My Meeting with Leif Sundstrom of Michael Skurnik Wines


Recently I had the opportunity to meet with Leif Sundstrom of Michael Skurnik wines who is the National Portfolio Manager for Terry Theise Selections.

Things have been crazy since October when I started with BAT so there hasn’t been a lot of time to sit down with the importers and really get an in-depth education on each portfolio. Terry Theise wines were some of the first Austrian wines to be imported into the United States and hosts some of the most prominent and well known producers.

At the Winebow tasting in February, I attended a seminar that displayed the stylistic variation between Grüner Veltliner and Riesling from the Wachau to the Kremstal, but haven’t had the opportunity to taste all the regions against each other.

Leif explained to me that the green apple, green pea and white pepper flavors are very common in Grüner, but they certainly aren’t the beginning and the end of what Grüner can be and is despite what a lot of Americans believe.

Austria is a break-out wine region so naturally the focus is on the most popular, versatile exported grape of the country. Unfortunately, we expect our grape’s flavor profiles to be basically universal between regions. For anyone that knows anything about wine, it’s obvious this can’t be further from the truth for many grape varieties.

Anyway, Leif printed out sheets about each region and had me taste a wine from each of the main areas.

We started with a wine from Carnumtum, which is a region primarily known for red wines. We tasted the Weingut Glatzer Grüner Veltliner ($12-$13) which was a delightful value for its price point. The wine had a bit of fruity complexity to it, slightly creamy and with enough white pepper that you knew it was Grüner.

The next was from the Kremstal. We tried a very popular wine for the region: the Nigl Grüner Veltliner Freiheit. This particular wine comes from the lower lying slopes of the region that is full of loess soils and volcanic rock. Like others from the region, this wine is less spicy and much softer with rounded stone fruit character. I have a preference toward Grüner from the Kremstal because of its approachability. Although all Grüners are great food wines, I think the softer style does necessarily require it.

We then moved to the Kamptal where we tasted the Weingut Brundlmayer Grüner Veltliner “Kamptaler Terrassen.” This wine was much spicier with less fruit and a bit of a smoke character. It was full of acid and minerality and was really an excellent academic example of what Grüner Veltliner has become known to be. Leif said this wine is grown at higher levels and on older vines and is fermented on its skins- all of which contribute to the structure of the wine.

The final wine was the Wachau from Nikolaihof-Wachau vineyard. This wine, the 2008 Grüner Veltliner “Hefeabzug,” is the one I chose to take home with me to enjoy later despite my normal bias. Nikolaihof-Wachau was the first biodynamic vineyard in all of Austria and takes a very minimalistic approach to winemaking. The vines in the vineyard are very healthy and are given all the nutrients they need despite the common belief that a vine should suffer to produce better grapes. The winemakers also allow the wine to sit on it’s lees without stirring in large neutral barrels that reflects the concept of the “wine grows together.” At first sip it was evident this wine was unlike any other Grüner I’ve had before.

Leif and I met at Blaue Gans in NYC, part of the KG NY group, which is a great little Austrian restaurant located in Tribeca Duane Street. The menu is relatively small, but accurately reflects the cuisine options of the country. Leif snacked on a corned beef sandwich that looked and smelt delectable – I was disappointed I wasn’t hungry!

This was a great learning experience and I’d forgotten how much I truly enjoy sitting and being taught about wine by someone I really trust as a valuable source of information. I can’t wait to get these wines out to others!

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