It has become our yearly tradition to visit Austria during the harvest season. As you probably know, we love wine – especially those of the natural, organic, biodynamic variety. Last year, we visited a couple producers in Burgenland and one outside of Vienna, but this year we expanded our explorations of Austria all the way from the Kamptal region to Southern Styria. As we drove across the country, we watched the leaves change colors from bright green to golden and reddish hues, and the landscape change from flat farmland to rolling hills reminiscent of Tuscany. Of course, we ate some wonderful meals along the way, and had a wienerschnitzel or two. Keep reading to see everything we ate and drank during our fall trip to Austria.
Austrian Road Trip
We started our journey in northwest Austria, an hour outside of Vienna in the Kamptal region, to visit Loimer Winery. Fred Loimer was born into a winemaking family in Langenlois, and he always knew he would follow in his family’s footsteps. He went to wine school and became close friends with natural wine legends like Gernot Heinrich and Sepp Muster. In fact, it was Muster who inspired him to join the natural wine movement that started in Austria around 2000. Loimer did his first skin fermentation experiment in 2003 and then started using less sulfur; he completely stopped using sulfur in 2006 and became very serious about natural wine in 2010. As he showed us around the vineyards, Loimer chatted with us about his passion for wine.
“It’s really important that people begin to think differently,” Loimer explained to us. “Resources like soil and insects are being killed by conventional farming – it’s not sustainable for the environment.” But even with these honorable ambitions, his first attempts to make wine in the natural style weren’t appreciated by everyone. In fact, his sister poured the first bottle he gave her down the drain, thinking something had gone wrong. Natural wine is still pretty niche in Austria, but now people are getting used to the flavors and to white wine with tannins, and they’re becoming less shy about tasting new things.
“When we first started making wine, we bought all this technology to clarify the wines. But now we don’t use it; we’re back to the basics,” Loimer added. “My father didn’t clarify his wines – he just put them in a barrel and came back a year later. Now we are pretty much doing the same thing, but with a lot more knowledge.” Loimer realized that when you take out technology, you have to add in time. Skin contact adds tannins that help the wine get structure, and time helps find the balance of all the flavors.
“But natural winemaking is not just sitting back and watching,” Loimer clarified. “It’s making decisions. It’s tasting, it’s watching, it’s measuring. It’s deciding when to harvest. Are you fermenting? Are you aging it in steel, amphora, or cask? You can see the creative choices of the winemaker, and you can see the changes from year to year in the vintage.” You can also taste the difference from vineyard to vineyard. Loimer has different plots of land in different areas, all of which have different soils and microclimates that are better for growing different types of wines.
While Loimer is perhaps most famous for his Grüner Veltiners, he also makes delicious, bone dry Rieslings. Our favorite of his wines are the ones from his “mit Achtung!” (with attention!) series, which are the most natural in style, unfiltered, and with lots of skin contact. We also love all of his bubbles – from the fresh and floral Gelber Muskateller pet nat, to the foamy, pale pink Brut Rosé, to the toasty, creamy Langenlois Blanc de Blancs. If you’re looking for some chuggable glou glou, the Gluegglich field blend is the bottle for you!
Loimer’s overall philosophy is low intervention, slow winemaking with a very natural way of thinking. All of the grapes are hand picked and hand sorted, and there’s very little sulfur used. But even with his great respect for nature, the most important thing is how it tastes. “Wine must be enjoyable at the end,” Loimer declared. “We like it to be easy drinking. You shouldn’t be thinking more than you’re drinking.”
Dinner at Esslokal
Just a ten minute drive from Langenlois, in the small town of Hadersdorf, is a cozy little bistro with an extremely high-level of cooking. Chef Roland Huber worked at fine dining restaurants in Vienna before deciding to open his own casual restaurant near his hometown. Unlike the schnitzel-focused eateries in the rest of the region, Esslokal (“eating locale”) serves modern dishes, lots of which play with Asian spices and seasoning. Start your meal with some of their tapas (small snacks), like the signature roasted artichoke with caramelized butter foam, a lemongrass curry soup, and an edible rose made of beet and mushroom. Of the bigger dishes, our favorites included the langoustine with kohlrabi and lime, and the Austrian wagyu, Jerusalem artichoke, and beef tea. We were expecting a simple dinner in a local tavern, but we were absolutely blown away by what this small town eatery had to offer. Hands down, this was our favorite meal of the trip.
