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.

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