with the term Fosilni Bregg indicating the origin of the wine whose white current, asparagus, pear and minerality is evident. The Tement bottles are quite a sight with the large "T" and cluster of grapes just above the Tement name-----truly well done.
Armin allowed us to taste some more the wines before taking us down into the cellars which uniquely were spotless and well constructed. To show the true construction of the cellar walls, a large portion of the limestone wall was left uncovered and here one could feel the moisture and imagine the ages of time within those walls. I picked up a couple of samples and put them into my bag for future reference. Now I too had a part of Tement in my possession that will accompany my thoughts whenever I look at my ------acquisitions!
Our trip to Tement drew to a close and soon we were off to the Genuss Hotel in Riegersburg.
Genuss Hotel
About thirty minutes from Tement and Sattlerhof is Riegersburg, a village with some serious history but it seems that wherever one went in Styria let alone Austria, one encountered history. In this case, history came in the form of a castle which goes back at least to the 12th Century and probably much further. The location of the castle is representative of the volcanic activity that occurred in this region many years ago. The castle rests on the remnants of an ancient volcano and was built as a protection from foreign invasions. It has been owned by the Liechtenstein family since the early 19th Century and is now a major tourist attraction.
My room at the four star Genuss Hotel had a great view of the castle in the distance as well as a very comfortable balcony complete with very comfortable chairs to sit on. The hotel had an excellent dining room with a balcony patio that also viewed the castle.
The surrounding countryside was a patchwork of vineyard, forest and meadow along with farm houses and of course the lovely village of Riegersburg. It was amazing how quiet it was at night and the stars seemed to jump out of the sky in order to be noticed. So many stars were present that night even though there were periods of rain.
I could feel the day's adventures wearing on my eyelids as I tried hard to stay up and take in the quiet sound of silence. It was no use. Sandman was working just as hard to say to me, "Wait until morning but tonight sleep!" I took his advice!!!!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

June 2nd: Dancing On The Street, Weingut Wohlmuth, Wirtshaus Moserhof, Weingut Skoff

June 2nd: Onward To Styria!!!
Dancing Around Mozart's House
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in 1756 and died in 1791. He crammed much into his very brief life starting composing at the age of five and setting a track record as one of the most popular composers of all time. He lived for a time in Vienna where he composed some of his most famous symphonies.
With this in mind, I mentioned to Sandie and Roy what was becoming the signature phrase of the tour, "I have an idea!" The idea was to find Mozart's house and film a dance sequence in front of it-----much like that of a musical film. We decided to go ahead with the idea.
Thanks to our ever present "right arm" Tibor, we found Domgasse 5 and set up camera. Sandie and I decided to "dress up" for the event and dress up Sandie did, wearing a flowing sky blue dress that made both male and female heads turn as we walked by. I remember saying to Sandie that even if I were naked, most would not have even noticed since all eyes were on her.
The scene went this way. The camera was set up in such a way that the view was down the narrow cobbled street and ending at an Abby. We would walk up as if just coming out of the Abby on a tourist venture and then coming up the cobbled street and "surprise, surprise", discover Mozart's House which was so labeled. One thing would lead to another which would see us acting on our fantasies and begin doing a waltz in the street.
We carried the whole project through like pros with only one retake. The crowd that assemble around us burst into an applause when we concluded our dance and all were smiles. We did it!
Styria And The Pre-Alps
We were then off to Styria or Steiermark in South East Austria. Most of the wineries we visited were in Sudsteirermark or South Styria whose border with the country of Slovenia was very evident. Some of the vineyards were split---one in Austria and the other in Slovenia. As a matter of fact, it was so close to the border that when we were driving on the highway, the highway was bisected by the Austrian/Slovenian border. Tibor, our driver, was driving in Austria as was Sandie in the left rear passenger seat whereas Roy and I on the right were riding in Slovenia. So much for "Customs and Immigration".
Styria was/is the most southern part of Austria. Here the geography became very interesting since we were entering a more mountainous/hilly area known as the Pre-Alps where heights of 1500 metres were common and for all intents and purposes, we were in a mountainous zone.
There were very little flat vineyards here and I couldn't help but wonder how difficult it must be for the owners to harvest their grapes----especially since many of the vineyards stretched up some 700 metres at a 60 degree angle.
My mind also wandered to the amazing history of the area, having once been a part of the Celtic domain and later a Roman province and of course then it became a stomping ground for warrior nomads like the Huns and Franks until finally settled by Slavs.
