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Sleek Grüners and Rieslings from Austria's Kamptal

A dynamic young couple is revitalizing the family tradition at Jurtschitsch
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Dec 15, 2014 12:54pm ET

There's a generational change going on in many of Austria's top wineries as the post-war veterans and baby boomers give way to their Millennial descendants. The younger generation is worldly and seemingly wise beyond their years, and many are seeking to redefine the legacy that has been passed to them.

Two of the most ambitious are Alwin and Stefanie Jurtschitsch in the Kamptal. (Stefanie grew up as Stefanie Hasselbach, whose family owns Weingut Gunderloch, the famed estate in Germany's Rheinhessen region). Alwin began working in the cellar in 2009, and the couple took control from three older Jurtschitsches, all brothers, in 2012.

My deep tasting memory of the wines was that they were made in a fat, rich style. I liked them, though they seemed a bit blowsy. "Many wines tasted like the New World," under the old regime, said Alwin, 33. Today's bottlings from the winery are sleeker and more precise. Alwin has accomplished this by avoiding botrytis-affected flavors in his grapes. Best known for producing sweet dessert-style wines in France's Sauternes region (as well as Austria's Neusiedlersee district), botrytis, or "noble rot," can also result in rich and spicy notes in dry wines. Gone from the cellar are stainless-steel tanks and small oak barriques (for white wines). Instead, Alwin relies on large oak casks that impart little or no flavor to the wines (while allowing some oxygenation). "We kicked out the big bastard wines and my parents said it was OK. It's your decision."

"This style is becoming more and more recognized for being precise—we don't fool around with botrytis. This is now quite a cool time to be making wine," Alwin said. He and Stefanie have taken a laser-beam approach to modernizing the house style. "We like tradition, but you always have to ask, 'Is it still working? Is it still right for the time?'"

While the winery has been in the family for 700 years, Alwin noted that change has been constant in the past century. The use of stainless steel and barriques was pursued in the post-war era to escape the tradition of large oak casks, one that Stefanie and Alwin are now ironically resurrecting to pursue what they see as more authentic flavors in the wines. 

The results are impressive in the 2013s. I especially liked their Grüner Veltliner Ried Lamm, a powerful, focused style, effusive with spice and white chocolate flavors, with hints of smokiness. It's outstanding. "Lamm is one of the Grüner vineyards that shows the most richness," Alwin said. This wine comes from a site on the Heilingenstein hill. Another impressive effort also hails from the hill, the Zöbinger Alte Reben, from a site where the vines were first planted in 1962. It showed fine concentration to the creamy flavors of apricot and freesia, which are joined by minerally notes in another outstanding effort.

Jurtschitsch's cellars are quite large and sprawling, situated 65 feet below the surface, providing a cool, humid atmosphere for fermentation and aging. It will be fascinating to see in the years ahead how this energetic couple continues to adapt it to their own visions of the Kamptal.

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