It was a simple case of right place, right time. On the third day of the wines show, I ran into Matt Stinton of Hearth Restaurant and Terroir Wine Bar in NYC who just so happened to be going on a private tour of the Stadlman Vineyard with winemaker, Bernhard Stadlman, and to my delight they invited me along.
Here's a little background:
The Thermenregion consists of 42 winemaking communities and 700 winegrowers, currently planted on approximately 2,600 hectares of land. The vineyard’s range begins just outside of Vienna’s city limits and runs along a chain of hills known as the Eichkogel, the Anninger, the Pfaffstättner Kogel, the Badener Berg and the Sosser Lindkogel and ends just south of Baden.
Despite the region’s historical beginnings, winemakers of the region incorporate many modern day winemaking practices such as nature friendly vineyard care, limited production, exacting grape selection and careful vinification of the wines. These practices allow the wines of the Thermenregion to stand out with refinement and elegance, depth and complexity and to pair excellently with food.
The weather was unusually cold for May when we were there, but the Thermenregion is typically known for hot summers, dry autumns and cool winters. Vines are protected from excess moisture by the Anninger ridge and see a considerable amount of sunshine which all but keeps the grapes immune from mildew and rot.
Stadlman brought Matt and I through the vineyards before moving on to the winery and gave us an overview of the region. Originally, this area was submersed in the sea which accounts for the oyster shells that have been unearthed from the soil. This created the terroir for the region that imprints each grape with a distinct minerality.
The region is made up of a variety of soil types including two primary soils that are ideal for growing both red and white grape varietals. On the slopes of the hills the soils are made up of loam-rich clay, sandy loam and brown earth with a high shell limestone content. These are ideal conditions for some of Austria’s lesser known grapes such as Zierfandler and Rotgipfler.
On the other side of the region, on flat ground in the rightly named Stone Field, the soils are predominately made of the highly permeable limestone gravel. Here red varietals such as Blaufränksich, Pinot Noir and St. Laurent thrive.
Wines have been crafted in the Thermenregion for over two thousand years beginning with the Romans in the Noricum province on the slopes of the Anninger at the base of the Pannonian basin. Wines of the Thermenregion have played an important role in Austrian history and the region is believed to be Austria’s oldest winemaking operation originating with the monastery of the Monks of Helingenkreuz.
Wines from the Thermenregion were generally chosen to accompany the meals served at Hofburg and Schönbrunn and the region was given special preservation upon the construction of the Austrian railway. The region achieved DAC status in 1985 under the Austrian Wine Act, but was called Weine von der Südbahn (the Wines from the Austrian Southern Railway) until relatively recently.
Grapes in the Thermenregion generally have thick skins due to rapid temperature changes between hot and cool that take place here and, as a result, provide for very aromatic wines. White, red and dessert wines are all produced in the Thermenregion thanks to the outstanding soil and weather conditions. Red and white grapes are generally grown in equal balance in this region; predominance depends upon the part of the region.
The Thermenregion is most famously known for the Zierfandler and Rotfipfler grape varieties as they are most widely grown in this region. Other white grapes include Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Neuberger. Predominant red grapes include St. Laurent, Pinot Noir, Blauer Portugieser and Zweigelt.
The Stadlman winery is located within the small province of Traiskirchen and is generally open to visitors via appointment only, though the building is equipped with a restaurant and tasting room that is open approximately five times a year for a total of ten days.
Bernhard brought Matt and I into the cellars where we tasted barrel samples of both the 2009 Rotgipfler and the 2009 Zierfandler. It was clear these wines had some aging to do, but I was impressed by the complexity they were already showing so early in the vinification process.
After this experience we retreated to the tasting room where Bernhard tasted us on the wines imported into the US including the 2008 vintages of the Zierfandler and Rotgipfler wines from the Anninger as well as the Zierfandler Mandol-Höf and the Rotgipfler Tagelsteiner. As a special treat, Bernhard also tasted Matt and I on the 2006 vintage of the Zierfandler Anninger showcasing the grapes ability to age and develop.
Unfortunately, the Thermenregion, as well as the Zierfandler and Rotgipfler varieties are not as readily know in the United States yet, though it has been said by many that they actually prefer them to Gruener Veltliner at times. Perfect for pairing with oysters (naturally) these wines are a gem waiting to be discovered by the masses.