The bond between farmers and their land is as old as agriculture itself. This month, we wanted to explore that relationship as it applies to viticulture. From Austria to Arizona, vintners strive to make wines that faithfully reflect their geographic origin. This creates a very special relationship between the farmer and his land, and fosters a strong sense of community among those that make a living from their vines. Take a walk in the vineyards with us as we look at how the land shapes a winemaking community.
A Long History
Few events have shaped modern human existence more than the advent of agriculture. The ability to settle in one place and feed a population reliably was nothing short of a revolution in our history. Hunters became farmers, spears became plows, and tribes became communities. Everything we take for granted in modern society, wine included, has its roots in agriculture.
At the heart of any agricultural enterprise is site selection. Farmers learned early on that geography determines the quality of a given crop, so naturally, early farmers tended to congregate in fertile river valleys and other areas conducive to growing food. Settlements formed around these fertile areas, leading eventually to cities and modern civilization. When wine production began some 2000 years later in present-day Georgia, humanity had the fundamentals of agriculture figured out, and began to focus on the finer things in life. For thousands of years, wine has occupied a special place in our civilization, serving as everything from a pleasurable escape to a central part of many religious ceremonies. Behind it all, a community of winemakers has been constantly improving the craft.
Wine Without Borders
On the banks of the Danube, the famed Pfaffenberg vineyard site is one of the jewels of the Kremstal. Its steep terraces of gneiss and löss have been home to vines for centuries, and are geographically more similar to the terroir of the neighboring Wachau. Indeed, one of the Wachau’s most well-known vintners, Emmerich Knoll III, farms one of his family’s oldest plots in the Pfaffenberg. It’s an interesting case which illustrates how terroir considerations prevail over geopolitical constructs. The soil and climate conditions that Knoll wants extend beyond the somewhat arbitrary boundaries of his appellation, so he farms beyond those boundaries.
The idea of the land fostering community is also evident in the sharing of vineyard sites by different wineries. Knoll is not the only winery to farm the Pfaffenberg–Stift Göttweig has farmed a plot in the vineyard since 2015. This type of arrangement is typical in the Danube valley, With vineyard sites including Kreutles, Silberbichl, and Gottschelle subject to similar sharing by wineries such as Malat, Stift Göttweig, and Peter Veyder-Malberg.
Variety: 100% Riesling
Vineyard: Single Vineyard “Pfaffenberg,” Gneiss, Löss
Analysis: Alcohol: 13.5%, Acid: 6.9 g/L, Sugar: 3.8 g/L
Bonding in the Desert
Planting vineyards in the desert is not a solo operation. Harsh climactic conditions may make the Arizona wine industry seem like an impossibility, but a select few vintners saw potential in the land, and through teamwork, perseverance, and ingenuity, they have overcome the challenges of the desert and formed a thriving community of winemakers.
Wineries like Callaghan Vineyards, Dos Cabezas WineWorks, and Sand-Reckoner Vineyards have chosen the high desert of southeastern Arizona for its unique terroir, and with careful variety selection and tireless work, manage to craft expressive, thoughtful wines that, above all, reflect a sense of their origin. There is a pointed sense of camaraderie evident in the Arizona wine industry, a bond shared by these hardy souls growing grapes in the arid mountains. The connection to their land, along with a fierce dedication to producing quality wine from it, has led area vintners to cement their relationship by founding the Arizona Vignerons Alliance, an organization dedicated to solidifying a tight set of quality standards to ensure that Arizona wines remain faithful to their origin. Through certification panels and extensive data collection, the AVA has made significant headway in defining Arizona wine.
Variety: 100% Mourvedre
Vineyard: Sonoita Sandy Loam
Analysis: Alcohol: 14.6%, Acid: 6.2 g/L, Dry
At this year’s International Pinot Noir Celebration, winemakers from around the world gathered in McMinnville, Oregon to learn about, taste, and celebrate Pinot Noir. Internationally beloved for its ability to express the characteristics of the land in which it was farmed, perhaps no other grape has created community such as Pinot Noir. At this year’s celebration, for the first time ever, a seminar dedicated to Austrian Pinot Noir was held. Moderated by our very own Sariya Jarasviroj Brown, and including Austrian Pinot Noir luminaries, Hannes Reinisch of Familie Reinisch, Thomas Klinger of Weingut Brundlmayer, and Fritz Wieninger of Weingut Wieninger and Hajszan Neumann, were delighted to share their knowledge on what makes Austrian Pinot Noir so exceptional. Very well attended by all, especially international winemakers from around the globe, the discussion centered on the different styles of Pinot produced in Austria, and the unique qualities of Austrian Pinot in general.
Pinot Noir has been cultivated in Austria since the 12th century, having been brought to the area from Burgundy by Cistercian monks. Pinot thrives in many Austrian appellations like the Thermenregion, where the climate is similar to Burgundy, and it is especially transparent to soils and winemaking techniques. The typically small, family-run wineries in Austria, with their focus on things like soil health, handwork, and harmony with nature, are especially well-suited to growing such a special variety, and Pinot Noir from wineries such as Familie Reinisch are a wonderful example of both the variety and the skill of Austrian vintners.
Variety: 100% Pinot Noir
Vineyard: Single Vineyard “Holzspur,” Alluvial Land, Limestone
Analysis: Alcohol: 13.5%, Acid: 5.9 g/L, Sugar: 1.0 g/L
Expressing a Sense of Place
Everything comes from the land: food, wine, the roots of civilizaton. Farmers were the first to realize this and use it to great effect, and in doing so, they gave rise to the idea of community–a group of people with shared interests and responsibilities working toward a common goal. In the wine world specifically, a community can take any number of forms: desert pioneers, challenging nature with their wits; Danube vintners, working across borders to express their vision of quality, or even an international community, smitten with a grape variety so transparent to terroir that it wows wine lovers the world over. The common thread tying these communities together is the farmer, and their ability to grow magic in dirt.