Tour of Heilingenstein, Focus on Riesling: Can You Taste the Rocks?

The biennial Vie VInum fair offers visitors from around the world the chance to experience Austria both in the halls of the Hofburg at the fair, but also throughout the country as excursions, winery visits, and specialized tours are collaborated throughout the regions.

One of those excursions was organized thanks to the help of Paul Grieco, owner of Hearth Restaurant and Terroir Wine Bars in New York City, and Johannes Hirsch of Weingut Hirsch, as well as through the generosity of time and wine from several producers in the Kamptal, all who have vineyard holdings on the Heilingenstein in Kamptal.

The reason? Mr. Grieco took a personalized terroir tour last September and after spending several days digging in the dirt with a local geologist, he was determined to share his experience with others. After all, if we aren’t familiar with the place the wines we love to drink come from, then we will never fully comprehend them.

The tour gathered several Americans from across the country to the Loisium hotel in the Kamptal where we celebrated the occasion with bubbles and a dip in the pool. But the real excitement started in the afternoon with a vertical tasting of Riesling across producers Loimer, Hirsch, Brundlmayer, Brandl, Topf, Hiedler, Schloss Gobelsburg, and Jurtschitsch. Wines dating back to 1970 and ending with 2013 showcased the vineyard’s aging potential, the character of the soils, and set the stage for what was to come in the next 24 hours.

The wines:

2014-06-11 11.31.22Flight 1:

Weingut Schloss Gobelsburg 1970
Weingut Brundlmayer 1975
Weingut Schloss Gobelsburg 1983

Flight 2:

Weingut Hiedler 1989
Weingut Hiedler 1992
Weingut Brundlmayer 1994

Flight 3:

Weingut Brandl 1995
Weingut Hirsch 1995
Weingut Topf 1996

Flight 4:

Weingut Schloss Gobelsburg 1998
Weingut Hirsch 1999
Weingut Topf 1999

Flight 5:

Weingut Jurtschitsch 2001
Weingut Brundlmayer 2002
Weingut Hiedler 2002

Flight 6:

Weingut Hirsch 2004
Weingut Brandl 2005
Weingut Jurtschitsch 2005

Flight 7:

Weingut Topf 2007
Weingut Jurtschitsch 2009
Weingut Loimer 2010

Flight 8:

Weingut Brandl 2011
Weingut Loimer 2011
Weingut Loimer 2013 – barrel sample

The tasting was, to say the least, quite educational and showed what the Riesling’s of the vineyard are capable of now. Vintage information given on each wine helped create a clearer picture of it all.

Later in the evening we gathered atop the Heilingenstein for a picnic whilst sipping on Riesling from across the years and enjoying a local barbecue.

The next day was the real event, though, as we strapped on our sneakers and prepared ourselves for a four-hour hike through the Heilingenstein with eight stops along the way … to refresh with Riesling, of course.

Geologist, Maria Heinrich, and her assistant, Hans, brought us from place to place in the vineyard breaking of f rocks to show us the composition of the soils and encouraging us to think in a different way about the influence of rocks on the soils than we might normally do.

2014-06-12 09.39.47Geology is complicated, this we know for sure, but the simple breakdown of the Heilingenstein is easier to wrap your head around:

Altitude:240m – 260m – 350m
Decline and exposition: Steeply sloping to the southwest
Morphology: Vineyard terraces
Soil: Cambisol, poor lime content, mostly lime-free, very dry, coarse fragments are frequent.
Rocks: Siltstone, sandstone, arkose and conglomerate of Zobing formation (carboniferous = Perm), tipping to the southeast
Loess (topsoil is Chernozem) is only preserved in a few spots, within shallow depressions and in the lower parts of the slope.

Maria Heinrich brought us through each stop explaining the influence of the soil on the wine, but the most important thing she stressed was this: you do not taste the soils in the wines, but rather it’s the soil’s influence on the wine that expresses terroir. Too often we hear that “minerality” is the taste of the rock in the wine, but this is, M. Heinrich says, impossible.

A complicated subject, indeed, but nonetheless, one we must explore. Do you have experience with rock diversity? Please share with us in the comments.

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Categories: Austrian wines

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