Pictures: Lunch with Silvia Prieler, Weingut Prieler, Schuetzen am Gebirge, Burgenland, Austria in Restaurant Buergerhaus in Rust and Engelbert Prieler
Last year, one of the most prestigious wine awards in Austria went to the Burgenland: the Prieler family from Schützen am Gebirge was voted "2009 vintner of the year" by Falstaff magazine. In their assessment, the judges spoke of "exceptional and very memorable wines". Falstaff editor in chief Peter Moser: "We were extremely impressed by the Prieler family's high standards in all wine categories and by their sensitive approach to the specific properties of the respective types of vine and the selection of just the right terroir."
This year,it was just announced that Weingut Prieler made it to second place in the Falstaff Best Red Wines Awards 2011. I will report about it on Schiller Wine.
I had lunch with the charming Silvia Prieler in Rust at Lake Neusiedl a few weeks ago. After lunch, we visited the winery and the vineyards.
It was great fun to spend a couple of hours with Silvia Prieler, taste the outstanding Prieler wines and eate the delicious 4 course menu prepared by Chef Mooslechner of the Restaurant Buergerhaus in Rust.
Silvia, a mother of two boys at age 2 and 6, is a micro-biologist with a Ph.D. by training. But she never lost touch with the soil of Schuetzen am Gebirge, where she was born, where she grew up, and where she is now - with her brother George - at the helm of one of the top wine estates in Austria.
When she studied micro-biology in Austria’s capital Vienna, she continued to work with her father, helping him with marketing and exports. She did not stop there, but also took classes in winemaking and interned at the Geisenheim wine college in Germany. Although she was not planning to become a vintner, in 1998, Silvia became a full-time winemaker, cellar master and manager at Weingut Prieler.
Silvia Prieler is a very pleasant person to be with. I was impressed by her in-depth wine expertise, but liked most her cheerful nature and good humor. Even without the outstanding Prieler wines and the delicious Mooslechner food, it would have been a great lunch.
The Prielers are an old, established farming family in Schützen am Gebirge in Burgenland, Austria. For at least 150 years, the Prielers had been practicing a type of mixed agriculture that has long been typical of the hilly country around Neusiedler Lake, with wine making an essential part. While Silvia’s grandfather Georg started the shift to wine, it was Silvia’s parents, who made the full transition to wine.
Pictures: Christian G.E.Schiller and Silvia Prieler
Engelbert and Irmgard reduced the number of grape varieties and invested in modern cellar technology. At a very early stage, they also decided to focus more on quality than on quantity. The result was wines with aging potential, international in dimension, but at the same time firmly rooted in the soil in which they are grown.
Since 1998, Silvia and her brother Georg have largely taken over from their parents, with sister Michaela also working at the estate. Georg studied viticulture in Neusiedl and now works in the cellar; he is responsible for the fermentation,aging and bottling. Michaela is in charge of bookkeeping and manages the finances. "In the future" Silvia says "this will change a bit. I will be responsible for vineyard management and my brother Georg for the cellar”.
“But it will definitely remain a family run business” Silvia says, “together the 5 Prielers take care of pruning and harvesting, pressing and vinification, sales and marketing. The final tastings are done by the 5 of us - my mother, my father, my brother, my sister and myself”. Weingut Prieler has two permanent staff and brings in Hungarian seasonal workers for the harvest.
Pictures: The 4 Courses prepared by Chef Mooslechner, Buergerhaus, Rust, Austria
The vineyards are situated on the western side of Lake Neusiedl, in Burgenland, and lie mostly on sun-exposed southern and eastern slopes. Lake Neusiedl provides a perfect micro-climate with mild temperatures throughout the year. The flagship wine is the Blaufränkisch from the Goldberg vineyard which is highly reputed as one of the top red wines in Austria. Weingut Prieler has been one of the outstanding producers in the region for some time. This status has not changed since Silvia and Georg have taken over Weingut Prieler.
The Vineyards, Soil and Climate
Silvia explained that the prevailing climate around Neusiedler Lake is that of the Pannonian plains to the east. It is characterised by cold winters, hot, dry summers and warm autumn days. Burgenland has more days of sunshine a year than anywhere else in Central Europe and the highest average temperatures in Austria. These are highly favourable conditions for viticulture. And the hills around Schützen am Gebierge feature a number of ideal microclimatic conditions as well.
Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller and Silvia Prieler in the Vineyard
Schützner Stein is part of the hilly landscape along the western shore of Lake Neusiedler. On the hill amidst a nature reserve lie the 20 hectares of vineyards of Weingut Prieler. The location and soil could not be more favorable. For the most part, the vineyards are oriented to the south and east, thus capturing the full power of the sun. The stony subsoil stores the heat of the day and gives it back at night. The lake provides an incomparable micro climate, with warm autumn days and mild temperatures throughout the year. The wind-sheltered basins and sunny slopes create a long growing season that promotes ripeness and maturity. These are ideal growing conditions, even for such demanding varieties as Pinot Noir.
Silvia says that “for me, soil and terroir is not empty talk”. And when Silvia goes into the issue, her eyes – but not only then – sparkle. The limestone soils are found in the vineyards Seeberg and Sinner, towards Lake Neusiedl, which provide the grapes for the great white wines of the estate. Johanneshöhe und Unterbergen have sandy loam with pebbles and are ideal locations for late-maturing varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Goldberg, indisputably the best location of the house, offers bare mica schist, and is ideal for Blaufraenkisch, which is the most important grape variety of Weingut Prieler.
“We want to transfer the character of the region to the wineglass”, says Silvia, “to that end, output is strictly limited, pruning is close, and a patient approach gives the grapes all the time they need to fully mature.”
The Grape Varities
The Austrian wine press agrees that the small range of white Prieler wines - Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Welschriesling - is always remarkably good, and that the reds are among the most characterful and individualistic wines to be found in Austria. Both the old established varieties such as Blaufränkisch, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot as well as the varieties newly planted by Silvia, such as Pinot Noir and Saint Laurent, produce some of the best red wines in the country, reliably year after year.
Natural growing conditions, rigorous quantitative limits, short pruning, but a high canopy for better photosynthesis, and a rigorous selection of grapes by hand are the essential elements of Prielers vine growing philosophy. Silvia says: “You have to work with mother nature - never against her. Therefore we have changed to natural farming many years ago. This is simply the base for wine with authenticity. Not man, the soil makes the wine."
After harvesting, the grapes are carefully crushed and fermented at closely controlled temperatures in steel tanks or wooden barrels. The character of the wine decides how it is to spend the rest of its maturation. White wines like the Pinot Blanc Seeberg remain in a stainless-steel tank until they are ready to be bottled, thus retaining their fruitiness and freshness. The classic wines like the Blaufränkisch Johanneshöhe stay in big wooden barrels to keep their fruit and spicy character. The top red wines like the Goldberg Blaufränkisch mature best in barriques.
All wines are corked, for the time being. “We are thinking of srew-caps for the base wines” says Silvia.
Domestic Sales and Export Market
Luckily, you do not have to go to Schuetzen am Gebierge in the Burgenland to experience the magic of the Prieler wines. “Our exports account for 35% of total production” says Silvia. And their importer in the US is Terry Theise. Go here for his catalog of Austrian wines. In Austria, they are available everywhere, but their main market is the ski area of Lech and Oberlech, where I used to ski when I was in my 20s. Here is the Prieler web site.
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