Wine was introduced by the Celts and flourished under the Romans. Vineyards fell on hard times under the subsequent Nomad invasions but were reinstated by the foresight of leaders such as Charlemagne. A history of an area is very much the history of its wines and that's what we were there to discover.
Weingut Wohlmuth
With almost 210 (1803) years of history behind it Wohlmuth stands out as a truly amazing winery that makes a variety of fine products. Located in Kitzeck in the heart of South Styria and at the foot of the Kitzeck Mountains, Wohlmuth was the first winery in our stopover in this extremely scenic region of high rolling hills and endless vineyards. We were met by Gerhard Wohlmuth Jr, whose infectious smile portraying the obvious pride that he had in his winery was second only to his extreme enthusiasm and hospitality. It was he who directed us to the tremendous geographical significance of this and other wineries' location. First of all were the microclimates initiated by the topography----each winery enjoying the major overall benefits and then having its own. Then there was the political influences of countries close by such as Slovenia, Hungary and Italy. In addition to this was the popularity the area has for tourists and sports enthusiasts such as bicycling. In fact, next door to the winery restaurant we were eating at, a group of "cycle" racers stopped to rest and regroup. The twenty or so cyclists were gone as quickly as they came. We had lunch delicious meal accompanied by some excellent Wohlmuth wine. The white and red wines tasted displayed a complexity, finesse and subtlety that was quite impressive. They were also "food wines" which in reality could be said of most of the wines tasted in Austria. I have a penchant for Sauvignon Blanc and I was not disappointed. Gerhard was thought well by his father!
Teaching can only go so far however and in order to excel one must have passion and love. Here Gerhard proved that he was first and foremost a winemaker.
Gerhard started his "trade" when he was only five years old, following his father through the vineyards and down into the cellar. His mind was made up by the time he was six his mind was made up and a winemaker was what he wanted to be. By age 15, he was being trained by his father, Gerhard Sr., much the same way that the senior Gerhard's father thought him.
His formal training began at home but progressed to wineries throughout the globe with stints in Italy, South Africa and New Zealand and culminating at the University at Eisenstadt which is the capital of Burgenland. His best teacher though remains his father whose "on the spot decision making" reflected the changes that happen not only year to year but day to day.
With all this experience and knowledge it is little wonder that the 200 year old winery has some top of the line modern facilities from bottling line to fermentation tanks. The wine making decisions are made when the grapes are picked and are at the moment of processing. No preconcepts are made-----a true "hands on' philosophy.
Weingut Walter Skoff
"Wine is Life; Our Life is Wine!" is the motto that is written on the wall of the Walter Skoff Winery which has been a family tradition for almost one hundred years. The winery is managed by Mr. Sauvignon Blanc as Walter is lovingly known as in directly relation to the magnificent Sauvignon Blanc that he makes in addition to other varieties of wine.
Walter, a very handsome and dynamic individual who in many ways would be a "larger than life" character in a novel is assisted in his winemaking duties by his son, Joachim. While Walter's family has been in the wine business for many years, Walter can be credited by revamping the who enterprise and modernizing it. Applying modern techniques to traditional methods, Walter has produced some "striking" wines made from a variety of soils thus giving the product a wide variety of flavour and aroma levels. His single vineyard wines such as the ones where his Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc are grown have a tremendous elegance to them as well as a fine minerality. The elegance increases as the wines age and the fact is that many of Walter's wines age very, very well.
While Walter is the initiator in the wine making, son, Joachim is no slouch either. Joachim obtained extensive experience with various wineries in countries such as Chile, New Zealand and South Africa bringing with him new innovative ideas for his family business.
The winery cellar is a an attractive and highly functional one. Winery cellars do not have to be beautiful but this one with its brickwork and design is quite artistic and well done. As one descends to the cellar, a huge boulder serves as a small waterfall thus introducing the rest of the cellar and barrel room. A room upstairs serves as a banquet room when needed.
Outside the main building area is a patio style restaurant that serves various food dishes---all complimentary to the wines made at Skoff. We settled down to a supper that had many unique dishes that went "Oh So Well" with the wines. The Buschenschank or restaurant worked well!
I found that regardless of the food or wines served, the amazing diverse levels of flavour in each of the wines went well with almost any of the food served---be it anti pasta, cheese, meat or vegetable. What an experience.
