Interview with an Importer: Daniel Hubbard of Domaine Select Wines

Austrian wines have exploded on to the wine scene in the past few years which can often leave unfamiliar consumers confused and overwhelmed by the plethora of Grüner Veltiner and Blaufränkisch wines – many organic, most from small, single vineyard plantings. One of the best resources Austrian wine consumers can turn to are those that import the wines – the ones that really know them inside and out, know the market and know the potential each has to become your new favorite wine.
This month we sat down with Daniel Hubbard of Domaine Select Wine Estates. Here’s what he had to say:

What makes Austrian wine so unique? What makes it stand out from other regions?

Authenticity and Awareness.  It is a simple clear idea that resonates throughout all of the viticultural regions of Austria and this is its strongest asset.  In order to really communicate one’s identity fully, one must have “Bewusstsein”.  Austria has demonstrated in the over the past 2 decades this to not only to Austrians, but also to the entire world. This is the intrinsic quality that makes this country stand out to not just the people “in the know”, but also the people who discover these wines through their experiences in Austria, at great restaurants, and passionate retailers.  You can never keep a great secret too long under raps!

What influenced your decision to work with Austrian wines?

Many small steps!  Visiting a Heuerigen in Krems when 15! Through a great friend and I in Vorarlberg pillaging his parents great collection while an exchange student there!  I didn’t know it at the time as “terrior” wasn’t on my mind, but it sparked an ember in my brain.   While living in Styria and visiting almost all the great producers there with friends, I began to be conscious that wine would be a larger part of my life someday.  Moving to New York and Domaine Select opening the door to me, along with giving me the keys to begin developing an Austrian book in 2003 was an investment in me, for which I am immensely grateful.  There are few jobs in this world that allow your to dabble in all your interests and have immense satisfaction at the end of the day!  To talk geography, history, chemistry, agriculture, monetary exchange, marketing, etc in a 15 minute conversation is what makes this business special. Everyone I meet has an interesting story how they found their passion. This is what I love about wine the most.  We work with and sell to crazy people, but we lots to talk about!

Which producers do you import?

Through design, we wanted to have a compact and in-depth view into not only the “classically imported” regions and varietals, but rather expand the knowledge and offer of regions and varietals that 8 years ago did not have discussion, debate or awareness. 8 years ago Roter Veltliner was one of our main pushes for awareness. Today, we see a clear awareness and push to discover other varietals and regions of distinction.  Through our producers, each tell their regions story with their own particular style and mentality.  All of our producers represent value and immense place to me.

From South Styria: Lackner-Tinnacher

From the Wagram: Leth, Wimmer-Czerny

From Kamptal: Brandl, Kirchmayr (also has wines from the Wachau and Burgenland)

From the Wachau: Lagler

From Mittelburgenland: Iby

Highlights?

The highlight for me is working with a community of producers that see a commonality in telling the story of Austria through their wines.  The highlight for me is seeing peoples faces awaken when they taste through 3-4 wines of the Danube Valley and really see terrior in action, rather than just in theory.

Which states are you distributed in?

We sell in every major market in the USA, and in 48 states.  NY, NJ is our home and have wonderful response to our wines.  In addition, California, Maryland/DC, Chicago, Denver, North Carolina and Florida are all solid markets with 4-7 producers.  Almost every distributor we work with has at least one or two produces from us in their portfolio.  Austria is part of our company’s identity for over 7 years.

What’s your favorite Austrian varietal? Region? Why?

As for varietal, I have no clear favorite, however I have always routed for the underdog.  My fascination for the “ancient” has always led me to varietals such as Roter Veltliner, Neuburger, Welschriesling, Blaufränkisch, Mukateller, St. Laurent, etc.  We all know the possibilities of Grüner Veltliner and Riesling, let’s discover the potential of the rest!

This is always hard, like many ask, “which is your favorite child?”, but since you asked!  Styria lies dear to my heart for a number of reasons.  Its where I lived and worked, along where I also began to understand what wine was about.  It was the first place that gave me a calling that ended up being my passion.

It also has to be said, Styria is an absolute hidden treasure that leaves an immense impression on any that visit.

What’s your favorite food & wine pairing for the season?

Hmmmm, trial and error, and then try again and again!  Seriously, my favorite dish for the season is a true Vorarlberger Kässpätzle.  It warms the soul and provides ample weight to take a solid nap Christmas or the weekend! Some of my favorite pairings with would be a smoky Styrian Grauburgunder or Grüner Veltliner Smaragd with a little time in the bottle.

Where do you see the future of Austrian wine heading?

Austrian wine in the USA is at an interesting stage.  I believe its between a teenager and an adult, maybe like someone in college, independent, though needing support. Since the beginning efforts of a couple importers to push the dialogue of Austrian wine over 20 years ago, it has developed into a solid niche market.   It is a stable part of the American wine scene, however it still needs that immense support and push from all sides of trade to keep its balance and position in the market.

The future of Austrian wine in the USA will be determined on how all of us keep engaging the consumer to look outside the expected.  Tying culture, food, and wine is something Austria has an infinite amount of potential.  This is what really excites me about telling the “Austrian Story” to our customers and the public.

Anything else you’d like to add?

One last thing………let’s have some more Austrian Magnum Parties!!!!!

(we agree Daniel, sorry to have missed you at the Welcome to Burgenland event!) :)

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