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.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

June 5th: Back In Vienna and our last day!

Vienna-----A City Forever Eternal!
We slept in that morning just enough to rest up after our long trip back to Vienna. We were to meet Tini for a quick tour of the city and taking a page from the "Book of Tibor" she was right on time for our meeting at the Konzerthaus Hotel. First we went to Stadtpark approaching it from Ringstrasse. It was Sunday and it was great to see that people in this part of the world still celebrated the day with relaxation and fun things. Here it was still a day for families to be together and for children to play and lovers to spend time. We were greeted by a statue monument of Johann Strauss in full musical form and in golden regalia. How appropriate I felt this was. We could not help but take a few shots of us with the master and then moved along through the shady and tree filled park.
It seems that humans will be humans and people watching seemed to be as interesting a past time here as it would be at the St. Lawrence Market in Ontario. People seated on benches watched others waking, laying on the lawn either sleeping, reading or just kissing. Very exhilarating!!
It also seemed that people also preferred to make their own dress statements as some had on very eccentric forms of dress-----the most of which was a man with a cage type hat and feathered female attire sitting on the bench enjoying the day and being pleased to be somewhat the centre of attention.
There was so much to take in with ponds, flower garden arrangements, themes, musical pavilions, dancing areas and the ever present statues and monuments. We could have walked for hours. Of course, Sandie and I hammed it up for the camera and Roy enjoyed himself taking shots and laughing at us making nutty fools of ourselves. I loved it!
Lunch On The Danube
We made our way down to the Danube where we followed the river looking for some places to park ourselves and eat. We settled on a man made beach area next to the river which had some "buffet" specialties where we filled our selves to full capacity. Everywhere was quiet activity and the Danube----well it was the Danube-----Eternally Romantic!!!!
War Memorials And Geyser Fountains
After lunch we made our way to the Konzerthaus Hotel where we said good-bye to Tini and decided to just walk around on our own until supper. We found ourselves spending a fair bit of time at the Soviet War Memorial with its Greek Doric Columns and sombre atmosphere. There was a large fountain that shot water very high into the air that was very impressive. I later found out that the fountain called the Hochstrahlbrunnen was not related to the Soviet structure but was built in 1873 to celebrate the first water pipeline to Vienna from the Styrian Alps.
As the day wore on we realized that no matter what we did, we could not slow time down and eventually like the rain, darkness would fall and the day would end. Sandie kept herself busy looking at all the amazing cars----all top of the line Mercedes, Jaguars and Ferrari's and taking their pictures. Roy filmed and took pictures and I took in the atmosphere wishing that this could last forever.
We had dinner at the Konzerthaus Hotel that evening and decided to eat in the outdoor patio area. We were alone at dinner together for the first time since we started the trip and ordered a fine meal for ourselves. As we sat there, talking, eating and enjoying our beverages, I couldn't help looking at the two people next to me and feeling how important they had become to me. We had done a great deal and the great thing was that we would continue to do so long after this trip would end.
We retired to our rooms and prepared for the eventful trip back to Canada.
The morning came quickly and soon packing was done and baggage was in the hotel foyer ready to be picked up. Then came a delightful surprise, Tibor came over on his morning run to say good-bye. I should have expected it. Tibor was/is a very special person who all of us will remember for a long time. I am equally sure that Tini, given time would have proved just as terrific. Tibor did the usual Tibor thing and took our luggage to the waiting vehicle. Then just like Tibor he bid farewell and continued his run. I watched as his running form slowly disappeared into the crowd until it could not be seen. I remarked to myself, "What a truly amazing young lad!"
Shortly thereafter we found ourselves in the airport lineup and just as quickly, on the flight home. Was it real? Did it really happen? As the back of my head rested on the seat pillow I asked myself those questions, it felt so surreal.
We landed in Toronto eight hours later and to my surprise, after spending ten very busy and active days together with the exception of sleeping-----almost always together, Sandie. Roy and I were planning our next venture. Did we get along----I guess that says statement says it all!!!!!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

June 4th, Day Four: Meeting Two Greats: Willi Opitz and Toni Moerwald

Morning At Riegersburg
One knows that his sleep was good when no sooner than his eyes close at night; they open in the morning and all the "in-between" is a void. I awoke to hear more birds uttering their chants of attention. This time is was the Cuckoos with their familiar passage and the "thumping" sound of male ruffled grouse out for their morning mating ritual. I went out to the balcony and looked at the castle distantly majestic, dominant yet subservient----high above the landscape but somehow melding into it at the same time. The stories it could tell, I thought to myself. My eyes left the serene scene and looked at the time. We had a long way to go and it was an early breakfast so I had to hurry.