Walter gave us a tour of his vineyards and we took several pictures. The main picture on Facebook and the "Two In A Vineyard"website (Sandie and I with grape collecting baskets) was taken at his vineyard.
Hospitality was the word at Skoff and I watched as guests laughed, ate and enjoyed their meals amidst a scenery view that was stunning. The atmosphere was electric and I could see that Tibor, Roy and especially Sandie were having a great time. Walter's father and grandmother came over to our table to pay their respects. His father showed the passion that must have influenced Walter. However, all good things must come to an end as did our visit with Skoff, its wines, vineyards and amazingly labelled bottles. The family came over to send us off and we left as night was descending upon us.
Wirtshaus im Moserhof
We were off to Wirtshaus im Moserhof. The trip became more ominous as we drove through ever progressing dark. We started to drive up a hill that did not seem to quit and it seemed to evolving into a mountain as the car circled on and on up to the heights.
The darkness plus encroaching forest arose primitive ideas fostered by an overactive imagination and a fascination in horror vampire movies as a child. I mentioned to Tibor that if I saw some large bats and wolves, we would be turning back. Tibor gave his usual broken laugh that sounded something of a cross between the squeaky yelp of a small terrier and and the guttural coughing sound a lion makes when in heat. Then after some anticipation that we had made a wrong turn, the hotel appeared.
It was alone at the summit of a 705 metre hill. Surrounded by trees and in the dark, the sense of isolation was ever present. We unloaded the luggage and were issued rooms. When I got to my room all sense of apprehension disappeared, it was just lovely and had a large balcony with a view that would have been, I am sure, stupendous. The room itself was spotless and modern looking even though the hotel itself was built in 1632. There was a swimming pool outside and all the comfort of home on the inside.
I wrote for awhile and then around two thirty in the morning finally lay down to get some sleep. My mind was full of the adventures of the previous day and pleasant thoughts ruled my mind until the Austrian Sandman finally sent me off to pleasant dreams.

Friday, June 17, 2011

June 1st: Continued: Beethoven's House, Weingut Mayer Am Pfaarplatz, Queen's Summer House, Wein & Co., Rathaus Hotel

June 1st: A Very Busy Day
We were essentially on our own though our itinerary was well planned, we did have the options of the length of time we stayed at any one place. Klosterneuburg was magnificent and would be a hard act to follow but the one thing the three (should I say four) of us found out that new and very exciting adventures loomed around every corner.
Visit To Beethoven's House
Just up from a very artsy winery/restaurant called Hajszan (where our guide/driver and by now friend, Tibor will be having his wedding reception), was the very historic Weingut Mayer Am Pfarrplatz. The Weingut is located in Heiligenstadt which is a sub district in the outskirts of Vienna.
The Mayer family have lived in the area since 1683 and have a combined Inn/Restaurant that is as historic as the family. The house proper predates Beethoven spending his 1817 summer there by over 100 years and the actual history goes back to the 12th Century. Here, Beethoven composed part of his 9th Symphony and earlier he composed his 6th Symphony.
I walked into the building to find Roy sitting down watching Sandie talk to two gentlemen. It turned out that one was Gerhard Lobner of Mayer Am Pfarrpaltz and the other was Fritz Weininger of the famous Weininger Winery. The interview was going so well that I immediately asked Roy to start filming. Sandie was doing such a wonderful job at getting these two giants to talk that it all seemed so natural. Too natural since we were losing precious footage and as my old friend, Greg Rist used to say; "If it is not on tape; It never happened!"
The two had a super conversation talking about the building we were in, their vineyards (Weininger's 'Nussberg Vineyard' is one of the finest as is 'Lobner's Roteshaus'). One of the more interesting things that was discussed is the practice of "Gemischter Satz" which means a Field Blend where vines of different varieties are harvested and vinified together. The wine is thus not having to undergo separate aging and/or vinifying/blending process. The blend is already made within the vineyard. This reminded me of the similar practice in Veneto, Italy where the different vines of some wines are grown, harvested and vininfied together.
Our visit to Mayer Am Pfarrplatz culminated in a delicious meal made by Master Chef (Pfarrwirt Restaurant) Jorchim Graduschl which included the famous 'Schnitzel' along with other superb dishes matched with phenomenal wines from the host winery. Later a visit to the Weininger Winery proved very informative.