After a full day of wine tasting, we decided to spend the night in Kamptal. Located just a few minutes from the Loimer Winery is the beautiful Loisium Langenlois Wine & Spa Hotel. The striking, geometric building is nestled right in the middle of the vineyards; in fact, the balconies of the hotel rooms overlook the rows and rows of vines. In terms of amenities, the Loisium sports a heated pool, a natural bathing pond, a fitness center, a wine cellar, and a spa with saunas, steam rooms, and wine-themed massage treatments that use grape seed oil and include a glass of wine. Talk about a relaxing getaway!
Weingut Fritz Wieninger
The next stop on our wine tour of Austria was Fritz Wieninger, whose winery is located just outside of Vienna, across the Danube River. He also owns the winery Hajszan Neumann, and runs both wineries biodynamically. Wieninger has been making wine for over 35 years, and we could tell right after meeting him that he absolutely loves his job.
Wieninger hand picks everything, and uses all five senses (eyes, ears, nose, touch, and taste) to decide when the grapes are ready to be picked. “I think it’s important to be individual with every batch and every vineyard. Our goal is to bring in the grapes at the stage where they are more or less right.” Wieninger explained. We bring them in at the right moment, squeeze them gently, and let them ferment. This is the reason I like the biodynamic method so much better than the conventional way – I don’t have to add chemicals or anything to make it taste better, because it tastes already as good as I want it. There’s no chance to improve it! It tastes like the vineyard and the soil where it comes from, and my job is to keep it as nature gives it to me.”
Fritz Wieninger is perhaps most famous for his Gemischter Satz, a traditional Austrian field blend. One of our favorites of his wines is the single vineyard Gemischter Satz from Rosengartl, his prized vineyard in Nussberg, which has old vines that were planted in 1960.
Wieninger cold presses the grapes to preserve their juicy, fruity taste, and ages the wine in the cellar in small barrels until they’re ready for bottling. He doesn’t add any yeast or chemicals to his wine – nothing but grape juice! His cellar is located underneath an old Catholic monastery that dates back to the 16th century. Wieninger’s parents, grandparents, and great grandparents all made wine, but it was simple table wine, made and poured immediately in the glass of the customer. Wieninger’s style is almost exactly opposite that of his ancestors.
“I like wines that are ageable.” Wieninger informed us. “I like wines that you open a few years later and are surprised at how good it is. I believe in time. I believe in oxygen coming through the wooden barrels and breathing with the wine for a year. Sure, technology can add this oxygen in five minutes, but I believe more in the year than in the five minutes.”
Our next destination on our winery tour was Burgenland – one of our favorite wine regions, and the Disneyland of natural wine, as we like to call it. Many of our favorite Austrian winemakers are from this region just an hour south of Vienna, including Gut Oggau, Christian Tschida, Christopher Hoch, Pittnauer, Meinklang, and Heinrich (who we had the pleasure of visiting on this trip).
The Heinrich family has been making wine in the small town of Göls by Lake Neusiedl since the 1800s, and Gernot Heinrich started his own winery in 1990. He and his wife Heike have been working biodynamically since 2006 – everything is done in a natural way, with little to no sulfites, no chemicals used, and lots of animals on the farm. The goal at Heinrich is to be sustainable and environmentally friendly at every opportunity. The grapes are treated as gently as possible, with machines that favor gravity rather than mechanical pressure to shake, sort, and ferment the berries. Biodiversity is not only in the fields, it’s also very much alive in the cellar; the different bacteria that are present help the wine stabilize itself naturally. Deep underground, Heinrich’s wines are aged in wooden casks and amphora (egg-shaped clay pots). When it comes time to bottle, they choose to use beeswax instead of plastic to seal the corks.
When we talked to Gernot about his winemaking philosophy he said, “People have been asking, ‘what’s on my plate?’ for years, but they haven’t been asking ‘what’s in my glass?’ until recently. Now, I think their mindsets are changing. People have learned to taste the difference when eating organic food, so why not when drinking wine?” From farm to table, from grape to glass. Perceptions about wine are finally changing around the world, but for Gernot, this is just how he’s been working since 2006.
Freyheit means “freedom” in German, so naturally the wines in the Freyheit series are completely free of sulfites and free of filtration. All of our favorite wines from Heinrich are part of the Freyheit series, our top two being the Traminer Roter Freyheit (a super floral, fresh, and aromatic skin contact orange) and the Pinot Freyheit (a light and elegant, juicy and tart Pinot with a lingering salty aftertaste).
