Mantlerhof • Brunn im Felde • Kremstal

Having planned to see Sepp Mantler anyway, I was not overly surprised to learn that he and Terry Theise had parted company. I was grateful, when I did learn of it, that Terry told me it was fine for me to work with him if I wished: colleagues, not competitors, a very good idea. I’m not quite sure why it never seemed to work with Terry. I’ve always loved the wines, and have offered them to you (there are still a few older wines available for retail sales, see the inventory). In Austria, Sepp is not only one of the most well liked vintners, he is also one of the most respected. Long famed for his magnificent Roter Veltliner, he has built a very high reputation with them and with his Grüner Veltliners and Rieslings. From what I can tell, in the Kremstal, he is second only to Martin Nigl, and that’s high praise. Either way, I was delighted to visit him, and hopeful I would love the wines. This was our last visit, and frankly, we were a bit tired. 60 wineries in a month are plenty. Expecting a normal tasting, we arrived around 10am, thinking maybe a couple of hours, but no, this is Austria, and one of the friendliest people in the world. We had to visit the winery cellar, up in the loess slopes, there find an appropriate old wine to try; we had to visit the vineyards themselves, and get the full guided tour. We talked about many things. We were invited to lunch, in the Wachau, at Knoll’s Heurige-Restaurant. We left at around 5pm.

Sepp is a wonderful host, a thoughtful man, and has almost 40 years of experience to draw upon. He began poking about in the winery with his father in the late sixties, and more or less took over about ten years later. His father was a classmate of Willi Bründlmayer Sr. and he with Willi Jr. There is a close relationship there, and with Emmerich Knoll, also a class mate. But he also told us that his wife’s Great, Great, Great Grandfather first planted grapes here in 1805. The production is 47% Grüner Veltliner, 25% Riesling, 10% Roter Veltliner, and the rest with various grapes, Muskateller, Merlot, Neuburger, Chardonnay and more that I’ve forgotten. Sepp is the kind of fellow who wants to show you how wines age, especially those from poor or mediocre vintages. So we started off with a 1981 Veltliner Kabinett from the Spiegel. This wine was utterly fabulous, a lanolin-coconut nose, light, clean and pure. He says that neither acidity nor alcohol determine aging ability, only ripeness (though his definition of ripeness, I suspect, is not simply more is riper). Sepp is now working Organic, and, like Poller, it will take a few years before that is official. Though he has many different wines, I decided to pick six to begin. Half of them have screw caps (Stelvin), and half cork.

A few years ago, I remember visiting on a warm spring day with a group of people, organized by Terry Theise. We tasted the wines and had a tremendous lunch, typically Austrian. The Hof, like many here, has a severe outside facade, but then opens into a large open area, with a garden, and with buildings on either side, house and winery. It’s a little like a pueblo, a kind of mini village behind the high closed doors. The place seemed idyllic, the wines were lovely. None of us could know that not long after, the tiny Kamp, a minor stream that flows from the north into the Danube, would completely flood the broad valley, and especially down in Brunn im Felde. Sepp had only a few hours to get everything as high up as possible when the flood came. It rose eight feet or so in the house. The second floors were spared, barely, but it was a disaster, and the Mantlers were among the hardest hit. You can hardly tell now. Sepp shrugs and says that is the life of a farmer.

A general definition of his wines would be that he likes extract. The wines can have elegance and structure; in fact, they always have that, but what immediately impresses you is their flavors, and the intensity of those flavors. In that, he has more in common with the Wagram people, as opposed to Nigl, or Geyerhof. We often speak of elegance and style, but surprisingly rarely about flavors. If you want to find out what the grapes really taste like, Mantler is a very good place to start. Though these wines are not reductive in style,  they are vinous. They fill your mouth with flavor. They are, in some ways the direct opposite of the Summerer style. The good news is that you don’t have to choose between them – you can have both.