Schoenbrunn Palace
Now that our stomachs were full of excellent food and wine as well as major thoughts about viticulture techniques and historic ambiances, we were off to Schoenbrunn Palace which was the summer palace (all 1400 rooms of it) of Emperor Franz Josef and Empress Sissi of Austria. This palace which is also a UNESCO World Heritage site, was originally purchased as a hunting preserve by the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian in 1549. The property came into the hands of Eleonora Gonzalga about one hundred years later and was used for similar entertainment. Incidentally, the name Schoenbrunn means "beautiful spring".
Through the years many other points of interest were added: French Gardens (1695), a Maze, Tiergarten Zoo (1752), an Orangerie or Conservatory (1755), Botanical Garden (1828) and an Orangutan Enclosure in 2009. The place with its 300+ acres and its many exhibits was overwhelming. Too much to see all at once and certainly much to much to film with just a couple of hours to tour it. We decided to do the next best thing-----Take a Buggy Ride and be escorted through the various spots----in style. Roy could also concentrate on filming rather than mere walking.
We hired a "buggy" pulled by a rather spirited horse to take us around and we covered the area in much less time that it would have by walking alone. We passed by the Gloriette a garden commissioned by Empress Maria Theresa and the Roman Ruins---not really Roman Ruins but built as a garden feature in 1778 and the Obelisk Fountain not far from them. The trip was well worth it as the area was very large and it would have been shameful to miss viewing much of this grandiose palace.Soon the ride was over and we were merrily on our way to our next stop on this ultra busy day.
Wein & Co.
Wein & Co is located in the marketing town of Vosendorf which claims the largest Shopping Mall in Europe and the largest theatre centre in Austria. There amids the many boutiques,narrow but very clean streets and packed cafes lies Wein & Co.
Sandie noticed an orange drink that seemed to be the "in" thing on the street and in the cafes. We met up with Monika Kriwan who was obviously involved in public relations and media marketing. She sat us down and welcomed us with-----the very orange drink. Which was quite refreshing and tasty. It is apparently the rage of the area and all cafes seem to be selling it.
We met Heinz Camera (unique name) who was the owner and conceiver of the whole shop. His restaurant was indeed flourishing but so was his wine shop with 2000 labels from all over the World. "I sell my wines from the shop and allow the patrons to have it with their meals at no extra cost. I cannot understand why the rest of the world such as the USA does not do this." My response was that maybe the legalities of each country is so different that many areas, states and countries do not allow such a thing. In practice it would seem a great idea and ideal for food and wine sales. Heinz and I made a quick interview and then it was time for him to go and teach his staff about wine and for us to have dinner.
We then had dinner at Wein & Co. and I for one enjoyed the Tuna Steak very much so. I was surprised to see that Heinz's favourite wine was a South African but we had one in his honour at the table.
By the time we were done it was time to settle down for the night and we made our way for the final destination of the day----Rathaus Hotel!
What a find it was! The hotel is small but well designed. The rooms are named after a wine theme and music is everywhere. The rooms are also full of wine amenities if one so chose. In the centre of the hotel was a lovely,quaint courtyard that was surrounded---castle style---by the hotel itself. Here one was protected from the wine and sun and quietly could reflect the day's work or whatever he/she wanted. A truly nice find with an ever pleasing quiet night and wonderful breakfast the next morning.
So ended our day---it was a big one and busy one but we got through it. Now on to yet another full day of adventure, fun and wine!!!!!!!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

June 1st----On To 900 Years Of History And Wine Making

June 1st
The night went quickly and I was still quite tired from the previous day's activities. I thought of those that stayed behind at the party the night before and felt some compassion for them as they would have to be up and checked out of the hotel in order to be picked up by the Shuttle to get to the airport. Some did decide to stay an extra two days and I thought that wise. Vienna and Austria were so beautiful that one needed time on one's own to see the sights at a slower pace. There would not be any slower pace for the three of us though. We had much work to do and we had five days to do it in. The AWMB was still involved with the planning of our tour but it was Roy, Sandie and me that were the principals involved. The three of us plus our guide/driver Tibor were off to our first visit at 7:30 AM. A word about Tibor. Of all the driver/guides that I ever came across in my travels, I never met one so goal oriented and time conscious yet he was a pleasure to have around and I appreciated his personality and humour. He was a truly genuine human being and a good sport who took much teasing from me!!!
Klosterneuburg is a 900 year old, still functioning monastery that rises directly from the banks of the Danube River. It is also the largest privately owned winery in Austria making fine wines out of Gruner Veltliner, Riesling, St, Laurent grapes.
