The Neusiedlersee region has proven fertile ground for the Schwarz family’s organic winemaking

Perception often begins with images: Pristine Alpine meadows and the scent of Edelweiss are enough to conjure up an all-natural picture of farming in Austria. So it is with Austrian wine, whose producers have long prided themselves in balancing the realities of economics with the preservation of Mother Nature.

Still, as is with most of the world’s mature wine growing regions, the reality is not so clear-cut.

A recent wave of organic growers are raising the bar, demanding a more intuitive, sustainable and “natural” way of producing wine, and powering a fast-growing trend in organic viticulture in Austria that has doubled since 2008.

In Austria, organic wine is made from grapes grown without the use of chemicals, particularly pesticides and herbicides. To keep out unwanted weeds and bugs, growers work more closely with nature incorporating non-invasive techniques to allow the environment to self-regulate its own ecosystem.

Less clear is what happens after the grapes have been harvested. The law in Austria for organic wines still allows for the addition of some sulfur, as in conventional wine making, plus a number of other aggressive processes. So all that work in the vineyard can be stripped away, but still be labeled Bio Wein.

Thomas Schwarz, from the superb Weingut Kloster am Spitz in Purbach, converted the family estate from conventional to organic in 2005. This had much to do with the birth of his first child, which raised the philosophical question of what he would leave behind. He felt he was watching the family vineyard spiral into a morass of chemical pest controls.

He decided on a more minimalistic, hands-off approach to wine making, preferring natural fermentation and longer times with skin contact, little to no fining (the use of compounds to clarify the wine), and especially with his red wines, aging in large barrels for the wine to
stabilize naturally.

The answers, he believes, are in the vines and their products, and he is there as a custodian to the process, to manage but not to interfere with the wine’s development. “Great wines,” he says, “should be honest wines.”

What does this mean for consumers?

First, that the vineyard is a healthier organism, managed in harmony with its needs. Second, that the wine making has been done in a less aggressive manner and has less residual sulfites than traditional wine.

In terms of taste, well, that jury is still out as to how this way of growing influences the resultant wine. My experience suggests that wines produced with nature in mind have a certain “aliveness.” They are more closely in tune with the fruit’s source than conventional wines, which tend to have a generic fruitiness found in wines from anywhere.

One caution: Don’t judges a wine by its organic label. Under current regulations, you really need to know your producer to ensure that the organic production process is truly “vine to bottle”.

 

Weingut Kloster am Spitz
Waldsiedlung 2
7083 Purbach am Neusiedler See
+43 2683 5519