“The valley is narrow and the rocky terraces are incredibly steep where the Kremstal appellation borders the Wachau – there is nearly no top soil at all.” I listen attentively as Michael Malat pulls a tight wetsuit over muscular thighs and zips it tautly over his chest.
“In the side valley cut by the Krems River you find Senftenberg and the same – steep and rocky conditions. The vines there are like old leathery alpine climbers that always find the best way to hold themselves tight on the mountain face.” Michael’s father Gerald Malat, a visionary vintner and avid sportsman, accelerates the speed boat and we head eastwards on the Danube River. The valley begins to widen. On the left is the famous wine and art city of Krems nestled into the mountainside and across the river to the south, high on a plateau is the splendid Stift Göttweig the Benedictine monastery that appears to benevolently guard the 2,600 hectares of vineyards in the Kremstal appellation. Michael points to the right and says, “Our vineyards are among those on the south side of the river. Between the river and Stift Göttweig there is a little pocket of gravel and loam which offers ideal conditions for elegant, cool climate red wines, but the greater part of the vineyards are predestined for superb white wines from Grüner Veltliner and Riesling. Like most of our appellation we have lots of primary rock. But the river valley opens here and there are also vineyard plots with loess topsoil, decomposed rock transported by the wind over the ages.” I understand why Michael wanted to give me an overview of the Kremstal terroir here from the boat. As we travel farther east, the valley on the north side of the river also opens and the hillsides and mountains are more exposed to the warm air masses coming from the southeast. Michael gives me the binoculars as he points out the more powerful loess terraces over ancient primary rock in the wine villages of Gedersdorf and Rohrendorf. “The soil and the microclimate there bring richer, fuller wines. It is really interesting how, with a little experience, you can really learn to recognize the subtle, but consistent differences that you taste in our individual vineyards. The ‘Traditionsweingüter’ vintners’ association has been doing much research and observation over the past years and have classified the very best vineyards that can be seen as our Grand Cru as ‘Erste Lage’ and other prime vineyards (similar to Premier Cru) as ‘klassifizierte Lage’.”
We’ve reached a calmer part of the river and Michael sits on the back ramp of the boat and spreads a little liquid soap to lubricate the tight foot holds of the water ski. He slips both feet into his slalom ski, takes the rope and eases himself into the cool water. Michael has quite an impressive physique – tall, broad shoulders, bulging biceps, quads, nice abs – need I continue? This can’t just come from canopy management and he can’t be moving many barrels because the Kremstal DAC wines are not oaked. His father seems to be reading my thoughts, “Michael was the national water ski champion in the amateur category and he does a lot of other sports, too.” Michael gives the thumbs up and as Gerald hits the gas, my heart beats faster. Michael pops out of the water with his blonde tresses flying in the wind. He lays into the edge of his ski, spraying a glistening rooster’s tail against the blue sky behind him.
I keep an attentive eye on Michael while Gerald drives the boat and continues the conversation where Michael left off. “The Kremstal DAC and Kremstal Reserve DAC were established in 2007. It has helped define the authentic Kremstal expression of Grüner Veltliner and Riesling. In the past a few vintners would allow a little noble rot in their dry wines. This may lend a little attractive spice to wines in their youth, but this is at the price of structure, longevity and minerality. No oak or botrytis influence is allowed in Kremstal DAC and Kremstal DAC Reserve and that is a very good thing. The wines always exhibit very pure varietal character. The Kremstal DAC wines are crisp, aromatic, medium light in body, and always under 13% alcohol. The reserve wines are sourced from the most exceptional vineyard plots and are intense with a more muscular structure and long mineral finish. Both the Grüner Veltliner and Riesling Kremstal Reserve DAC can mature gracefully in the bottle for years.”
After waterskiing, Michael and I go for a stroll in Krems as he tells me about the lifestyle here. Krems was originally an important shipping and trading hub on the Danube River. Due to its affluence it was able to sustain a thriving art scene. There are numerous galleries and museums making up a permanent “Kunstmeile” or “Art Mile” centered around the Ernst Krenek Forum and the Caricature Museum. “When friends come to visit and I take them to our museums, I also like to take them to ARTE, it is a combination of an art gallery and wine bar. In the evening, Wein & So is the hopping place to go for wine lovers.”
One place that visitors to Kremstal certainly shouldn’t miss is the Weinsinn Sandgrube 13. The visitor’s center of the exemplary cooperative, Winzer Krems, offers tours for experiencing and discovering wine in a very fun and entertaining way. The city of Krems also has its own historic winery, Weingut Stadt Krems, which also has a recommendable shop and tastings. Both of these wine producers offer exceptional wines at very competitive prices.
We settle into the Bistro de la Tour for a casual dinner and a sampling of local wines. Michael wants to make sure I get a chance to try wines from two of Austria’s leading organic producers. “Ilse Maier event wrote a great book about the production of organic wines and her Grüner Veltliner and Riesling from the Geyerhof winery really do a good job of demonstrating the poised elegance from the terroir on ‘our’ south side of the river. Niki Moser converted the family estate Sepp Moser in Rohrendorf to biodynamic viticulture and you’ve just got to try his Grüner Veltliner from the loess soils of the Breiten Rain vineyard.” To exemplify the steep primary rock, Michael has chosen the Riesling Kremser Weinzierlberg from the Türk winery. It has plenty of pure peach and apricot fruit, but it is the delineated mineral structure that really fascinates me.
“I love living in the Krems Valley. There are plenty of opportunities for athletic adventures in the outdoors – we have rivers and we have forests and mountains. The Austrian Wine Academy has a branch here that offers seminars for wine lovers and professionals. We have great concerts and wine related events throughout the year. We’ve got a thriving art scene. And we have plenty of chances to talk about all these great things with friends at our local wine taverns, wine bars and gourmet restaurants. You won’t go thirsty or hungry in Kremstal!”