Though the St. Laurent is the main red and the Gruner Veltliner the main white grape, the Zweigelt grape was "discovered' at the monastery in 1922 by a Professor Zweigelt.
We were met by Export Manager Christine Hoffman and Managing Director Wolfgang Hamm.
Christine took us to the Klosterneuburg Vineyard which stood on a rise of land just above the Kloster.
It is hard to describe the serenity that the view of the vineyard overlooking the monastery endowed upon me. It all seemed surreal. A few days prior I was in Canada puttering around my backyard fishpond and now, I was looking and being part of a part of history in a country some five thousand miles from there. The grandeur of the day, Sun shining and warm plus the melodic sounds of the birds around us added a spiritual feeling to an already spiritual place. I felt at peace.
Christine was a beautiful young lady. She seemed so young for such an important position. I wondered---was I ever so young? Roy, camera in hand had set up the tripod for the interview. This time I thought Sandie was the best one for the job. It seemed so fitting and ironic that two lovely and talented women discuss the product that was once the sole affairs of men. Times have changed and for the better.
Sandie proved to me the wisdom of her being a co-host for this series. She showed great poise and a knack for asking good questions. Christine, nervous at first, showed her metal also. It was a good interview and with Roy's ability behind the camera, I knew it was complete. We went back to the Kloster.
1000 Years Of History
It all goes back to St. Augustine, born in 354 AD in Algeria. After a life of travels and questions concerning his philosophical existence, he converted to Christianity in 386 and later founded the Augustine Order.
The history of the actual site of Klosterneuburg goes back to the early 12th Century when Leopold 3rd (patron saint of Austria) and his wife founded it. Legend has it that the reason of the monastery being built at the present site is owing to a freak wind that blew away his wife's wedding veil and it seemingly was lost. Leopold vowed that if he found the veil, he would build a monastery at the site. Years later, he found the veil in perfect condition amongst some trees and bushes. He thus kept his promise.
Whether the story is true or not, the success of Klosterneuburg is itself legendary.
Roman Influence
Excavations have revealed a prosperous Roman community and fort around the 1st to 5th centuries AD. The Klosterneuburg itself is built on Roman foundations. While many of the buildings go back to 12th, 13th and 14th Centuries, the major parts of the Kloster were erected in the 18th Century.
Deep Cellars
After the vineyard filming we went back to the main building were Dr. Wolfgang Hamm was waiting. He took us deep, deep, deep into the cellars. The temperature was a constant 13 degrees Centigrade but being 36 metres or roughly 100 feet underground would do that. The limestone walls----many of the supports being the Roman foundations----wreaked of history as did the many artifacts within them. Barrels with dates on them ranging from the early 17th to the 19th Centuries. However there weren't only barrels.
A barrel holder that held the largest of barrels---I could swim in it if need be---was there in two pieces. I easily lay in the curve of one of the halves. In another section of the Kloster was a barrel even bigger and on display in one of the food/beverage buildings.
An interesting thing about the ancient cellar were the wind draft tunnels that rose horizontally from the base at the cellar foundations to the top. This ingenious construction kept the cellar dry but also served in some way as an air conditioning unit to the building above----circulating the cool air from the cellar below. The old cellars also house a unique wine collection as well as a series of older barrels with images of Royalty used in the early 20th Century for expositions.
The Chapel and Verdun Alter
Wolfgang then took us to the Chapel where we visited and watch monks in their prayers. The Chapel was a sensual gyro with so many vivid visual images from top to bottom that in addition to the verbal chant of those praying, was so difficult to take in during the short period of time that we were there. I couldn't help but feel emotional and very honoured to have been granted a visit here.The winged alter piece, the Verdum Alter, found in the burial chapel of St. Leopold, was constructed in 1181 and represented the biblical stories from Creation to the Last Judgement. It was an amazing masterpiece to behold. What I couldn't get over was the fact that we were in a functioning church that existed over 900 years ago but still functions as a religious establishment.
The Treasury
After the visit to the Chapel, off we went to visit the museum which housed some very important works of art as well as artifacts pertaining to the Kloster as well as the older fort that predated it. One of the most interesting items here was the Treasury where the Crown of the Archduke is permanently kept. The Crown, under view in a glass case, is also known as the "holy crown of Austria". Also there was the "Veil of Agnes' as well as many religious order garments worn by the priests as well as ivory carvings depicting the last judgement that were so intricately carved that I could not imagine the time it took towards completion or the tremendous talent of the carver. We also saw the writing equipment of St. Leopold. An interesting story about the crown is that legend has it that should the crown be taken from Klosterneuburg, the monastery and all around it would disintegrated in a massive quake!!!! Remind me not to have any aspirations for souvenir hunting!!!!!!
