Austria put itself on the wine map via one grape, Grüner Veltliner. It’s the leader among grape varieties in the country and thriving in 41% of the total vine area. To learn more about the wines of this east alpine nation, I spent virtual time with Master of Wine Andreas Wickhoff last winter. Afterwards I found several wines to taste including a line-up of Grüner from biodynamic producer Weingut Fred Loimer. This article is about Loimer and those wines provided as samples. All comments are my own, no compensation was received.
Located in Austria’s Kamptal region in the town Langenlois, Weingut Fred Loimer has 70-hectares (173 acres) of plots in six different vineyard sites designated as Erste Lage (or Riedenwein). Erste Lage is the equivalent of a premier cru (top vineyard) in Burgundy.
In these plots Loimer works with the principal varieties Grüner Veltliner and Riesling.
In additional to Kamptal, Loimer works with 12 hectares (30 acres) of vineyards near the town Gumpoldskirchen, in Austria’s Thermenregion south of Vienna: Chardonnay, Zierfandler and Rotgipfler (two autochthonous varieties), Pinot Noir, Muskateller, Riesling, Roter Riesling, Welschriesling and Traminer.
Loimer’s Traditional Road Leads to Barrels and Biodynamics
Born into a farming family who grew grapes, Loimer knew he wanted to be a winemaker. He worked with his parents from 1989 on, doing stints in California (Schug in Carneros) and Germany then eventually took over the family business in 1997.
For part of his operations, he first bought the cellar of the Haindorf Castle in Langenlois. Then he built a modern-style black cube on top for the winery. Old world meets minimalist modern.
It’s interesting to note how tradition played a role in their operation. The family historically worked with large, wooden, neutral oak casks (foudres). When Loimer returned from his studies and work, he eventually replaced them with stainless tanks and 225-liter oak barrels- the result of influences from his time away.
1993 was the first release of Fred Loimer Grüner Veltliner made in these barrels with oak influences. Although he got super reviews, as the nineties progressed, this method wasn’t sitting well with him. So the barrels began growing in size and eventually in 1999 he was back to the traditional 2,500-liter old wooden casks.
When it comes to tradition and the vineyard, the family never used herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers. Loimer stuck with this philosophy yet began thinking more about his farming methods; in 2003 he realized they were not working. He questioned whether there was a way to get more sense of place and even more individuality in style. After a few problematic years, the switch to biodynamic farming began circa 2005.
Biodynamics Leads to Respekt
After Loimer’s second year of biodynamically farming together with colleagues in Austria and Alto Adige, they looked for a consultant to help with the process and found the late Andrew Lorand. Lorand worked with many wineries including Joseph Phelps in California.
Lorand spent several weeks working with and training the group of twelve. They were impressed yet wanted a rigorous biodynamic certification process- one that included quality items and that was more in line with their practical farming issues. At that time they had a different view than Demeter Austria. The result was Respekt, a type of biodynamic certification the group founded in 2007. Today there are 25 member wineries from Austria, Germany, Italy, and Hungary. And today, a friendly relationship exists between them and Demeter International.
Respekt is a member of the Biodynamic Association Biodynamic Federation – Demeter International (BFDI).
Loimer on Biodynmics: “The greatest barrier is maybe your own brain / head. Changing to Biodynamic Farming means changing your thoughts and your way of thinking and living. The problems you will see in the field are to handle (easily).” Fred Loimer via email exchange
Loimer on quality: “The determining factor for the quality of a wine is its origin. And we are convinced that biodynamics is pure origin. Biodynamics enhances the character of the wine, makes it more vibrant and expresses the characteristics of its origin more precisely. Each of the many measures and steps involved in biodynamic wine-growing give to the wine a piece of its origin, its environment and its creator.” Fred Loimer, Loimer website
Loimer on climate change – Harvest occurs today from two to three weeks earlier than thirty years ago. Loimer sees an increase of late frost, hail and rot. The challenge with climate warming is extremes: long periods of drought, uncharacteristically wet years, and crazy weather events. (Loimer, 2015. Episode 224, I’ll Drink To That Podcast)
Loimer on winemaking changes – With Loimer’s change to biodynamic, he moved back to spontaneous fermentation (versus adding yeast to start fermentation) and keeping sediments in the juice (lees aging versus racking off the lees. Neither were considered modern winemaking techniques at that time.
“Today we are not pushing to bottle early (you need technology and some treatments for that), we let natural processes run up to the point where we think the wine is stable by himself. So, no enzymes, almost no cultured yeasts, less temperature control, no finings, late and little sulphuring and in more and more cases even no filtration. This brings a balanced wine full of harmony, with individual character and a great expression from the place, and everything with lower alcohol levels.” Fred Loimer via email exchange
Loimer continues using larger wooden casks and also stainless tanks today. Depending on the wine, he blends the juice from the different vessels.
He makes clean varietal wines, cuvées and also experiments making wines in a fashion similar to how they were made hundreds of years ago in old Austria. That means “Spontaneously fermented with natural yeast; weeks, sometimes months on the skins; patiently matured, without intervention or additives.” (Loimer website)
Two wines I tasted are made this way: mit Achtung! meaning with respect or with caution, and Gluegglich Glückliches (happy, lucky) – both are skin contact wines, aka orange or amber wines.
Annual production is about 500,000 bottles.
All wines tasted were spontaneously fermented, meaning only ambient yeasts start the fermentation process.
When it comes to food pairings, Grüner is super versatile. From Asian to Indian or simple flavors, they cut through richness and handle a little heat. And they tend towards lower alcohol levels which I find very refreshing!
