Jamie Drummond and Friends on Wine – Episodes 29 and 30 Austria Parts 1 and 2

Last year Chef Kennedy and I had the honour of being the guests of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board at VieVinum, Vienna’s largest wine trade event of the year. It was with a great sense of excitement we looked forward to our trip in the preceding months as both Chef and myself have for many a year been enthusiastic supporters of the wines of Austria… and here we were, flying off for a 4 day tour of some of our favourite Austrian wine regions followed by a weekend in Vienna for what promised to be a comprehensive and exhaustive (in so many ways) exposition of the cream of Austrian Winemaker’s labours. Vienna was calling as 80’s Austrian pop legend Falco once proclaimed.

In the Naschmarkt, Vienna.

In the Naschmarkt, Vienna.

After a painless drive from Toronto (and a delicious asparagus and house-made bacon sandwich from JKWB consumed enroute) we checked our bags. Naively thinking that by charming the young lady at check-in and securing bulkhead seats on the flight, we would have luxurious extended legroom and hence a more restful flight, we had a celebratory glass of beer before boarding our transatlantic flight. We had, of course, overlooked the fact that in these enlightened times airlines also give preference to mothers with young babies when assigning bulkhead seats… and there happened to be three of these sandwiching Chef and myself. As the 767 ascended to cruising altitude (and cruising air pressure) I can vividly remember being most thankful that my Bose noise-cancelling headphones filtered out the “sweet” sounds that were so passionately emitted from the mouths of babes. Chef, on the other hand, was not quite as prepared for the prolonged acoustic assault…

We arrived at Vienna airport a little bleary-eyed and less than bushy-tailed, as is the norm when flying for 8 hours. After a mercifully early check-in at our hotel and a rather strong Viennese coffee (Note to self: Do not do this again) , Chef and myself ventured into a quite marvelous market close by called the Naschmarkt. We wandered up and down the stalls on the south side of the market, surveying an impressively expansive array of seafood, meats, vegetables, cheeses, fruits, herbs, oils, vinegars and so much more… and swore to return later in the week for a little shopping. The northern part of the market was dominated by innumerable small restaurants and cafés, so we stravaiged through the myriad establishments, studying menus, observing the most cosmopolitan of clientele, checking out the rhythms of a city unknown to us. We settled in a small and yet extremely popular café which specialized in seafood. It was here that we finally established a rendezvous with the final part of our vineously-inclined triumvirate. Bernard Stramwasser of Le Sommelier, a superb wine agency based in Toronto (www.lesommelier.com) joined us for a delicious shellfish-based luncheon washed down with some delightful Austrian Rosé and Riesling. Satiated and somewhat rested, we set off for the wine region of Wachau and our place of rest for the evening, the charming Gourmethotel Am Forthof, sighted on the bank of the Danube.

First officially recorded in 995 AD, Krems is one of the oldest towns in Austria. Walking through the oldest parts of the town, along the cobbled streets, one can see many ancient fortifications and churches. Upon the recommendation of a young lady we had met earlier in the day we found ourselves in a great little restaurant in a picturesque cobbled square named Zum Elefanten. Here our party spent a couple of wonderful hours indulging in seasonal Austrian specialties such as Tafelspitz (boiled beef that is way more tasty than it may sound to some) and of course the ubiquitous Spargel (Asparagus). This was accompanied by the restaurant owner’s selection of local Gruner Veltliners and numerous tasty, tasty red wines. At the strike of 1am and with a “Bitte bit sallen” our ever-valiant group meandered through the quaint streets of this adorable town, and then back to our hotel for a well deserved night’s slumber before our first day of tasting.

Observing my belly in Weissenkirchen

Observing my belly in Weissenkirchen

After an early rise and a drive along the idyllic banks of the Danube river we ended up in the small and scenic town of Weißenkirchen. After some deliberation we managed to locate the property of Weingut Prager where we converged with Winemaker Toni Bodenstein and his wife Ilse. Toni lead us through a concise tasting of his wines in measured detail, blending both geological and social histories with descriptions of acute mesoclimates pertinent to the various wines we were tasting. Franz Prager (Toni’s Father-In-Law) is viewed as one of the Wachau’s viticultural pioneers and after 2 hours with Toni one is left with no doubt that he steadfastly (and unashamedly) adheres to the age-old traditions of the region, both in the vineyard and the cellar. The greater majority of Prager’s wines are Gruner Veltliners and Rieslings made in the classic “Federspiel” (12%vol) and “Smaragd” (13%vol) styles… fermented to complete dryness, with a precise focus that would make a grown man weep… vineyard-driven to the extreme… and in a world of bland and (quite frankly) towing-the-line contemporary winemaking, a true breath of fresh air. Austerity is a word that was bandied about upon many an instance during that afternoon’s tasting. And “LO” our palates were opened to the inherent complexities of the higher echelon of Austrian wines.