During our tour, we had the privilege of being introduced to the Provost of the monastery. He would hold the rank of Bishop. His name is Bernhard IV Hermann Backovsky and he is the 66th
person to hold that rank. The Provost(1995)/Abbott General (elected 2002) had a gentle but firm handshake depicting a strong but very gentle nature. His welcoming gestures were very appreciated.
The Wine Shop/Abbey Winery
The Abbey houses the largest and oldest winery in Austria. The methods used are a combination of Traditional and Modern techniques which certainly result in very fine wines. The wine shop is an original de-sanctified chapel from the 13th Century. Inside it were housed the wines produced at all the Kloster vineyards and for sale to the public.
There are four vineyards in four famous wine towns/areas: Klosterneuburg (23 hectares) is the vineyard most adjacent the monastery produces Gruner Veltliner, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc.
Vienna (25 hectares) produces Weissburgunder, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer Welschreisling and Pinot Noir. Gumpoldskirchen produces Zirfandler and Rotgipfler. Finally Tattendorf (40 hectares) the Kloster's largest vineyard area produces red varieties such as: St. Laurent and is the largest St. Laurent vineyard in the world (Ried Siftsbreite Vineyard). The first St. Laurent vines were planted in 1890.
I would like to point out that 10% of all profits from Klosterneuburg go to charities and support of projects that assist the street children of Romania and Moldavia. In addition to this many cultural events for people of all ages are presented by the monastery which is classed as one of Austria's most valuable treasures. Monasteries used to be the leaders in education, spirituality, cultural expression and hospitality. Klosterneuburg continues their valiant and sacred path!
Our thanks goes to the Abbott General of Klosterneuburg, Dr. Wolfgang Hamm, Christine Hoffman and the Spirit of Klosterneuburg for a very inviting and hospitable visit!!!!
Wines Tasted
We tasted several wines from the Kloster and my favourite was definitely the red St. Laurent Reserve. An amazing red with both fruit and good backbone for cellaring. The Kloster also makes a fine group of whites and sparkling wines which I enjoyed as did my cohorts.
To Be Continued--------Next Beethoven's House and a great interview/lunch

AWMB Throws A Great Party!

AWMB ( The Austrian Wine Marketing Board) May 31st Evening
The AWMB was founded in 1986 in response to a very bad press scandal regarding the condition/state in the production of Austrian wine. It was founded to: "Strategically support, coordinate, and maintain quality and sales with a domestic goal to obtain an increased market share of Quality Wine with the export of bottled Quality Wine with particular focus of on the continued increase in value."
Included in its detailed mix of marketing activities is a proactive public relations campaign that is second to none. One of the activities was the one Roy, Sandie and I attended "Discover Wine Wonderland Austria". There were other groups visiting with different wine focus areas.
The game plan of the AWMB is to show the wines of Austria and the areas that produce them in a positive and progressive light with emphasis on quality, sales and a forward momentum to show the world what its wines are made of.
While there are many wine boards and quality control systems around the world, none have done the exceedingly fine job of bringing their plans to fruition as has the AWMB.
I remember feeling a bit "difficult" when told of the four day series of events and lectures. That changed as I became increasingly aware that this was no ordinary presentation but one that would truly introduce the visitor to the family so to speak.
This is something that the Ontario Wine Authorities should closely look at. They may have to spend some money but the result would be very advantageous to sales and credibility.
My congratulations to Mr. W. Kilinger and his fine team.
Party Time
Good byes are hard to do at the best of times but as usual the AWMB team made our goodbyes to the people we had visited with very meaningful. A party, complete with band, buffet food and Austrian Wine, took place at the Waggon 31 Viennese Prater.
We were treated to a ride on a legendary giant Ferris Wheel called the Riesenrad, which was constructed towards the end of the 19th Century and maintained until the present. It was fun to go up and view all of Vienna underneath my feet.
Vienna has so many attractions. Such a device in the middle of a large city would seem not to fit but not only does this fit but it adds to the history and culture of the city.
We had our amazing ride and went upstairs to a party that had already started as we got there later owing to a filming sequence that we needed to do.
