On the Vine | Winter Work

Cellar, field and desk; March is a busy  time of year for winemakers

The cliché of cute country girls and boys, skirts and sleeves rolled up as they tread the grapes, may have finally been consigned to the bin of wine making lore, but there’s still plenty of romantic haze fogging the hard reality. Between the jolly harvesting of last year’s crop and sun-drenched boozing in picturesque vineyards is a chilly time of year, with unglamorous but important work for vintners.

Winemaking in Burgenland
Führmann inspecting this year’s vintage. // © picturedesk.com

Günther Führmann has been a winemaker for over 20 years in Weiden am See at the northern end of the Neusiedlersee, “Vienna’s bathtub”: Austria’s largest and shallowest lake, just a 50-minute drive from the city.  Typically for many winemakers in Burgenland, Führmann runs a Mischbetrieb, a mixed farm consisting of about half vineyards and half field crops.  “Spreads the risk,” he says pragmatically. “Farmers are at the mercy of the weather, especially when you’re bio,” or certified organic, which he does out of conviction. “Better for our countryside, better for my children.”

But he has weighed the business consequences carefully. Rule of thumb for organic: you harvest half the quantity, but get twice the price. You save some on expenses (no pesticides, herbicides or expensive fertilizers) but have to compensate in other ways – with time-consuming mechanical weeding and the rising cost of manure, which cattle farmers and stables once gave away. However, the conviction of doing good made the decision easy.

Too much paper

March is hard work both in cellar and field.  Last season’s white wine is ready for bottling and the embryonic red is starting to take shape. This is never-ending work, pumping from tank to tank to balance  the cuvées before moving them on to the oaken barrique casks.

Winemaking in Burgenland
Workers pruning the vines. // © picturedesk.com

Time is also running out in the vineyards: Last year’s long shoots have to be ruthlessly cut back before the first warmer days kickstart the sap flow.

Pruning is arduous work, but also a special moment of communion with the vines.  With intuition borne of experience, you can see the history of the stock at a glance, whether its state of health demands a close curative cut or a more generous soft pruning.  These are moments that make the relentless work cycle worthwhile.

And what doesn’t?  Papierkram! (paperwork).  “I have to report back to three different authorities, and with the organic, it’s now four – AgrarMarkt Austria, Federal Cellar Inspection, Finanzamt (The Austrian tax authority), and now Austria Bio Garantie.”  He pulls a face that says it all: Verdammte Bürokratie! (bloody bureaucracy!).

Protestant ethic

It’s a short ride to Gols, self-proclaimed as Austria’s largest wine village and a stubborn Protestant enclave in a Catholic landscape.  “Geschäftstüchtig” (good business acumen) commented Führmann dryly. His friend and colleague Michael Weiss is seriously into barrique-matured reds. No room for in-flight magazine cellar romanticism here: The wines are made in brightly-lit industrial shedding – temperature-controlled winter and summer for optimal conditions, rows of new oaken casks on individual roller trolleys as far as the eye can see – and not a speck of traditional black cellar mold.   But it is still human intuition that turns good grapes into great wine:  Weiss’s barrels come from France, Hungary and California – different oaks for different wines. So what’s the system? He grins mischievously: “No system, just my feeling.”  Sometimes the clichés just happen to be true.

Recommendations of the Day

Günther Führmann

Markt 26, 7121 Weiden am See

0664 123 88  96

Centurio cuvée 2015
A rich blend of the lakeside region’s classic red grapes, Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch & St. Laurent (organic) – €7.00

Grüner Veltliner Landwein

A simple, honest single grape white from the sandy hills of Burgenland – €4.00 per liter

Weingut Weiss

Volksfestgasse 12, 7122 Gols

02 173 21 23

Heideboden weiss
Six months in oak makes for a complex Pinot blanc with a 13.5% kick – €8.20

Blend vom Golser Hotter 2015
A subtle structure of Merlot and Blaufränkisch  – € 11.60

Simon Ballam
English, studied in NY and worked in London, Düsseldorf, NY, Fankfurt, Prague and Vienna. This covered stints in market research and the film industry, international advertising coordination and strategic planning. Currently business school lecturer and journalist.

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