At a lovely wine store/bar/restaurant in Krems.

At a lovely wine store/bar/restaurant in Krems.

After waving farewell to Toni Bodenstein at Prager and making him rather late for an important meeting (he is also quite seriously involved in local politics… in fact, he acts as the Mayor of Weißenkirchen!), we drove along the Northern bank of the Danube to the picturesque medieval town of Dürnstein. Positioned on a prominent bend of the river, Dürnstein lies down the hillside from the ruins of Kuenringer Castle, where Richard the Lionheart was once imprisoned during the Crusades. The name “Dürnstein” is a reference to the incredibly striking rocky terrain, “dem dürren [dry] Stein [stone]”, upon which the town was founded. During the middle ages, the steep riverbanks protected the town against flooding but left enough room to establish the town and build fortifications. Since Dürnstein is located in the narrower, lower part of the valley, both the roads and the river could easily be closed off against invaders and so this town was always thought of as being strategically important.

Tasting at Prager with Winemaker Toni Bodenstein

Tasting at Prager with Winemaker Toni Bodenstein

Walking through the ancient cobbled streets of Dürnstein, one can marvel at the Medieval and Baroque houses. The streets are quite wonderful with an array of acclaimed al fresco dining restaurants. After having a little wander around the town we decided that we had better get something to eat… my stomach was making funny noises actually, due in no small part to the indulgences of the previous evening… and possibly because I decided to drink some strong Austrian coffee once again that morning (as I have previously mentioned, I NEVER drink coffee). We chanced upon a little courtyard restaurant where the three of us ordered some tasty home-made Blurtwurst (Blood Sausage), Bratwurst and Weiner Schnitzel… all accompanied by one of the lighter styles of Austrian beer… just the thing in the blazing sun that glorious afternoon. By the time we had finished, we realized that it looked as if we were going to be a little late for our next appointment at the esteemed house of F.X. Pichler…

With Lucas Pichler at FX Pichler

With Lukas Pichler at FX Pichler

We were met at the F.X. Pichler (www.fx-pichler.at) property by Winemaker Lukas Pichler who led us through a fascinating tasting of his family’s wines. Founded in 1898, Pichler has consistently produced some of the most highly regarded wines of the Wachau. Lukas was kind enough to show us the book that his Great Grandfather, Franz Pichler Sr., began writing in 1928 to meticulously document, study and isolate the various clones of Grüner Veltliner that were present in the family vineyards. Through careful selection of these clones over the decades, Franz Pichler Sr. focused upon small-berried grape bunches. These clones, he discovered, would produce much lower yields and yet bring to the wine much more complex aromatics and flavours. This pioneering work established Pichler as a visionary in Austrian wine-growing circles and beyond. To have this extremely old and historical document on the table right in front of us, as we were tasting that afternoon, was a moment in time that I will never forget.

Amazing vine observations from 1928

Amazing vine observations from 1928

These were SERIOUS wines. After tasting through the range of Pichler bottling, I can honestly say that I have never tasted wines with such elegance and grace. Decanter magazine has spoken of Pichler’s wines as being easier to admire with the head rather than love with the heart, and by the end of that tasting I feel that I had a much greater understanding of where that particular sentiment came from.

Getting my rocks off at FX Pichler

Getting my rocks off at FX Pichler

The wines of Pichler were truly outstanding and I think that all three of us agreed that we really were tasting some of the very best wines that Austria has to offer. I look forward to carrying some of Pichler’s wines at Jamie Kennedy in the near future. After a brief photoshoot with the most amiable Lukas outside the family home, we thanked our gracious host and jumped back into our vehicle, setting off down the Danube to visit our friend Christine Saahs at Nikolaihof.

