Aug 20, 2013

Wachau & Kamptal trip (Austria) - Part 2 - F.X. Pichler visit

F.X. Pichler is not only the most renowned winery in Wachau but all of Austria, and a must-go site when visiting the Wachau valley. The winery is located in Dürnstein (Oberloiben 57, 3601 Dürnstein;, surrounded by the Klostersatz vineyard and overlooking the famous Kellerberg, Schütt and Loibenberg wine terraces. The modern building is a piece of art itself, and so are the wines made and deposited within the premises.

F.X. Pichler produces only white wines from Grüner Veltliner, Riesling and Sauvignon blanc grapes, of which classifications are roughly 80% smaragd and 20% federspiel, a ratio which is unrivaled in Wachau and speaks volumes on behalf of their vineyards potential for ripening grapes. The amounts produced are small, 130,000 bottles per year, thus prices tend to be high for these sought-after wines.

Lucas Pichler took over vinification in 1999 from Franz Xaver (hence, F.X.) to continue the long winemaking tradition of the estate which started in 1898. Franz Xaver had run the estate for 28 years, from 1971, including the period in early 1990s when the estate became world known and releasing the first "M" and "Unendlich" wines. Unfortunately, we were not able to taste these monumental wines during our visit.

Harvest is done usually on the first week of October with a small team of only +/- 15 people, i.e. the vineyard team and certain experienced extras. The amount of workers needed is small as different grape varieties ripen at different points of time, thus enabling the same team to harvest all the vineyards. It represents a very drastic difference compared to harvests in Burgundy's Gevrey-Chambertin for example, where we used some 40 people to harvest a little over 12 hectares in 9 days. In most of Burgundy, only two grape varieties, pinot noir and chardonnay, are cultivated and they are picked up entirely when the grapes show the desired ripeness. In Wachau, the harvest period is significantly longer due to differences in ripening of the grapes.

F.X. Pichler's vineyard team knows each grapevine individually and thus is able to make selection on the vineyard very efficiently, enabling good organization of harvest. There is a very thorough selection made on the vineyard with the team going through the same row of vines up to 3 or 4 times in order to be able to pick the ripened grapes.

Wines are fermented in stainless steel and matured in used, 30-40 years old large oak sourced from north of the Wachau valley. No 225 litre barriques are allowed for wines registered under Wachau's official classification (i.e. Steinfeder, Federspiel, Smaragd, in increasing order acccording to minimum must weight & potential alcohol content).
The "M" wines, which are F.X. Pichler's most well known wines internationally (made from Grüner Vetliner and Riesling), of which name M stands for "Monumental", the wine style is that of a big wine. The grapes are mostly (80%) harvested from the Loibenberg cru with the end product being a mix of the most potential single vineyard grapes left unharvested by the team for a couple more weeks after harvesting of the single vineyards. The grapes achieve higher sugar level and ripeness, thus producing a big and poweful wine with long cellaring potential. The soil composition is loess and primary rock, mostly gneiss, which gives minerality to the wines. The south facing vineyard has significant sun exposure which facilitates ripening of the grapes.

The "FX" sign in the picture indicates the location of the winery, arrows indicating the vineyard of Loibenberg
(picture from F.X. Pichler's website) 

Kellerberg, on the other hand, is somewhat cooler than Loibenberg as it enjoys a northern wind blowing through the small valley between Kellerberg and Loibenberg (in the above picture, the small valley can be seen immediately to the left of the first white arrow).

While Loibenberg is sometimes called the "oven" of Dürnstein, Kellerberg's milder microclimate with the cooling air breeze, exposure to south/south-east, and somewhat similar soil composition of primitive rock with loess deposits gives the wine the basis on which powerful but better structured (as in acidity structure) wines develop. Kellerberg is F.X. Pichler's most important single cru.

Arrows indicate the vineyard of Kellerberg
(picture from F.X. Pichler's website) 

The Klostersatz vineyard is situated on the flat (in the front), with Kellerberg vineyard in the back of the photo on the terraces.  Kellerberg is F.X. Pichler's most important single vineyard, facing south / southeast, in Dürnstein, Wachau.

The Loibenberg terraces in Wachau, from where 80% of grapes for the "M"-wines are harvested. In the picture, Hochstrasser vineyard  is situated on the flat at the base of Loibenberg.

The Loibenberg vineyard continues to the east on a south facing slope


We were met at the estate by Johanna Pichler, wife of chief winemaker Lucas Pichler. There were only four wines offered for tasting at the winery, and our brief remarks on the tasted wines are below. The most interesting quality is the wines' ability to age - see my earlier notes on the 2006 Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Von den Terrassen from here - as the 2006 was best of F.X. Pichler's wines tasted during the trip. Their best wines achieve long age in the bottle, and the seven-year-old GV smaragd mentioned above had already developed nicely, giving framework for GV smaragds harvested from the terraces to be enjoyed after minimum of 5 years from vintage.

F.X. Pichler Grüner Veltliner Federspiel Loibner Klostersatz 2011 (12.5% abv.)

Started the tasting with Austria's, and especially Wachau's, "own" grape, the grüner veltliner. Made from grapes grown on the flat area just next to the winery (i.e. not from the terraces), this grüner veltliner is the lightest of the wines tasted, still offering good structure with a soft but slightly crisp feeling (only 1 g/litre of residual sugar in this young wine). Keep for 4-5 years, then enjoy.

F.X. Pichler Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Urgestein Terrassen 2011 (13.5% abv.)

Harvested from several vineyards situated on the terraces, the wine is made as a mix of Loibenberg, Kellerberg, Steinertal and Mühlpoint grapes. Beautiful young wine with more oomph than the Klostersatz, ready to be drank from 2016 onwards. The wine has more extraction from grape than the lighter Klostersatz, and with 2.5g/l residual sugar, a somewhat rounder mouth feel. Better vineyard position on the terraces gives more structural components to the wine. Acidity levels have been very good in both of the grüners thus far.

F.X. Pichler Riesling Smaragd Oberhauser 2012 (13.0% abv.)

A fresh and youthful wine with defined concentration of aromas, the Riesling Oberhauser 2012 is a more round on the palate compared to earlier wines, explained by 4g/l of residual sugar in it. Cinnamon, citrus and baked apple cake with a smokey feeling, and very nice acidity which carries the aftertaste far.

F.X. Pichler Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Dürnsteiner Liebenberg 2011 (14.0% abv.)

The wine is round and silky however with a high alcohol content which slightly overpowers the otherwise beautifully structured wine. It seems to be the case with many smaragd wines (not only Pichler's), the other components have to match the high alcohol content of the smaragds for the wine to feel as balanced - here the balance is slightly on the alcohol side. The vineyard is pictured below - it is situated to the east from Dürnstein on the turn of the Donau river before the town, i.e. actually closer to the town of Weissenkirchen, on the south/southwest facing terraces. 

The Liebenberg vineyard is situated on the terraces before the turn of river Donau (on the slopes to the left in the picture), behind the flat area which is the "Frauengärten" vineyard.  

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