Lunch at Heimlich Wirt
While in Göls, a meal at the new restaurant Heimlich Wirt is a must. Peter Heimlich Müller worked as a sommelier at Taubenkobel before he decided to open his own place in March. There are no trained chefs here, just three waiters making food from scratch, with love. The small menu changes often, with a dish added every week. On our visit, the lunch of the day was a saffron risotto with deep fried pumpkin, pistachio, caramelized onions, and caraway foam. The food tastes as warm as the hospitality – this is exactly what you want to be eating in a cozy tavern on the countryside on a rainy autumn day. Heimlich’s menu states their philosophy well, “All wines and ingredients come from people who work with heart and mind – but above all in harmony with nature. All dishes are freshly cooked, no packets torn open. As in the past, when that was taken for granted.” The wine list is pretty local, with lots of bottles from Burgenland, including Heinrich, Christopher Hoch, and Gut Oggau.
We continued our journey further south in Austria to Southern Styria (Südsteiermark), the Tuscany of Austria. Sattlerhof is a family-run winery in the town of Gamlitz – brothers Alex and Andreas Sattler are in charge of the winemaking today, but it was their grandfather who was the pioneer for the region back in 1965. After gaining experience at the most famous winery in Wachau, Grandpa Sattler returned to take over the family farm. He planted most of the vines, and started working first with organic and then biodynamic farming. Grandpa Sattler believed that the reputation of Südsteiermark could only go up – and he was right. Today, his sons Will and Hannes run most of the operations (a tasting room, a hotel, and two restaurants), but it’s the younger generation (his grandchildren, Alex and Andreas) who do the planting and the tasting.
“I think only healthy grapes make good wine, so it all starts in the vineyard.” Alex explained to us the important role that biodiversity plays in winemaking, as he walked us around the steep, rolling hills of Styria. “What animals do we have? What plants are growing? How is the life in the vineyard?”
“Natural wine” doesn’t always have to mean the funky, unfiltered, cloudy orange juice that has become synonymous with this definition. Natural wine is not just one type of wine, it’s a broad category that encompasses many styles of winemaking. Chances are, even if you think you don’t like natural wine, you’ve probably enjoyed some natural wine without knowing it was natural. For example, Sattlerhof’s wine is made in a very natural way, but you might not pinpoint it as “natural wine” based on its appearance, or even after taking your first sip. The style is very clean and pure; in fact, some of the white wines are completely transparent and practically clear in color.
When we asked Alex how it was possible to get such a crystal clear wine without any added chemicals or filtering, he explained that the sediments settle at the bottom of the tanks, and they rack (pump the wine) from the top of the tanks when bottling. The result is an easy drinking, elegant, and refined style of wine that is very mineral driven, fresh, and crisp. Alex left us with a statement on the Sattler philosophy: “We focus on wines we like to drink, with a minimum influence in the cellar and a maximum influence of the vineyard.”
Dining at Sattlerhof
If you’re looking for some food to go with your wine, Sattlerhof has two restaurants on the property. For more casual fare, check out their tavern, Wirtshaus am Sattlerhof, which serves fried chicken, schnitzel, and other traditional Austrian dishes like Frankfurters, leberkäse (meat loaf), and sausages. If you’re looking for something a bit fancier, make a reservation at their fine dining restaurant. Chef Markus Sattler (Hannes’ son) has a background working at Restaurant Konstantin Filippou in Vienna and serves a tasting menu using local ingredients.
Hotel Schloss Seggau
While in Southern Styria, we stayed a 15 minute drive from Sattlerhof winery in the small town of Leibnitz. Hotel Schloss Seggau is located inside a historic castle that was built in the 12th century. The grounds boast an outdoor swimming pool, beautiful views of the region, and a 300-year-old wine cellar.
While Austrian wine has made a name for itself in recent years, Austrian spirits are still a bit under the radar – but there’s at least one distiller worth visiting. On our way back to Vienna from Styria, we stopped by Ruotker’s, a tasting room where people can come to taste Austrian craft whiskey, gin, and rum. Last year, owner David Gölles restored an old inn and opened it as a tasting room in Riegersburg. His own bottles are on the shelves, of course, but he also has a whole collection of spirits (over 500 bottles) from around the world – everything from mezcal to aquavit to Japanese whiskey. While you can’t buy a bottle from the collection, you can sample as many of them as you like, and even as small of a taste as 1cl.