Tasting with Christina Saahs at Nikolaihof

Tasting with Christina Saahs at Nikolaihof

Chef and myself first met with Christine Saahs of Nikolaihof in Toronto some months previous when all three of us were involved in the Biodynamic conference organized by the charming Mark Cuff of The Living Vine (www.thelivingvine.ca). Christine had been amongst the exhibitors pouring at that splendid event and, like so many of her fellow Winegrowers, had ended up at Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar that evening. For more information regarding Nikolaihof’s Biodynamic winemaking please listen to episode 16 of the Jamie Drummond and Friends on Wine Podcast, where Christine takes part in a seminar discussing these principles with three other Biodynamically-inclined Winemakers.

Dinner is served at Nikolaihof

Dinner is served at Nikolaihof

We met Christine Saahs just outside the beautiful tree-lined courtyard of the Nikolaihof winery and were immediately seated at a rustic wooden table underneath a majestic and ancient tree that perfectly shaded us from the afternoon sun. The serene wine tavern in the courtyard of the Nikolaihof property is so very peaceful and relaxing and I would highly recommend any visitors to the region to pay this delightful establishment a visit. Serving primarily organic and locally sourced food, the tavern aligns itself perfectly with the Biodynamic philosophies of the house’s winemaking. Christine and her staff wasted no time at all in starting the three of us off on our first flight of Nikolaihof’s wines. And as late afternoon became dusk we were treated to what was one of the most enjoyable tasting experiences of our trip to Austria. Whilst Nikolaihof’s wines may not historically have garnered quite the wine writer’s superlatives that our previous hosts’ wines have, there was no doubt left in our minds that the wines expressed an authenticity and genuineness that went beyond simple winemaking. The wines possessed a vitality and an energy that perhaps does have something to do with the cosmos, the moon and/or many of the other factors that play a part in Biodynamic viticulture. Chef, Bernard and myself simply adored the entire range of wines that we tasted that lovely warm evening in the courtyard at Nikolaihof. Then, just as we finished tasting the last wine of the evening, Christine and her colleagues began serving us a delicious, traditional multi-course dinner. What a surprise! And what a splendid way to wrap up a great day of tasting in the Wachau.

The infamous Club Relax

The infamous Club Relax

Nigl LoungeThanks to the astounding hospitality of Christine Saahs and her family we left the Nikolaihof property most satiated and definitely fatigued. With an excellently detailed set of directions to the winery where we were to lay our heads that evening, we set off on what should have been a quick nocturnal automobile-encased jaunt to Nigl. Weingut Martin Nigl lies a little north of the town of Krems, up the winding road that follows the pathway of one of the Danube’s many tributaries, the Kirchengase. When we finally reached our destination (after a little misnavigation due to construction on our proposed route) it was solace indeed to find that Hotel Nigl was quite stylishly and minimally (in a good way) appointed. After settling into our individually designed rooms we decided to reconvene in the stark, and yet welcoming, communal area of this lovely boutique hotel for a quick nightcap of Nigl’s 2006 Eichberg Vineyard Zweigelt… which turned out to be a spicy little number with pronounced oak maturation: cinnamon, cloves (eugenol), cherries and furfurol notes. A little light entertainment was in order and so the three of us gathered around my laptop to watch some rather curious animation from the 1930’s called “Hidden Treasure.” Needless to say there was much belly-located laughter before all three of us unilaterally decided to eventually call it a night.Nigl Room

To say that I slept like a baby would be an understatement of the highest order… and just in case you were wondering, by that I do not mean that I cried all night and wet the bed. In that most comfortable of beds I had the soundest sleep I have had in recent memory. Actually, I’m sure that evening/morning I was dreaming of the proverbial “dugs wi bunnets” (Translation from Auld Scots: “Dogs wearing hats”), an expression used by my late Scottish Grandfather when describing a deep sleep accompanied by wild dreams usually after consuming too much cheese… and that evening I had hit the cheese course rather indulgently. Zzzzzzzzz…

Nigl ViewWaking at Hotel Nigl was quite the experience as I had left my window open to allow the night breeze in: I could hear a cacophony of birdsong from outside of my window. I stumbled sleepily towards the sound to be greeted by a view across Nigl’s lush meticulous vineyards… I felt strangely warm, nay, HOT… and then I realized that I was still wearing my clothes from the previous evening… Oh, the shame! Literally minutes later I joined Bernard and Chef for a wonderful breakfast (including one of the tastiest boiled eggs I have ever had the pleasure of breakfasting with!) in the courtyard at Nigl. The winery and hotel are both dominated by the ancient ruins of a castle on the Burg mountain directly behind the tasting room. It was quite an enthralling spectacle on this, the most brilliantly blue-skied day of our expedition.