Extra Brut Reserve B (Sekt) NV (22€, 12% abv)
36% Zwiegelt, 35% Pinot Noir, 19% Chardonnay,10% Grüner Veltliner, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris
We love starting an evening with bubbles and Loimer’s traditional method sparkling wine, which spent 18-months lees aging, is a great choice. Here we enjoyed this pale yellow wine with fine bubbles that carry steely lime, bread dough and fig aromas. The first sip is vibrant with lime that is creamy around the edges. It has a burst of fairly high yet smooth acidity, and medium body and length. Very good quality. Dosage was a miniscule 2 g/l.
The wine aged in stainless tanks on full lees for 4 months, then after racking, another 4 months on fine lees.
Kamptal Grüner Veltliner Kamptal DAC 2019 (9.90€, 12% abv)
This grab any day Grüner delivers big for the price with clean, medium-intensity floral, green apple, white grapefruit and green tea aromas. These follow to the palate which has a white pepper/crushed stone quality and a steely, medium finish.
Vinification: 20% whole cluster grapes and 80% mashed were macerated 2 hours. Fermentation: 95% in stainless tanks and 5% in large, neutral oak casks. Aging in stainless tanks on fine lees for 4 months.
Langenlois Ried Loiserberg 1ÖTW Grüner Veltliner Kamptal DAC 2018 (18€, 12% abv)
The Loiserberg is a 50 hectare (124-acre) vineyard, the highest in the Kamptal at 350 to 380 meters (1,100 to 1,250-feet). Loimer grows 10-hectares (25-acres) of south and south-east facing vines there: 4 ha of Grüner plus Riesling and Zweigelt. It is a dry and cool site. Similar to vineyards in Burgundy, there are several people who farm grapes in this and the Käferberg vineyard.
Although a cooler site, 2018 was a warmer year. Aromas revolve around apples- green, yellow, dried and baked with a squeeze of lemon-lime and hints of green spice. Very refreshing and tangy on the palate with a certain white pepper and slate/mineral character. Smooth medium-plus acidity, slightly bigger body than the Käferberg and a long, enjoyable finish. Excellent quality.
Vinification: 12 hours’ whole and mashed cluster maceration. Fermentation in stainless tanks for 4-6 weeks followed by aging in the same: 4 months on full lees and 4 months on fine lees.
Langenlois Ried Käferberg 1ÖTW Grüner Veltliner Kamptal DAC 2017 (37€, 13% abv)
The Käferberg vineyard is a warm and sheltered site where Loimer farms 3-hectares or 7.4-acres (of 30.4 total hectares) at 300-meters (990-feet).
This wine is less piquant than the Loiserberg, perhaps due to a warm year. Yet it’s still a great example of this grape’s character, inching towards the riper spectrum. The aromas and flavors are yellow- apple, lemon, chamomile, and a hint of white pepper and ginger. A vibrant wine that reminds me of the salinity in sea breeze, it has medium-plus smooth acidity, and both medium-body and length. Very good quality with a softer, rounder side than some Grüner.
Vinification: 24 hours’ whole and mashed cluster maceration then 4 week fermentation in oak foudres. Aging in foudres on full lees for 11 months and in stainless tanks on fine lees for 9 months.
Although the following wines do not contain Grüner, they were so dynamic I have to include them!
Gluegglich mit Achtung NV (10€, 12% abv)
For the Gluegglich wines, vintage is unimportant because blending from different vintages helps ensure quality in the final wine. This wine was partly fermented on skins, spent eight months on full lees and was not fined or filtered.
A blend of 24% Zierfandler, 7% Rotgipfler, 20% Riesling, 33% Chardonnay, 6% Traminer and 10% Muskateller (the Muscat family), this wine is fun!
- Color: A lightly cloudy, pale orange-salmon hue.
- Aromas: Medium-intensity yellow apple, ginger, mustard seeds.
- Mouth: An almost racy attack, dry, sour lemon, salty lemon, non-sweet bubble gum.
- It has medium-plus bright acidity, a round mouthfeel and lingering length. Very good quality, great with grilled salmon and a grilled vegetable green salad mix.
Ruläner mit Achtung (natural wine) 2016 (19.90€, 12.5% abv)
This wine screams ‘mit Achtung’ in a good way! It’s called an orange (or amber) wine- a white wine made like a red. Whole grape bunches were mashed then fermented with skins, seeds and pulp for just over four weeks, pressed, then the juice was on lees for twelve months. After that, racked, then another six months on fine lees with a small dose of sulphur.
Bottled unfiltered and unfined, it has a coppery-cinnabar cloudiness, the later common in natural wines. It’s that deeper color from the grape skins- although it’s a white grape, the skin is grayish-blue.
We’re talking aromatically intense orange zest, kumquats, rose water, and lychee. The nose is reflected on the bone dry palate with mashed strawberry, mixed citrus and candied, and ends with a long finish of not sweet candied orange and rose petals.
Very good quality, this wine with medium acidity, body and length, and a low tannic feel is made for conversation and fun.
Vinification: Mashed and de-stemmed whole berries fermented for just over 4 weeks in 500-litre wooden barrels. Aging in small used wooden barrels (300 litres) on lees for 12 months without sulphur; then for another 6 months on fine lees; a very small amount of sulphur was added after the first racking.
In conclusion, it’s evident the Fred Loimer philosophy is working. His vines, surrounded by life result in wines that taste alive. And his Grüner are stunning!
To find these wines, head to the handy distributor webpage on the Loimer website.
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