The Genuss staff had made us breakfast early since they knew we had to leave as such. The buffet breakfast was delicious and the bread was divine. As usual, it was the coffee I sought. My one addiction that I would give my all for--------a good cup of coffee------and the coffee was good!!!!!
We were soon on our way to meet a man that was as overwhelming with his marketing charm as was the countryside we were leaving. We said goodbye to Styria and Riegersburg and were off to Burgenland------back to Neusiedlersee and the lake we once crossed. Back to a town called Illmitz and a marketing genius called Willi Opitz!
Meeting Willi Opitz
Life Is Too Short To Waste It On Bad Wine! (Quote from the "Book of Opitz")
In 1995 Willi Opitz changed occupations from that of a mechanical engineer working for a food company to that of a wine maker and owner of what was to become not only a great winery but also a massive national lesson in marketing. However, Willi's story goes back to 1989 when he perfected a process of drying grapes on reed mats thus accentuating the sugar content within grapes and then pressing them for wine. Willi called this process "Schilfmandel".
If You Are First, You Are Never Late! (Quote from the "Book of Opitz")
It was in the year of 1995 that Willi began to make an impact regarding Austrian Wine. He became the first/only Austrian producer to start a partnership with the McLaren Formula One Racing Team. Also in 1995 he produced a "musical recording" called the "Sound of Wine" where by he recorded the sounds of wine fermenting. Then in 1996 he completed the series of firsts by being awarded "Winemaker of the Year" in London, England.
This Is Not A Wine Tasting But A Life Changing Experience! ("Book of Opitz")
Willi mentioned that after one of his tastings, a client said the above words. It seemed to me that the words were a "Double Edged Sword" as this whole experience has been as life changing for Willi as it is those who had the luck to be present at his wine and food matching sessions and dinners. The only difference here Willi is none other that a self fulfilled prophecy gone very good!
Willi capitalized on every marketing venture be it a meeting with President William Clinton after he gave him a case of his botrytis affected and reed dried (from Lake Neusiedlersee) Zweigelt Wine called very aptly, "Mr. President" or having famous Chef Anton Mosimann or even having his wines praised by Jancis Robinson!The names go on: Rod Stewart, Elton John, Prince Charles, The McLaren Team and more---many more!! The man was and is a marketing genius and a shrewd business person.
I Started In 1995 With No Money And No Fear! ("Book of Opitz")
At around 11 AM, We arrived at St. Bartholomausgasse 18 Illmitz where the Weingut Willi Opitz was located. It was a relatively long ride and we had an even longer ride to go as right after Willi we were to head first to Vienna and then to Kremstal where we were to meet famous Chef Toni Moerwald at his restaurant, Kloster UND.
Tibor, ever aware of our "race against time" was getting nervous about being late almost as soon as we got to the winery. We did our best to calm him but Tibor, ever conscientious, could not be swayed. Willi sat us at his upstairs balcony/patio where he brought out a very refreshing Sparkling Pinot Noir. He named this wine after one of his daughter's, Victoria. The wine was pleasant, well made and oh!---so refreshing---especially on a warm day such as the one we were experiencing. We met two of Willi's friends who also shared the wine with us.
It was then that George Shao, Willi's China representative came in----just arriving from China. I took an immediate liking to George with is lay back style and genuineness of personality. George told us that Opitz wines were selling like "hotcakes" and that he was here to place another order for these wines----especially Opitz One, the Willi Opitz flagship where it was selling for as much as $400 per bottle.
Willi, ever charming, met and escorted us to his winery which from the outside looked like a large garage building but on the inside it was a marvel. First of all, I immediately felt the coolness within the winery. It wasn't air conditioning but fifteen inches of top insulation around the entire building that kept the building so very cool compared with the 25 Centigrade plus conditions outside.
Inside the winery were the usual barrels but in this case many of them were signed by some of the most famous individuals. Barrels with signatures from the McLaren Formula One team, Rod Stewart and just the previous day, Anton Mosimann fresh from cooking a meal for the newly wed William and Kate, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Anton is renowned as one of the best chefs in the World.
Here Willi introduced us to his "energy efficient" bottling line. If he was a master marketer, he proved himself ingenious in his construction of a wooden bottle holder which allowed him to manually place corks and labels on his wine bottles. He also showed us his new improved and faster bottling line which consisted of "two' such items.
On to the tasting room we went and he then put us through a food and wine tasting that had no equal. The hors d'oeuvres style food was cooked by his daughter Angela in conjunction with her partner Iain with a company name that reflected good marketing and both their names by guess who---Willi Opitz---called: C.I.A. (for Catering by Iain and Angela) with the caption "Criminally Good Food". The matches were unique such as: Fish, Chips and Mushy Peas matched with a dry Gewurztraminer; Fillet of Beef with Butternut Risotto matched with a Zweigelt Reserve; Boudin of Braised Pork, Red Onion Marmalade and Mustard Ice with Silver Lake Pinot Cuvee and last but certainly not least Rose and Wild Berries Granite with an Opitz Pink Kiss Pinot Noir.
