Our final day in Austria

Our final day took us to Kamptal, an hour or so from Vienna and just north of the Danube. This is famous wine country, along with neighbours Kremstal and Wachau it is home to the best Grüner Veltliners and Rieslings in Austria.

Our first visit was to Schloss Gobelsburg.  A Cistercian abbey built on the site of a fortified castle, this historic site has made wine since the the Middle Ages.  Peter Schuhberger greeted us in courtyard. His Daughter Eva married Christian Moosbrugger who in 1996 took on a long term lease on the Schloss along with the renowned Bründlmayer family.

Peter has found a new career as a tour guide (his first was an international sales role in IBM). and he was full of information. Not just about winemaking, we leaned a lot about the history of the region, and the history of Peter.  A true raconteur, missed his calling as an after dinner speaker!  

Peter was keen to describe the influences including the Celts, prior to the Cistercians, and the prisoners of war from Burgundy, on winemaking. A particularly charismatic abbot after the Second World War ensured the abbey’s winery had a firm commercial footing, introducing Pinot Noir for top quality red wine, and developing the Gobelsberger Messwein (altar wine) light style very popular in Austria.

The estate owns plots in some of the region’s most prestigious vineyards, and after we had toured the winery and extensive cellars we looked out to the slopes of Heiligenstein and Grub.

We looked at the view from a grassy terrace under which we had walked through the cellars, which seemed to go on for miles.  The stainless steel tanks had been adapted to fit the ancient arches, there were some incredibly old barrels, and some bottles that were so old they were completely obscured by black mould (though when Peter asked if we would like to try an older vintage we quickly overcame our squeamishness).

The cellars ended at a subterranean courtyard, built in the Cistercian style, whose roof was effectively a skylight in the lawn above.

Our tasting, in the exquisitely restored stucco ‘court room’ showed that the quality of our surroundings was equalled  by the wines.

We started with three Rieslings, the first a lighter village wine, a the second (2020 Ried Gaisberg) much more complex with hints of honey and smoke, the third (2015 Ried Heiligenstein in magnum) even more complex with layers of fruit, minerality and petrol.

Then two sparkling wines, both Méthode Traditionelle, a Blanc de Blancs and a Brut Reserve, the first pretty and floral, the second more yeasty.

We finished with a super Grüner Veltliner, the Ried Grub 2020, which was rich in colour with flavours of yellow peach and spicy white pepper.

Tim was very keen to chivvy us along as Peter’s loquacious delivery meant we had over run somewhat. Luckily our next visit was very close, through the town of Langenlois, aboard our coach which today happened to be the team bus for the Saltzburg ice hockey team!

Our next visit could not have had a bigger contrast. The Nastl family have 12ha of vineyards, buying in grapes of high quality to supplement their own. Christian Nastl is the youthful winemaker, and he led us up the hill past the traditional houses each of which has a cellar ‘tube’ (as Christian described it and I can’t think of a better word) a going deep into the loess soil, where wine barrels were stored. The Nastls are the only commercial winery on the road now and they both make wine, export it, and run a Heuriger (an Austriana pub serving the family’s wine and cold food).

Christian took over winemaking in 2020 and his first job was to transform old processing room into a tasting room, which is at street level. From it we entered the  long cellar ‘tube’, where wooden barrels stored maturing wines. Christian’s Parents Gunter and Renate started a tradition of dedicating barrels to children, and Christian proudly showed us the one dedicated to his son, and those of his siblings.

We descended a level, past old bottles from 1975 (more mould), and the ascended to the top, effectively on the roof of the tasting room. From the yard we had views across Langenlois to Heiligenstein, and also to Steinmassl to the north.  It is here where grapes are delivered at harvest, and prepared to go into the press on the next level down, some destemmed, some as whole bunches for higher quality juice. The family and locals lend a hand at harvest, 90% is hand harvested, some machine harvesting is done on flatter land for simple wines.

Back at road level was the pneumatic press and storage. Next level down, the press wine runs into tanks after  clarifying overnight, and fermentation begins. During harvest it’s just Christian in the winery, which has been designed for one person to operate. Following fermentation the wine is drained off the ‘gross lees’ and left on the fine lees for several months in the inevitable stainless steel tanks (and some oaks barrels). 

The finished wine is taken to Langenlois for bottling, and the family’s labelling machine is also used by the neighbours – it takes a village to make a wine!

We descended the hill, enjoying the warm sunshine, and inside the heuriger we first tasted  a selection of their wines.  

Three Grüner Veltliners, another progression of complexity starting with a Langenlois village wine with a fresh peppery nose and creamy texture.  Then a Ried Kittmansberg 2021 which was richer and riper with a lovely  fresh finish.  And then a Ried Steinmassl 1999 (the mould literally wiped off before pouring) which was fabulous: tropical fruit, stewed Apple, but still great freshness and that peppery note.  

Our first Riesling was the 10-10-10, so called because of its ‘Germanic’ style, balancing acidity, alcohol and residual sugar in a Kabinett style (not a term used in Austria).  Also from Ried Steinmassl was the Riesling ‘Gigant’, so called because of its ripeness and power.  The oily texture and petrolly notes made us Rieslingheads very happy. 

We finished with a Zweigelt Merlot blend, demonstrating that even this far west (so much cooler than Burgenland where we had been on Thursday, with much more Alpine influence) reds can ripen beautifully, we enjoyed its fresh cherry fruit and soft tannins with our cold meats and salads that Christian and his family served us for lunch. Although this was definitely a lighter lunch compared to previous days, we were relieved that Tim put dinner back as bit!

We said some reluctant goodbyes to the Nastls, and tried some power napping on the bus back to Vienna. Our final night dinner was at the traditional Waldviertlerhof restaurant, a short walk from the hotel.  No asparagus!  But of course pork, and a crème brûlée of such richness that a sneaky ice cream on the way home was out of the question. Tim did a summing up address, that did indeed sum up how much we had enjoyed fabulous wine, hospitality and scenery over our four days, and some kind words of thanks were given.  And the good news was those heading home had a lie in in the morning!