Interview with an Importer: Terry Theise and Michael Skurnik Wines

Terry Theise is, no doubt, one of the most highly respected Austrian wine importers in the US to date. He is largely credited with “bringing Austrian wine to America,” is a published author and is an overall intriguing individual to much of the wine world. Naturally, we had to interview him.

The wines of Terry Theises’s portfolio are imported and distributed through the highly respected Michael Skurnik Wines which has a portfolio chock full of wines that demonstrate the best expression of a given area’s terroir.

So what did Terry have to say? Well, first off you should read his book, Reading Between the Wines, to find out the whole story of how he came to import Austrian wines, but for now see the questions below.

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

For me Austria has a unique ability to (usually) make wines with great substance that nevertheless feel graceful and moderate-bodied on the palate. In many other countries, wines with 13% alc and higher often taste heavy and ponderous, but in Austria they keep a bouyancy. Apart from this, Austria is of course unique by dint of its varieties and terroirs.

2.      What  influenced your decision to work with Austrian wines?

Nothing other than the quality of the wines themselves. American wine drinkers needed to experience them, and hear the story of how they came to be.

3.      Which producers do you import? Highlights?

It’s impossible to pick highlights, I love them all!  Our agencies are as follows:

Burgenland

Weingut Prieler

Weinbau Heidi Schröck

Weinbau Sattler

Weingut Paul Lehrner

Carnuntum

Weingut Walter Glatzer

Weinviertel

Weingut Schwarzböck

Weingut H.u.M. Hofer

Weingut Setzer

Wagram

Weingut Ecker

Kremstal

Weingut Erich and Michaela Berger

Weingut Familie Nigl

Kamptal

Weingut Bründlmayer

Weingut Schloss Gobelsburg

Weingut Ludwig Hiedler

Weingut Josef Hirsch

Wachau

Leo Alzinger

Nikolaihof-Wachau

And in addition to wines we import

Hans Reisetbauer spirits and Hirschmann Pumpkin Seed Oil

4.      Which states are you distributed in?

All of the United States, except for North Dakota, Mississippi, and New Hampshire.

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

My favorite variety is Riesling. But the variety I drink most often is Grüner Veltliner, and the one I adore the most for simple pleasure is Gelber Muskateller. My favorite region, i.e., the one I feel most relaxed and happy in is the Südsteiermark.

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

Ripe GrüVe with a simply roasted organic chicken.

7.      Where do you see the future of Austrian wine heading?

I have no idea. Sad to say I fear it’s heading into a wrongheaded blind alley with DAC. The wines themselves will continue being as good as they generally are. The reds, especially appear to be growing more elegant and refined. The wines will continue to struggle to hold onto a niche market, as seems to be the sad fate of any wine with German words on the label.

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