After breakfast we went back to Nikolaihof to meet with the always-radiant Christine Saahs as she had promised to show us her vineyards after Chef and I had expressed some interest the night before. We got into Christine’s van and took it up some winding roads through the Westerly part of Krems to some beautiful vineyards built into the side of the hills amongst steep stone terracing. As we stood on one of these terraces, facing south, overlooking the Danube, a patchwork of vineyards between us and the river, Nikolaihof VinesChristine asked the three of us if we could identify her Nikolaihof vineyards. Chef, Bernard and I spent some time coming up with our guesses, studying the individual plots and remembering that the vineyards in question were farmed biodynamically. Despite the best of our efforts, not one of us correctly identified Christine’s vineyards. They were hidden a little to the West of where we were positioned and they certainly looked nothing like any of the surrounding plots (see picture to the right). The plants that were allowed to grow in between the rows of vines almost covered the vines themselves. It was quite a sight actually. Christine pointed out all of the impeccable vineyards around us (belonging to other growers) and explained that the only way that these vineyards looked this way was through the application of systemic herbicides, whereas her vineyards were quite clearly herbicide free. We had never viewed a biodynamic vineyard up-close before this and were all quite astonished. There is a small film of these vineyards here. After a fascinating tour around some of her vineyards on the southern bank of the Danube we waved goodbye to Christina, promising to pay her a visit at VieVinum in Vienna in the following days.

After a quick lunch in Wachau, we got back in our vehicle and headed back to the hamlet of Senftenberg where Winemaker Martin Nigl was to lead us through a superb tasting of his entire range of wines. Nigl’s vines are located quite a distance from the temperature-moderating Danube and so this results in both greater temperature fluctuations and much later ripening than the vines of the Wachau. Nigl’s most important vineyards are Piri, planted to Riesling and Gruner Veltliner, and Hochächer, planted to Riesling. Another very special site is the Kremsleiten, at the entrance to the Krems Valley, where the soil is mainly primary rock and planted to Riesling. Nigl’s wines from these sources are a marvel to behold with phenomenal concentration and mineral complexity. After tasting through Martin’s bottlings I began to understand why these wines have achieved such high praise both in Austria and internationally. I also finally came to understand what tasters were speaking of when they referred to “liquid rock” and this expression fitted Martin Nigl’s wines so very perfectly. All three of us spoke afterwards of how this had been an outstanding tasting experience.