Gölles’ father started distilling as a hobby when he was nineteen, and has been making schnapps and vinegar ever since. When schnapps-making first began, people mainly saw it as a way to get rid of the bad fruit they didn’t want to eat, but over time the focus has shifted to quality over quantity. “If you want to make good schnapps, maybe it makes sense to use the best fruit,” Gölles pointed out.
In addition to schnapps, Gölles now also produces the brand Hands On Gin, a London dry gin (a style of gin where no sugar is added in the distillation process). His gin only uses five botanicals (lemongrass, juniper, orange peel, black currant, coriander), to ensure that the flavor of each botanical is detectable. He also has a rum brand called Ron Johan, and produces a white rum, a dark Barbados-style rum, a strong Jamaica-style rum, and an old plum rum which is aged in plum schnapps barrels. Of course, Gölles is also up to some whiskey business – Ruotker’s produces a chocolatey, Bourbon-style whiskey, a single malt barley whiskey, as well as corn, spelt, and rye whiskeys. Gölles produces very limited quantities of each spirit – everything they make is handcrafted and made with love.
A Couple Days in Vienna
No trip to Austria is complete without spending some time in Vienna! After our wine tour, we took a few days to visit some restaurants that have been on our wish list.
Natural wine bar and eatery, MAST, has one of the best natural wine lists in Vienna. Owners and friends Matthias Pitra and Steve Breitzke worked as sommeliers at fine dining restaurants around the world for 15 years before deciding to open their own bistro together. Lots of our favorite Austrian producers are on the list, including Christian Tschida, Claus Preisinger, Heinrich, Gut Oggau, and Loimer. Order small plates à la carte (we highly recommend the chili cheese sausage!), or opt for the six-course Chef’s Choice tasting menu. All dishes are made with organic ingredients from small, local farmers.
Currently ranked no. 17 on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, Restaurant Steirereck is Vienna’s top restaurant. This two Michelin-starred eatery has been around for over 50 years – chef Heinz Reitbauer took the restaurant over from his parents in 2001 and has been running it with his wife Birgit for 20 years. The aim of this fine dining restaurant is to elevate Viennese cuisine to new heights, taking traditional Austrian foods and ingredients and lifting them up in creative dishes. All of the ingredients are local from Austria, some coming from the Reitbauer farm outside the city, and some coming from the restaurant’s rooftop herb garden. The restaurant comes up with about 100 new dishes every year, and historically has created over 1,500 dishes. While Heinz is in the kitchen, Birgit takes care of the guests in the dining room. You can spot the striking, mirrored building that houses Restaurant Steirereck tucked away inside Vienna’s Stadtpark (city park). On the other side of the restaurant, facing the river, is their casual eatery Meierei im Stadtpark.
Restaurant Konstantin Filippou
Last year we visited chef Konstantin Filippou’s casual natural wine bar, O Boufés, so this year we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit his two Michelin-starred eatery. Konstantin Filippou draws from his Greek and Austrian heritage to craft his seafood-centric tasting menu – there is no meat served at the restaurant. The dark, candlelit dining room is adorned with dried flowers that hang from the ceiling and there’s a view to the partially open kitchen. Highlight dishes included the signature cod brandade with caviar, and the Croatian langoustine with veal tongue, chives, crunchy bread crumbs, and a butter sauce. Do indulge in a glass of champagne – Restaurant Konstantin Filippou is the Krug embassy in Vienna.
Andaz Vienna Am Belvedere by Hyatt
During our time in Vienna, we stayed at the Andaz Vienna Am Belvedere, a new hotel from Hyatt. The tall tower climbs an impressive 16 stories into the sky, with a cozy, Scandinavian-inspired rooftop bar which has a sweeping view of Vienna and overlooks the spectacular Belvedere Palace. (Added bonus: the bar serves some natural wine!) The hotel has a modern, luxurious design while still feeling warm and welcoming, in large part thanks to the very friendly staff. The stylish rooms are outfitted with extremely comfortable beds and luxury bath products. If you’re looking for further relaxation, they have an on-site fitness center and spa with saunas, steam rooms, and massage treatments. Breakfast is available in the lobby restaurant – a vegetarian buffet of fresh fruit, granola, and yogurt, as well as a menu of hot dishes cooked to order.
Have you visited any wineries in Austria? Let us know in a comment below.