“There is a rather endearing curse in the German language. When you are frustrated with someone and want to send them to the end of the world, you tell them to go ‘where the pepper grows’,” laughs Marion Ebner-Ebenauer. “I used to think that meant somewhere far away and isolated like Africa, Madagascar, or the most rural parts of the Weinviertel. But now with the international success of our peppery Grüner Veltliner under the geographic label of origin ‘Weinviertel DAC’, the place where ‘the pepper grows’ has gained a pleasant second meaning.”
Marion is taking me on a tour of the Weinviertel in her vintage VW beetle and I am impressed that this old red convertible successfully climbs each vineyard slope without a sputter! We are just past the borders of Vienna touring vineyards of Langenzersdorf, Bisamberg und Hagenbrunn. We refresh ourselves along the way with typical heuriger fare of various salads and bread with different delicious spreads as well as the region’s famous Marchfeld asparagus. The Weinviertel is the bread basket of Austria. Most of the country’s grains are grown here and it is also a primary source of fresh vegetables for the nation’s capitol city. Austria’s heuriger culture was born when a sanction passed by Emperor Franz-Josef II in 1784 allowed farmers to sell their produce and products directly to consumers and this culture of rustic wine taverns continues to thrive.
“The biggest difference between now and then is that farmers have begun to specialize. This is particularly true of grape growers. As specialization has increased, so also has the quality of our region’s wines.” explains the young vintner. Marion slips on her red leather driving gloves, a chic little necessity for manoeuvring without power steering. She steps on the gas and we head to our last stop before leaving the southern Weinviertel.
At the restaurant of the Imperial Festival Palace Hof, we are served a wine labelled Weinviertel DAC, which always designates peppery wines from 100% Grüner Veltliner with crisp fruit, medium body and refreshing acidity. Marion explains, “The more powerful, full-bodied Grüner Veltliners are labelled Weinviertel Reserve DAC. These wines were harvested later and have more opulent fruit and black pepper aromas.” Our surroundings are impressive: the Imperial Festival Palace Hof is Austria’s largest rural palace complex. The palace, gardens and farm manor have recently been restored to their former splendour and intended purpose as a venue for magnificent celebrations. The experience tours and festivals offered here are highly recommendable here for they allow would-be time-travellers the opportunity to explore the world of Prince Eugene and Empress Maria Theresa in a manner that is fascinating, exciting, and far more real than any museum.
As we cruise towards the north, ever further from Vienna, wide spaces, big skies and rolling hills open before us. The countryside becomes much more sparsely populated. One wonders what inspired this young, cosmopolitan woman to move from the exciting bustle of the Austrian capital to this lonely, rural place. “I met my husband just after we each finished our wine studies. I travelled a lot while working as a negociant. After we married, we decided to take over his family’s winery in Poysdorf. I truly appreciate the peace and unspoiled authenticity of this region. The people here are friendly, yet quiet, and when they do speak they certainly have very well-defined opinions! The Weinviertel Grüner Veltliner reflects the character of the people here: vibrant, harmonious, and distinctly peppery.”
We drive through romantic cellar alleys that typify the wine villages of the Weinviertel. Farmers used to make their wines in cellars dug deep and long into the loess slopes just steps away from their vines. Rows of rustic, colourfully painted little wooden doors now serve as places to store vineyard equipment and machinery. Professional vintners have long moved to more spacious and modern equipped quarters. A few of the cellars have been refurbished into quaint seasonal heuriger, that open during the harvest, when sturm – musty wine in its first stages of fermentation is served to thirsty tourists and vineyard labourers sharing vintage news and gossip.
“I’m not the only one who adores the Weinviertel,” exclaims Marion. “People from all over the world come here seeking rejuvenation and refuge from their busy lives. They visit the healing thermal waters of Laa an der Thaya and the spa hotels and vintner B&Bs in wine villages throughout the region. Restaurants with good regional wine lists, Buchingers Gasthaus zur Alte Schule or Zum Grünen Baum are much appreciated. My favourite wine bar is Wino in Poysdorf. ”
On all of our visits to eateries, whether simple rustic heuriger, country inn or elegant spa hotel restaurant, I am pleasantly surprised by the diversity of regional wines offered. “Half of Austria’s – no, half of the world’s Grüner Veltliner grows in the loess soils of the Weinviertel, but we have other grape varieties as well. Riesling also loves the primary rock and Pinot Blanc adores our limestone. Most of the base wine for Austria’s sparkling wine brands are sourced from our region’s crisp, refreshing Welschriesling. Everyone makes at least a few bottles of charming, fruity red from regional varieties and we even have a couple vintners specialized in sweet wines like Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein.”
This time, as we return to the car, it doesn’t start, but with Marion’s practical forethought, it is pointed downhill and we have an easy jump-start and coast stylishly into the historic wine city of Retz. Retz is famed for its 20 km labyrinth of wine cellars beneath the city. Fascinating tours of the vaults and wine tastings are offered daily.
The Weinviertel, Austria’s dreamy giant is peppered with many opportunities for rejuvenation in an unspoiled rural landscape. Simplicity and unspoiled authenticity make the Weinviertel a very luxurious place to escape modern day hectic and “go where the pepper grows”.