There are plenty of movie stars and famous musicians that dabble in wine on the side. Günther Schönberger doesn’t dabble. He is a man that threw a successful music career overboard to turn his hobby into his main occupation. In my opinion, with much more tasteful results.
The first time I visited the Schönberger Family Winery in Mörbisch, I was on a tasting assignment for an annual wine guide. “Concentrate on what is in the glass, not on the rock star and what he is blathering in your ear, and not on the flashy surroundings, ” I said to myself while driving. Objectivity and consistency are key to doing a good fair job. Ratings in the wine guide will have an impact on sales as well as the integrity of the wine guide.
For 18 years, Günther Schönberger was a saxophonist and then manager for an Austrian comedy rock band. That was my problem. Humour doesn’t often translate well over cultures and languages. Despite its great popularity and success in Austria and Germany, the comedy rock band “Erste Allgemeine Verunsicherung” (EAV) has never failed to make me cringe. Admittedly, this was not due to the saxophonist, but to the lead singer whom I find hysteric and obnoxious.
Günther Schönberger greeted me personally in the humble, plain and homey surroundings of his winery in Mörbisch on the west side of Lake Neusiedl in Burgenland, Austria. Behind the impressive, well-groomed long silver mane of hair was not a talkative show-biz man, but a surprisingly quiet, even introverted, vintner. He said little as I tasted the wines and made my notes. After tasting, I questioned him about the wines and vinification techniques. As the interview turned to the vineyard, the vintner opened up and spoke passionately about the vines, the soil, climate and the humbling experience of being at the mercy of the weather each year.
Wine had always been Schönberger’s hobby. While his EAV colleagues went off romping in Kenya and chic resorts and cities in their free time, Günther visited vineyards and winemakers. He volunteered his help to vintner friends to gain better insight and understanding. He ultimately purchased a few small vineyard plots and harvested and produced his first wine from his own fruit in the 1992 vintage. In 1996, Schönberger retired from the entertainment industry to become a vintner in Burgenland Austria.
The Schönberger family practiced organic viticulture from the very beginning and converted to bio-dynamic viticulture in 1998. The Schönbergers now cultivate 27 vineyard hectares and are certified bio-dynamic by Demeter Österreich. This certifying agency is arguably one of the strictest in the world, placing high demands and restraints not only in the vineyard, but in the cellar. Biodynamic viticulture requires some serious dedication to manual labor in the vineyard and in difficult years, the willingness to sacrifice more of the harvest than in non-organic viticulture – manipulations and corrections with additives or fractioning techniques are not allowed.
The Schoenberger Family Winery was the first biodynamic winery in Austria that produces dry red and white wines as well as botrytized sweet wines. All three categories have achieved high ratings and accolades from the critics. My own personal favourites have been his Chardonnay “Schoenberger weiss” and his Sauvignon Blanc. And no one could accuse Günther Schönberger of using his fame and a big mouth to gain attention for his wines. The only horn he’ll toot is still occasionally his saxophone in his free time. Schönberger lets his wines speak for themselves.