The Knoll Tradition
Third generation Emmerich Knoll III, the leading spokesperson for the Wachau region, farms the family’s 15 hectares of land and crafts wines that clearly express the Wachau (and Kremstal) terroir where some of Austria’s most famous vineyards live. This family run winery is a treasure that has been estate owned and operated for over three generations. A member of “Vinea Wachau Nobilis Districtus,” an association of Wachau winemakers who follow strict quality control rules, the Knoll Winery upholds stringent farming and winemaking standards that vintage after vintage propel their wines to the top of restaurant, collector and critics’ lists. While in the Wachau, one can also dine at the family’s acclaimed, 400 year old restaurant, Loibnerhof Familie Knoll.
Emmerich Knoll doesn’t like overpowered wines. Tight, concentrated and balanced wines, which express the terroir of their sites is the credo of the estate. Knoll’s wines are generally regarded as late developers with tremendous aging potential, the best of which will keep for decades.
With rich history and favorable climate, the Wachau is known as one of the greatest terriors in Austria. Although the region is less than 15 miles long, the unique landscape and vineyards make it renown. Located a short hour’s drive northwest of Vienna the Wachau is famous for the unique steep stone terraced vineyards rising up on the North side or “left bank” of the Danube River, as it flows West to East.
With the winds from the western Atlantic Ocean and the warm inland air currents from the eastern Pannonian basin, the Wachau has two major climatic influences. Dependent on the incline, soil terrain, exposure to the sun, dry stonewalls and cliffsides, each terraced vineyard develops its own exclusive microclimate. The terraced soils contain so called Urgestein, or primary rock/primordial stone, which can be classified as a form of gneiss or granite that is layered in structure. The influences of the Danube River counters the effects of the harsh winters and hot, dry summers. During the most important months prior to harvest, the cool evening breezes from the north increase the extremes in temperature from day to night, strengthening the flavors of the grapes.
In December of 2000, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognized the Wachau on its List of World Heritage Sites for its historical architecture and agriculture. A notable historical site is the Dürnstein Castle, where Duke Leopold of Austria held King Richard the Lion Heart of England captive after the Third Crusade of 1189-1192. The sophisticated architecture of the Wachau’s earliest monasteries, i.e. Göttweig Abbey and Melk Abbey, compliment the agriculture cultivated by the famous terraced vineyards.
The Pfaffenberg, “An-Other” Wachau
By all counts Emmerich Knoll’s Pfaffenberg vineyard should be considered a Wachau site because of its geologic characteristics rather than political borders.
Before the Vinea Wachau was formed, the city of Krems could be considered the capital of the Wachau. Krems sits next to the town of Stein, which marks the present-day limit between the Wachau and the Kremstal. The vineyards of Krems and Stein on the “left bank” seem to belong to the Wachau with their characteristic steep Urgestein terraces that run in to the Danube, however, they are technically considered part of the Kremstal. Why?! Growers in the Wachau prior to the Vinea Wachau ruling were cautious of the powerful merchant presence in Krems and were aware of the dramatic differences in sun exposure and soil composition on the “right bank” of the river, where the majority of the Kremstal lay. They wanted the Wachau’s focus on these Urgestein terraces so they petitioned Krems, including the geologically similar Pfaffenberg vineyard out of what we now consider the Wachau.
The arbitrary socio-political line separating the two appellations becomes apparent upon visiting the Pfaffenberg site in the Kremstal and the Loibenberg site in the Wachau. (Check out the video) The Pfaffenberg is made up of primary rock, or gneiss, granite and schist with a top layer of loess, and is known for producing softer, open wines. The Loibenberg vineyard is made up of gneiss and produces structured, spicy wines. The two vineyards produce markedly different wines but the main terrior characteristics of gneiss/Urgestein and steep terracing along with the fact that the two vineyards are on the same slope exemplify more similarities than differences. In this way the Pfaffenberg can be considered “An-Other” Wachau.
Take a video tour of the Pfaffenberg with Emmerich
Heaven is St. Urban on a Label
Although there have been whimsical, and incorrect, descriptions of the “exploding Jesus” label on Knoll wines, the distinct picture actually illustrates St. Urban, the patron saint of winemakers and vineyards. The label image originates from a famous painting by notable Austrian artist Siegfried Stoitzner, which hangs in the Knoll Family Restaurant the Loibnerhof.
Pursuant to the Vinea Wachau, there are three levels of wine classifications represented on the label: Smaragd, Federspiel, and Steinfeder. Smaragd is a category for the highest level and most valuable wines of the Wachau; it was first used for the vintage year 1986. With minimum alcoholic volumes and must weights of 12.5% and 18.2°KMW respectively (KMW, or “Klosterneuburger Mostwaage,” is a unit, which defines the amount of natural sugar in wine must). Federspiel is the category of wines with a must weight of 17°KMW and an alcohol level between 11.5% and 12.5%. (These wines are without exception classically dry fermented and excel with their fruity character and powerful delicacy.) Steinfeder is the lightest category with a minimum must weight of 15° KMW and a maximum of 11.5% alcohol, though it is not exported by Knoll.
With the Pfaffenberg vineyard outside of the Wachau line, Knoll labels his wine according to the traditional German classification of Kabinett and Spätlese, or Selection. Kabinett wines are light and fresh and can be compared to the Wachau’s Federspiel classification. Selection wines are made from grapes that were left on the vine a little longer resulting in a more powerful wine than a Kabinett. These wines can be compared to a Smaragd classification in the Wachau.
Ried Pfaffenberg Steiner Riesling Selection
annual production: 917 cases
varietal breakdown: 100% Riesling
vineyard: gneiss based primary rock, partly top soil of löss; vine age: 5 to 50 years, average 20 years; elevation: 280-350m
vinification: yeast: cultured and natural; fermentation: 10 – 20 days, 23 – 26 degrees C
analysis: alcohol 14,0 %; acidity 5,6 g/l; sugar 6,9 g/l