After the Nigl tasting we had an impromptu date with our old friend Rudolf Rabl in the Langenlois, in the heart of the Kamptal wine region. We met at the Loisium, a destination that I would recommend wholeheartedly to anyone with even a passing interest in wine. The Loisium itself is actually quite difficult to describe. It is a wine-museum of sorts, a wine museum cum psychedelic art installation… and mightily Loisium 2entertaining it is too (Bernard and myself spent the afternoon dreaming of throwing a party in the catacombs there). A great deal of the museum itself is actually underground, beneath the vineyards of the Kamptal. The only part of the Loisium visible from the ground is the Visitor Centre, Wine Bar and Gift Shop, constructed entirely of the substances that house wine at the various stages of its life: steel, glass, concrete and oak. A very clever architectural concept indeed. Once one collects one’s tickets here it is a brief walk through the vineyards to the entrance to the Loisium proper. The subterranean sequences of the Loisium are quite enchanting and at times rather creepy and scary. Don’t let this put you off though. I won’t go into too much detail about the Museum itself for fear of spoiling the surprises that lie within, but I will say that the three of us were utterly speechless upon many an occasion that afternoon in the tunnels below the vineyards of Kamptal. Let’s just say that it is very much a multi-sensory experience. For more info see here. We were hoping to have some time to taste with Rudi at the Rabl property but a previous engagement with an old acquaintance in Vienna was beckoning. We promised to meet up with Rudi in Vienna over the coming days and said goodbye to the magnificent Loisium, on the road back to Vienna. After a painless journey back to Vienna we found ourselves stuck in traffic, running out of gas and with no idea where we should be going to hand back our rental car. Eventually we solved our quandary and picked up my old friend Eva in what had to have been the most olfactory challenging taxi cab in the entire city. We made a brief stop at our hotel and then the four of us ventured out into the Naschmarkt for a bite to eat and a couple of local beers.
Vienna is an amazing city to wander around at night. Due to some strange local bylaw the many restaurants and bars of the Naschmarkt are Naschmarkt Stallforced to close reasonably early and so wefound ourselves wandering the beautiful streets of Vienna’s 1st District, taking in the famous cathedral of St. Stephen, or “The Blue Cathedral” as it is known by many. Taking full advantage of thecity’s “open vessel” laws it was a pleasure to tour the city carrying a can of one of Austria’s better beers with nary an odd look from a Police Officer, something that took quite a bit of getting used to. After parting ways with Eva we stumbled upon one of our favourite spots in Vienna. Right behind the Viennese Opera House lies a small free-standing store that sells all manner of sausages, beer, and wines. We discovered that at the tables of this tiny establishment one meets all manner of people, from musicians and performers from the opera, through bunny-eared gaggles of pretty young women, to urban, moneyed sophisticates (or “schickimicki”) in need of a bratwurst and Gösser beer fix. I think that we stayed there, chatting with all and sundry, for nigh on 4 hours, not something that I can ever imagine doing at a hot dog vendor’s cart in Toronto. That night I realized I had found my favourite spot in Vienna…

Best hotdog stand in the world

Best hotdog stand in the world

At long last I have found some time to put pen to paper (or rather fingertips to keyboard) to compose the final chapter in the saga that was our glorious trip to Austria some months back. The concluding part of our story deals with our days spent in Vienna attending the superb VieVinum wine conference:

After a rather late night of Austrian beer and a smorgasbord of sausages at our favourite Viennese Hot Dog stand, our group awoke surprisingly early to attend the opening of the VieVinum conference. VieVinum is held in the magnificent Schloss Schönbrunn Palace located in the very centre of Vienna and less than 15 minutes walk from our hotel. As soon as we entered the conference it became immediately apparent that a great deal of time and effort had gone into the organization of such a grand tasting of the wines of Austria. After a brief reconnaissance in order to get my bearings (and a quick podcast interview with our good friend Winemaker Rudi Rabl) I decided to get stuck into the very serious business of tasting. I was most happy to see that the entire event had been organized regionally so that one could focus on specific Austrian regions and gain a much better understanding of them.

Bernard Stadlmann and his Father

Bernard Stadlmann and his Father

I spent the majority of my first day there tasting almost exclusively the wines of the Thermenregion and the highlight of my day was the opportunity to spend quite some time interviewing and in depth tasting with Winemaker Bernard Stadlmann of Weingut Stadlmann, one of my very favourite Thermenregion producers. It was quite amazing to see the manner in which Bernard’s wines had evolved over the space of 6 months or so since I last tasted them. His outstanding 2006 “Mandel-Höh” and “Igeln” Zierfandlers and “Tagelsteiner” Rotgipfler had developed into two of the most complex and interesting aromatic whites I had ever experienced. Upon my original tasting of his “Hôfen” Weisser Burgunder (Pinot Blanc) I had erroneously dismissed the bottling as being way too neutral for my palate. Over the months Bernard’s Weisser Burgunder had developed to such a degree that I would not even have identified it as the same wine. Upon my return to Toronto I immediately made sure that I could secure a shipment of this wine that I had previously rejected. Bernard and I mused upon the problem that so often so many of his wines are consumed way too early. This is a great pity as even over the space of 6 months the wines had matured and really come into their own. I strongly recommend you track down some of these amazing wines as I can assure you that you will not be disappointed. Unfortunately I think that we have almost sold out of our allocation at Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar.

Our group in front of the Hapsberg palace

Our group in front of the Hapsberg palace

The following days were very busy indeed, what with all of these fascinating wines to taste and a number of podcast interviews that I conducted with all manner of Austrian Winemakers. Willi Klinger and his folks had also arranged some great events in the evenings (see the following paragraphs for details), and so our weekend in Vienna really was non-stop.

