Stefan Bauer • Königsbrunn • Wagram

Wagram-Donauland is a unique area just east of the Kamptal, and south of the Weinviertel. The Wagram itself is a cliff-like formation, maybe 50-100 feet high that goes east-west, paralleling the Donau (Danube) anywhere from 1 to 10 miles north of it. In fact it is the old shoreline, cut by the river, and then abandoned, as the river moved south east towards what is now Vienna, and then beyond. The cliffs are loess (löß), cut into by erosion. There are a whole string of attractive towns along the base of the cliffs, many of them with the Austrian word for Spring (Brunn) attached at the end. Thus Feuersbrunn (Ott), Engelmannsbrunn, and Königsbrunn (Bauer). It is becoming a vacation area, a place for bicycle touring, and, suddenly, a center for some of the most interesting wineries in the country. The Wagram is now officially a district, and has several ‘star’ estates, the most famous, and ‘hottest’ being our own Mr. Ott. But Fritz Salomon, Fritsch, and young Stefan Bauer (be careful – there are several Bauers in the area – Stefan is our man) all have high reputations.

Where there’s loess, there’s Veltliner, so not surprisingly, Stefan has a full compliment of Veltliners. But first, he said (and he is a very young, rather serious man, with soft eyes though he looks more like a linebacker – get him on the same team with Ott), we must visit the Wagram itself, stand on the cliff edge, sniff the soil, see the vines planted on terraces, and, most importantly view the Beenenfressers. As I pondered what this might mean, I slowly translated and, well, been eaters? No…aha, Bee Eaters. Of course, the wonderful, colorful African bird that mates in Southern Europe (I do know a little something about birds, and have a guide to European varieties). They live, he said, in holes in the cliffs, which they dig out themselves, going back 2-3 feet(!). These beautiful birds, yellow and blue, and red, and green, rarely come so far north, but the loess terraces are perfect for them and they are the symbol of the Wagram. With that, Stefan brought out his bulky binoculars, pointed, and, lo, there was the miraculous bird sitting on a wire. Quite sizeable, it then took off and, while I was tracking it, did a number of loops and Immelmann turns, and captured a large bumble bee, and, gulp, it was gone. You see, Stefan said triumphantly, Beenenfressers!

Above the cliffs are fields, grasses, rape seed (brilliant yellow in season) and then more vineyards going up the hills behind. Back at the winery, we settled down to try the wines. Like Ott, Stefan works clean and reductively. All the wines are screw caps (Stelvin) and Veltliner accounts for 60% of the production (8 hectares). None of his wines have been imported into the U.S. until now. The style is reductive, that is, you do everything you can in the vineyard to produce healthy and ripe grapes, working as cleanly as possible. Then, you do as little as you can in the cellar, the idea being everything you do there makes the wine less good.

What follows are some notes from my first visit, in May 2007. We began with the 2006 Grüner Veltliner, Bromberg. It’s sensational. Clear, fairly light (12.5% alc.) and bright, this is classic, green bean Veltliner, the kind of wine that makes you thirsty, and hungry. Interestingly, he bottles as needed, the last bottling, what we will get, in July. The 2006 Grüner Veltliner ‘Wagram’ is more elegant and has a fine minerality. Not in the least heavy, rather quite lively and pretty. Soil is all loess and chalk, flavors classic. The 2006 Grüner Veltliner Steinagrund is the powerhouse of the group. But it is not really that big. There is a lovely sweetness of ripe fruit (not of sugar) and elegance to it. I’m reminded a little of Schloß Gobelsburg’s Renner – it’s that good. Well, of course, there’s Riesling too, and I was beginning to feel a little blasé about Riesling when this 2006 Riesling was poured. Grown on loess soil, this is a fruit bomb. Utterly heavenly nose, of pears and freesias. Imagine, I wrote, a Mosel with all of its beauties, dry and fairly powerful, Smaragd style. A combination that is staggering. I wrote this wine to be the most purely beautiful Riesling on the trip. Maybe not the greatest, but a wine to suddenly remind you how great this grape can be, why it really is the King of grapes. The 2005 Zweigelt is yet another example of how to do it right. A plum-like Zweigelt, this wine is just as juicy and fruity as you could want. Very clean, but with real complexity too. Example A of why I love Zweigelt. With the 2004 Herbst Freude, we come to Stefan’s favorite wine. Actually the name does not mean Herb Freud, the younger brother of Sigmund, and related, by marriage, to Sherlock Holmes; no, it means the joy of the harvest. And this big, impressive red should give plenty of joy. 50% Zweigelt and 50% of our new friend (see Poller), Blauburger. Aged in barrique 6 months, this wine definitely shows some oak. But the fruit of these two grapes is so delicious, that it is only intensified by the oak, not made muddy or woody. I absolutely loved this wine and can hardly wait to serve it to my Austria wine-knowledgeable friends, who will puzzle over it mightily, but drink it down so fast that I might have to open another bottle. No. Maybe I should just serve it to my poet friends. They will appreciate it even more, and besides, they (and I) can actually afford it.