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 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.