The tasting lasted much longer than Tibor wished. He sniffed his way through the wine tasting match not wanting to drink and drive and was ever sensitive of "how late it was getting". I think my chorus of "Don't Worry!!" might still be echoing in his mind. To his absolute horror, Willi said let me show you the vineyards! I thought that Tibor was going to soil his pants when he heard that.
Willi took us to his vineyard near Lake Neusiedlersee where they enjoyed the moderating effects of the body of water. Willi mentioned his organic farming which bordered on the bio dynamic though he was not certified as such. His original 8 hectares of vine now is around 17 and he produces around 60,000 bottles of wine per year."That is enough," he said. You could tell that the vineyards were well tended and in very good health.
With the vineyards our trip to Willi Opitz's winery ended and Tibor at long last got us moving in the right direction------some three hours late but all in good spirits. The long trip to Vienna and later to Krems began.
The drive back to Vienna was another "double edged sword" since Sandie, Roy and I were fascinated with this marvelous city so full of wonder. However, on getting there, we would have to say good-bye to our companion, confidante and driver, Tibor. We had met him only nine days prior but it seemed a lifetime and his company was very, very comforting to have around. We became very fond of him.
Alas, Vienna came up faster than we wanted and Tibor found that in spite of all his worry, we got there on time. His replacement was a young girl of 24 called Tini---short for Christina. If Tibor was slim in build, Tini was his female counterpart. Tall, athletic and personable, Tini seemed the right counterpart to Tibor. Even their names seemed similar.
Soon we were off to Krems and a meeting with the great chef and business man, Toni Moerwald.
The World of Moerwald
If it were just for the fact that Toni Moerwald has written 26 cookbooks, that would have been considered a massive achievement however, add to that a string of famous hotels, restaurants , cooking schools and vineyards and you find a man who is the pinnacle of success. The question I had in my mind was how could a man have achieved so much and yet look so good and relaxed. Toni does not come close to looking his forty something age. How can a person achieve so much in so little time?? Maybe the questions should be how come many people don't?
Our "new" team made its way to Krems which is in many ways a crossroads. Located on the River Danube, Krems lies on routes that link the Alps, Carpathian Mountains, old cultures and historic avenues. Within Krems lies an area known as UND which is recognized as a separate municipal entity within the larger Krems. Within UND is Kloster Und, a 400 plus year old Monastery turned restaurant now under the banner of the famous Moerwald name. Famous people come here. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Frank Stronach are among the many well known people who visit frequently.
Within its walls can be seen the magnificent courtyard complete with cloister and fountain. The restaurant and lounge have all the comforts including a superb wine list that would make any New York, London or Paris restaurant jealous. On top of all this is a top of the line kitchen and cooking school where Toni proudly shows his staff and students from all over the world.
Here is where we came to interview this high achiever. It was amazing that he had the time to do so.
We were seated in the courtyard where Imperial gatherings used to happen. Toni brought us some superb wine from his own vineyard (a Muskateller) and then proceeded to show us around the kitchen. We then sat and began an interview. It took me several attempts to get the correct pronunciation of Moerwald much to the amusement of Sandie who earlier on had been the focus of my teasing with some of her stuff. "Not so easy Mr. Byers! Is it!" were the words and we all laughed. Interplay such as this was so important on this trip since a trip without humour-----especially when so much time is spent with one another-----can be dreary at best. Luckily we were in sync with each other.
I finally got it right and I was pestering Toni to teach me how to cook a dish for the camera. He misunderstood and made us a dish to eat. It was a long day and I did not pursue the situation.
We got our interview with one of the most famous chefs in Austria if not the globe and that was enough. At the end of it all, Toni awarded me a cook book with many of his dishes. It was huge and I wondered how I could pack it since it must have weighed about five to seven pounds at least. We bid adieu to Toni and then were off to our place of rest, which was a Five Star Krems hotel called, Steigenberger.
Later on we got the hunger pangs and went out to eat in down town Krems. We went to a place called Cafe Brauhof where we had three excellent dishes along with some excellent Austrian Beer. After spending the major part of a day drinking wine, beer does have that refreshing taste.
My mainstay beverage, coffee, was of course part of my meal. What would I do without a coffee.
We discussed the day and couldn't believe that we did so much. After walking around the town, Sandman raised his head once again and the hotel looked----oh so good!------especially a thing called bed.