"Have you ever been punched in the face Drummond?"

"Have you ever been punched in the face Drummond?"

Another highlight of our final weekend in Vienna was a marvelous Austrian Wine Party thrown in a beautiful pavilionVieVinum in a downtown park. It was a balmy Vienna evening and so we found a wonderful table outside where we proceeded to taste a plethora of wines accompanied by a buffet offering many takes on traditional Austrian cuisine. Once again we got together with the exuberant Kamptal Winemaker Rudi Rabl and a very entertaining evening was had by all. Later in the evening Willi Klinger of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board was presenting the prize for a competition that we had all entered earlier, the prize being a very special Euro 2008 soccer ball. As luck would have it our friend Rudi Rabl won the grand prize and then dedicated it to Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar! All of us went up to accept the award and I was given the honour of kissing the 2008 Austrian “Cheese Queen” (who some local told me she had won by eating more cheese than any of the other nominees)… Quite the experience I can tell you…

I'm not quite sure what is happening here...

I'm not quite sure what is happening here...

Seeing as all this work and no play makes Jamie an extremely dull boy, my mind turned to making sure that we all had the chance to experience a taste of the famous nightlife of the grand city of Vienna. My old pal Sal Principato from New York City had put me in touch with Felix Fuchs, a friend of his and one of Vienna’s top music promoters. As chance would have it Felix was putting on a favourite DJ of mine that very night, none other than Maurice Fulton of DFA and Mu fame. Felix had also been so kind as to put our entire group on the nightclub’s guestlist which was quite a wonderful surprise. So off we set, into the warm Vienna night, in search of what turned out to be the most elusive of clubs, located in an abandoned subway station. So “underground” was the venue (literally) that we had a great deal of trouble trying to locate it. At one point we found ourselves walking through an incredibly dark and desolate park near Vienna’s famous Third Man wheel with many a ne’er-do-well approaching us. The lovely Marlise, Sommelier at Crush Wine Bar, Toronto, seemed particularly spooked by the shady neighborhood that we were forced to traverse on our way to this particular club, holding her purse so very close to her body and making sure Bernard, Chef and I were keeping an eye on her at every moment. Eventually we found ourselves in the correct location and our entire group had the proverbial whale of a time getting down to the deep, dark and gloriously twisted disco of Mr. Fulton (to see more, click here). Let’s just say that we all got back to our hotels very, very late that Sunday morning.

No more alcohol... I beg of you!

No more alcohol... I beg of you!

For the final evening of VieVinum there were a variety of options for us to choose from. A hands-on Biodynamic workshop in Kamptal seemed to be our plan of action until the heavens opened and we witnessed some of the heaviest rainfall I have ever been utterly drenched by. Outside the Habsberg Palace the conference attendees were scrambling for cover from the incessant deluge. Flash decisions were being made by minds a little foggy from the day’s tastings. Chef, Bernard and Marlise decided to stay in Vienna and escape the torrential precipitation by having dinner in a traditional Viennese restaurant. I, on the other hand, soldiered on through the storm and found myself on a coach on the way to what had been described as a Viennese Winemaker’s Vineyard Party… something that sounded most appealing to my ginger brain if it were not for the inclement weather. And what weather it was! The rain was coming down at such a rate the streets were easily a foot deep in water. Our coach driver was not a happy man at all… and then the hail began. Ice pellets the size of golf balls began pounding the roof of the coach, creating an almighty crescendo of frozen impacts. Some of the more senior members of our little coach party started to pray… and looking back I can understand why. I tried to call my girlfriend back in Toronto, just in case this really was The End… it was to no avail though as the storm appeared to have taken out Vienna’s wireless system. It was all too much for our poor terrified coach driver, who put the vehicle in speedy reverse and proceeded to initiate what felt like a gargantuan coach-sized handbrake turn. He had refused to take us any further (for fear of his life perhaps?) and fifteen minutes later ended up dropping a coachload of quite frankly terrified winos back outside the Habsbergian Palace. What to do? I couldn’t even get in touch with Chef, Bernard and Marlise! And I was soaked to the skin…

A rather soggy party in the vineyard

A rather soggy party in the vineyard

As always, The Austrian Wine Marketing Board, much like the Cylons in Battlestar Galactica, had a plan… and a secondary one also. Thank goodness for Willi Klinger and his people as they seemed to have a solution for everything. They organized another coach to transport us there, this time with a driver with nerves of steel I supposed. Yay! We were finally on our way to a Viennese Winemaker’s Vineyard Party… or were we?