To say that this was impressive would be understating the fact. I estimated some 300 people were already there from every country imaginable. No frowns, just the endless smiling faces of journalists, wine writers, agents, educators, students, sommeliers who attended the four day event and were now relaxing and communicating. This is the way it should be done!
We-the three of us--had a long day and would soon have to complete our work schedule starting the next day. While not at theoretical, it would be as if not more intensive for we had a job to do and we wanted to do it well. So we bid our adieus and left a party that would probably go on until the early morning hours. Have fun everyone----you earned it!!!!
On leaving I couldn't help thinking of what I used to open the television show that I wrote and co-hosted in the '90's. It was called "The Wine Companions". I said Wine is History. Wine is Geography. Wine is Science. Wine is People! I also recalled the "7 Elements Of Uniqueness" which were the Climate, the land,the Grapes, the Culture, the People, the respect for/of Nature, the food pairing. In essence we were saying the same thing!!!!!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Four Fast Days: May 31st: Kemptal, Sparkling Wine, Some Local History, Riesling , Boating The Danube and A BIG VIENNA PARTY!!!!!!

May 31st
Langenios, Kemptal (Two In A Vineyard Visits The Loisium)
The Loisium is a popular destination for those who want to express their interest in wine modernity along with antiquity and history. The Loisium was a welcome spot after a long drive. The Sauvignon Blanc Sparkling wine served on arriving was indeed very refreshing and delicious. The cube shaped building was indeed a modern construction with a vinotheque, Sektbar and shop. Here one could study wine at his/her leisure yet explore his environment by rediscovering the five senses which have to do with wine.
The tour of the cellar was both a visual as well as a sensual experience--from the emergence of the God Bacchus from within his watery slumber to the tickle of a baby's foot towards the end of the tour and everything in between. Some things did get lost in translation but not without humorous misadventures between guide and group. It was fun.
Castle Durnstein And Riesling
The seminar that followed at Castle Durnstein was exceptional and featured the "Great Single Vineyards of Wachau". The castle is the property of Domane Wachau and has been well renovated to its former (1714) glory. Here wine is the main inspiration and everything that is produced is done to present wine in the most inspiring way. Six wines, all Riesling, from the Wachau were tasted. The wines ranged from light to golden in colour with a nose range from citrus to apple/pear. The palate ranged from tropical pineapple to apple and citrus. Nice finish.
While the group got a tour of the Castle Roy, Sandie and I went into the Garden to do some film sequences. The garden is not what you'd call average by any stretch of the imagination. It stretches from past the main gate to the main building itself and is a menagerie of flowers and designs. We managed to get some great shots of not only the magnificent building but also of the "two" of the vineyard clowning around the massive fountains.
Danube Boat Trip
The visit to the Wachau Domane ended and shortly after we were on our way to Spitz where a boat was waiting for us to go down the Danube from Spitz to Durnstein.
Gruner Veltliner was the wine of the day and boat trip. Five were tasted---all of Smaragd quality and from different vineyards. Certainly Gruner Veltliner is a great wine of Austria and well represented for its many soils. Each wine was the same yet different showing the amazing adaptability of the grape variety.
The boat ride view was superb with many vineyard sites being pointed out. The beauty of the Danube is legendary but one cannot appreciate it unless one sees for him/herself. The ruins of a castle named after the village it overlooks, Durnstein, could be seen from the boat. It is known for the legend that Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned their after his capture by Leopold of Austria in the 12th Century. He was later rescued or released for ransom. The castle was destroyed by Swedish troops in the 17th Century. Another building was built as an Abby in the 15th Century and later rebuilt in a Baroque Style and is none other than the building complete with gardens that the three of us visited earlier that day. History has a way of coming full circle does it not???
Wachau Lunch
A small lunch was held at the Jamek Restaurant along with some fine Riesling from the Wachau:
Dumplings Of Pike With Parsley Sauce And Rice
Two Rieslings from different vineyards.
Boiled Beef With Apple Horseradish, Chives And Smashed Roasted Potatoes
Two Gruner Veltliners from different vineyards
Cake Filled With Chocolate Cream And Raspberry Sauce
Trockenbeerenauslese Riesling
The wine and food match was as usual was excellent and the group present were being put in the right frame of mind for a very large and very welcome party.
