In the northeastern corner of Austria, between the Danube river and the Czech border, lies the Weinviertel. Host to wildly varied soils, diverse microclimates, and a deeply-rooted tradition of viticulture, this region has stories to tell, and wine to share. Long dismissed as a bastion of cheap, mass-produced wines, an influx of dedicated, quality-minded vintners has been slowly reshaping the area’s image, and its wines, proving that the Weinvertel can easily hold its own with the stars of Austria’s high-quality wine industry.
Hot and Cold
With over 13,000 hectares under vine, the Weinviertel, literally, “Wine Quarter,” is by far the largest wine-growing region in Lower Austria, claiming nearly half of all vineyard plantings in the area. With such a vast tract of real estate, it’s no surprise that the climate shows considerable variation, but the Weinviertel can generally be divided into two main sections: east and west. While the eastern section is dominated by the hotter Pannonian climate, the western half benefits from the tempering influence of the neighboring Waldviertel forest, which provides much cooler nights. The wide diurnal temperature swings in the west are a key factor in the region’s ability to produce complex, balanced wines, as the high daytime temperature promotes sugar development while lower nighttime temperatures help to preserve acidity.
Ranging from deep löss to limestone to rocky conglomerate gravel, the soils of the Weinviertel are the true test of a vintner’s skill. The ability to match a specific variety with its optimal soil is something that comes only with experience. The star of the region is, of course, Austria’s native Grüner Veltliner, with nearly half of Weinviertel vineyards dedicated to the variety. Grüner is thought to have originated here, so it comes as no surprise that it thrives in the area’s dominant löss soils. Grüner’s spicy, dry character is expressed so well in the regional wines that the Weinviertel was awarded Austria’s first ever DAC classification in 2002. This, paired with a new generation of caring, highly skilled winemakers, has helped to shift the area’s focus and reputation toward high-quality wines with a deep sense of place.
Matching variety to soil types doesn’t stop there. Diverse plantings of varieties such as Welschriesling and Pinot Blanc (Weissburgunder), along with the dizzying array of co-planted vines that make up the traditional field blend, Gemischter Satz, need proper vineyard composition as well. For instance, the mixed nature of Gemischter Satz loves a gravelly conglomerate soil, which lends the wine an elegant minerality. In more recent years, there has been interest in revitalizing Riesling plantings in the district, an effort for which Ingrid Groiss is a champion. Considered a difficult variety to farm, the new generation of winzerin have observed that sites with pebbly, chalky limestone soils and favorable diurnal shifts are able to to bring out Riesling’s great structure as well as its flinty salinity and intense aromas. Through years of experience, talented vintners of the Weinviertel like Ingrid Groiss are able to take terroir expression to new heights.
“Place” in a Bottle
While terroir is certainly a big piece of the Weinviertel puzzle, it is the human element that ties it all together and puts the magic in the bottle. That’s where our friend Ingrid Groiss comes in. Born in the tiny Weinviertel hamlet of Breitenwaida, Ingrid was not always keen on the idea of becoming a winemaker, and pursued other interests in her youth. But she says winemaking was always “in her blood,” and she eventually found herself back at home, tending the family vines and perfecting her craft in the cellar. It was not a decision she made lightly, however. “When you decide to take over the family business, it’s a decision for life,” she says, “because you cannot take your vines in your luggage and move to another place. You have responsibility.”
Ingrid’s decision to take the helm of the family business meant she had to develop her own style, while staying true to previous generations’ traditions. Her approach is decidedly non-interventionist; she prefers to let each of her wines express terroir in its own special way. “In the cellar, it’s not so important to use a lot of technique,” she tells us. “We try to preserve the quality that we harvest, to get the expression of the grapes and the character of the soil into the bottle.”
2016 Grüner Veltliner Weinviertel DAC
Weingut Ingrid Groiss
Variety: 100% Grüner Veltliner
Vineyard: Ferruginous and calcareous löss
Analysis: Alcohol: 13.0%; Acid: 6.2 g/L; Sugar: 3.9 g/L
2016 Gemischter Satz Braitenpuechtorff
Weingut Ingrid Groiss
Varieties: Chardonnay, Frühroter Veltliner, Grauburgunder, Grauer Vöslauer, Grüner Veltliner, Hietl Rote, Müller Thurgau, Neuberger, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Roter Veltliner, Rotgipfler, Sämling, Silberweisse, Welchriesling, Wiesse Vöslauer, Zierfandler
Vineyard: Calcareous Conglomerate
Analysis: Alcohol: 12.5%; Acid: 6.3 g/L; Sugar: 3.2 g/L
2016 Riesling “Auf der Henne” Reserve
Weingut Ingrid Groiss
Vineyard: Single Vineyard “Auf der Henne,” White Limestone Gravel
Variety: 100% Riesling
Analysis: Alcohol: 14.0%; Acid: 7.1 g/L; Sugar: 4.7 g/L
In an area with so many vineyards and winemakers, it’s hard to stand out, but that doesn’t bother Ingrid. Whether she’s crafting a shiny DAC Grüner, or tending her grandmother’s plot of 17 varieties for Gemischter Satz, she is always looking for a way to express the character of her home. Ingrid knows her terroir, and has mastered it. In doing her part to show the potential of the Weinviertel, Ingrid sees herself as party to a larger movement, one that hopes to shine a light on the gorgeous wines the area can produce. “My place in the middle of nowhere is actually the best place to be in life, surrounded by nature, nothing around. It’s a quite meditative and strong place.” At its core, wine is about a sense of place, and Ingrid has certainly found hers in the Weinviertel.