After around perhaps half an hour of heading up into the outskirts of Vienna, our second driver lost his bottle too and decided that he couldn’t take the sizable coach any further uphill on the “treacherous” small roads that would take us to the site of the mysterious vineyard party. I was suddenly reminded of being about 20 years old attending M25 Orbital raves just outside of London in around 1990, driving around narrow country lanes in buses, trying to find out where the secret destination of the party was…

So there we were… a motley crew of around 12 of us brave souls who had chosen to get off the coach andVieVinum somehow make our own way to this elusive shindig, standing in a rather quaint village square attempting to coerce very suspicious rural taxi drivers to take us further out into the rapidly encroaching night. I was now so utterly determined to make a night of it that I hustled a random four of us (a bubbly young Sommelier, the grumpiest Scandinavian wine journalist ever and his utterly charming wife) into the smallest taxi cab I have ever travelled within (it was almost like a Smart Car) and we were whisked away to the entrance of the vineyards where this mythical party was to be taking place.

It rained torrentially

It rained torrentially

Now the idea of a lovely wine party in a beautiful vineyard overlooking the picturesque city of Vienna as the summer sun set brings wonderful ../images to mind doesn’t it? But remember all of that rain that I had been telling you of? Well, the vineyards had been transformed into something akin to the muddy aftermath of the battle of the Somme or one of those years when it decides to rain heavily at the Glastonbury Festival. I have to admit that despite the fact I was clad in white sneakers myself, I did take some kind of perverse pleasure in observing the most proper of cocktail dress-attired Austrian ladies attempt to negotiate the quagmire. Many of them eventually became fed up of trying to traverse the muddy pathway in stiletto heels and were forced to go barefoot through the muck. Me? I was sneaky, finding an alternate route to the party by walking up between different rows of vines from the proposed “red carpet” entrance. The party itself was an absolute hoot. We were all given plastic rain capes to protect us from the downpour as we enjoyed the many excellent wines on offer. It was quite something to behold, looking down upon the city of Vienna being struck again and again by lightning whilst sipping on a glass of beautifully balanced Gruner Veltliner. An experience that I am sure I will never forget. It was the perfect end to my VieVinum weekend.

With Alfred Zahel

With Alfred Zahel

On a closing note, on my final day in Austria I was picked up by our good friend Alfred Zahel of Vienna Winery Zahel, a perennial favourite at Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar. Alfred was so gracious and hospitable, driving me out to his family’s vineyards outside of Vienna. After a little tour of various vineyard sites we drove to Zahel’s small winery and Alfred showed me around the operation that he has with his brother there. I was particularly impressed with Zahel’s Heuriger or wine garden restaurant as I would love to have had enough time to sit in the Heuriger, tasting Alfred and his brother’s wines and sampling his wife’s regional cuisine. I promised Alfred (and myself) “Next time!”

My trip to Austria was certainly an eye-opener and I can honestly say that VieVinum was the most well organized grand tasting/conference that I have ever attended. I cannot wait to return in the very near future. I had been a huge fan of Austrian wines for many years previously, but this trip had shown me the amazing range of wines produced within this fine country. The general standard of quality throughout was quite astonishing and you can be sure to see many, many more wines from Austria on our lists at Jamie Kennedy in the near future. Our thanks to the wonderful Birgitta Samavarchian of the Austrian Trade Commission and the magnificent Willi Klinger of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board for organizing the most amazing of wine experiences for our entire group.

On the way to an Austrian wine party in Vienna

Strike a pose - On the way to an Austrian wine party in Vienna

Listen to Episode 29, part one of my Austrian tour here.

Running Time: 30:26 | File size: 36.2MB

Listen to Episode 30, part two of my Austrian tour here.

Running Time: 24:00 | File size: 23.4MB

You can either stream it through the built-in Flash player or

Right-click and “Save Link As” if you’d like to save it to your hard drive…

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