To be continued--------!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Fast Four Days Continued: May 30th More Adventures In Wine, Food and History

Castle Tastings, Cooking School, Danube Wines, 1000 year Abbey and Toni Moerwald's Und Dinner!!!!
Sclosshof or Hof Palace is an unusually beautiful piece of history. Located near the border of Austria and Slovenia, it was built by PrinceEugene of Savoy in 1726 and much later purchased by Empress Maria Theresa. The Schloss is an amazing combination of Baroque architecture and fine gardens kept up daily by a large staff. The visitor is welcomed by a tranquility of water falls and ponds and the mind is alerted by many colours of flowers on display.
This is what greeted the group of writers and journalists when they came to a wine seminar that was delivered by Darrel Joseph of Decanter Magazine, Wine Spectator and many more publications gave a seminar concerning the wines of Styria where he spoke of Sauvignon Blanc, Muskateller, Traminer, Blauer Wildbacher, Morrillon (Chardonnay) and Zweigelt.
The whole experience was quite professional and well co-ordinated. I found that I had a problem with my identification of the Muskateller grape and wanted to identify it as a Sauvignon Blanc. I posed the question and was answered to the fact that only tasting more of this grape would help in identification as the wine truly had major Muskateller characteristics.
Cooking Class
Viennese "Schnitzel" was the menu of the Schloss and we were the cooks. It was surprisingly easy to make and a bigger surprise was that Austrian State Television was on hand to interview our own Sandie Kraft. She hammed it up as she does on Two In A Vineyard but she had good delivery and any publicity for our show was good publicity. Great Work Shadow!!!!!
Weinviertel DAC Tasting With Schnitzel-----4 Wines
During the cooking a number of wines were made available to taste as part of the wine and food match. Four wines, all Gruner Veltliner were tasted and were an excellent match for the food displayed.
Open Tasting Wein DAC and The Diversity Of Wines From Weinviertel Area--21 Wines.
14 Gruner Veltliners, 1 Riesling, 1 Sauvignon Blanc, 1 Traminer, 1 BlauerZweigelt, 1 Zweigelt and 2 Pinot Noirs were tasted and they all had special characteristics. The Pinots were especially well made as were the Blauer Zweigelt and Zweigelt.
Gottweig Abbey--Gotweig, Kremstal
Gotweig Abbey is a massive monastery atop a very high mountainous hill. In 1083, Bishop Altmann of Pausau founded this monastery in the Benedictine vein. It still stands in perfect shape after almost 1000 years. Danube Terroirs or "Danube Wine Making Philosophy" were investigated here with 12 wines: 6 Gruner Veltliners and 6 Rieslings tasted from different origin of soils. Their was an obvious difference in the taste and consistency of the different wines from different soil areas.
Niederosterreich Gourmet Dinner At Kloster UND Restaurant
At 8 PM we gathered at one of the most famous of restaurants not only in Austria but in the Globe. This former church has a history was formerly the abode of Prince Eugene and the private chamber of Empress Maria Theresa. The layout of the historic building includes a Ballroom that once entertained kings and queens and a chapel that anointed the marriages of many of the Hapsburg family. The gardens are a sight to behold as they stretch from terrace to terrace.
This building is now part of the Moerwald Restaurant empire run by Toni Moerwald, an exciting and adventurous chef that is among the best in the world. Toni has entertained many celebrities which include Queen Elizabeth, Frank Stronach, Arnold Schwarzenegger among them. Toni's team produced a great Gourmet meal that none of the group will ever forget.
Here is the description.
Wine Aperitif
Brut Rose: Burgunder Sorten
Homegraved Trout From The Wagram With Beetroot & Buttermilk Mousse
Gruner Veltliner from Wachau
Gruner Veltliner from Wagram
Wild Char From Mariazell
Chinese burn Ravioli & Fond Of Wild Herbs
Riesling from Kemptal
Riesling from Kremstal
Fillet Of Austrian Organic Veal With Asparagus & Steamed Morrel
St. Laurent from Thermenregion
Zweigelt, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon Blend from Carnuntum
Rhubarb Sour Cream Cake With Almond Crocant & Basil Ice Cream
Gruner Veltliner Eiswein from Wagram
Riesling Beerenauslese from Wachau
This was a true treat in the best way possible but the fun was not yet over since I made arrangements with Toni Moerwald to come back and interview him plus get some cooking tips.
Thanks to Peter Schieimer Chief Editor of Vinaria Magazine and Willi Klinger Managing Director of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board.
To Be Continued.....