A few years ago I had the pleasure of attending the European Wine Bloggers Conference in Vienna. Not only was it worth the trip for knowledge and networking, but also for the opportunity to choose a countryside wine destination for the weekend. I chose the Danube River wine region and will always be grateful I did.
On a wet October day, we piled into the chauffeured bus to our first destination in the Kremstal wine region, The Stift Gottweig Monastery. Within an hour the bus stopped at a pull-out on the side of the road, and we jumped out to see the view from a distance. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this. Through an opening in the trees was an absolutely breathtaking monastery sitting atop the mountain. It didn’t matter if the rain was falling, nothing could stop getting photos from this vantage point. The clicking of cameras began.
The monastery was founded in 1083 A.D. and given to the Benedictine order in 1094. The site, perched on a mountain overlooking the Danube, provided the monks with an economic base in forestry and grape production. The vineyards had been producing wine for centuries, and by the 16th century the wines from Stift Gottweig were attracting attention from the Austrian aristocracy and across Europe.
The Kremstal has a mild climate, with the forests providing cool breezes and the Pannonian air from the east lending a slightly warmer climate. Soils range from loam and loess, to chalky clay and weathered slate. All these factors contribute to ideal sites for Gruner Veltliner and Riesling. The varietal makeup here: Gruner Veltliner comprises 60%; Riesling 30%; Chardonnay 4%; and Pinot Noir 6%.
The picturesque city of Krems, located a few miles from the monastery, sits on the banks of the Danube River surrounded by 1,000 hectares of vines. In 1975 Krems was singled out as a “Model City for Historical Preservation” and in 2000 was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. It’s a town proud of it’s wine legacy, but also is a magnet for tourists enjoying its bucolic feel, architecture, outdoor activities, festivals and shops.
The wine reputation of Krems has stood the test of time, and today the region produces excellent Gruner Veltliners and Rieslings. But what’s become of the monastery’s 26 hectares of vineyards? Who oversees the wine making process? It’s in good hands. On January 1, 2006, the vineyards were leased to a newly formed group of associates. This company comprises those running the Stift Gottweig Monastery itself, and the management of another well-known area winery - Weingut Stadt Krems. With over 550 years of history, Weingut Stadt Krems (Winery of the City Krems) is one of the oldest wine producers in Austria and Europe. Winemaker Fritz Miesbauer runs the Gottweig vineyards and those of Weingut Stadt Krems, but both are aged and stored under individual conditions. Named “Winemaker of the Year” in Sweden at the age of 27, Miesbauer is up to the challenge of preserving this legacy while simultaneously garnishing respect for both labels. Under his tutelage, the quality and reputation of both wineries has grown, with accolades to him and his team.
Winding up the day was a rare opportunity to listen to three of the most respected winemakers in Austria – Fritz Miesbauer, Marcus Huber and Fred Loimer. My new favorite way to learn: 1) Sipping away on Austrian wines 2) Exquisite Baroque meeting room 3) Professional, intelligent, knowledgeable winemakers. Am I asking too much?
Many thanks go again to the Austrian Wine Marketing Board, and the incomparable Franz Josef Gansberger of Weingut Stadt Krems for unparalleled professionalism and answers to everything. As the Austrian Wine Marketing Board’s slogan says…….”A Taste of Culture.” Indeed it is.