Anna spreads the picnic blanket over the vetch, clover and wild grass growing in the rows between the vines. It is a sunny late summer day in the Kamptal and we have a huge ice bucket full of wines to taste. I help arrange our spread of cheese, organic sausage, salads and fruit. Before her mother can stop her, little Marie quickly pops a grape in her mouth and squeals with delight.
My eyes glide over the rolling vineyard hills and mountains as Anna names them for me: Gaisberg, Ofenberg, Heiligenstein. Behind those vineyard mountains is the Kamp River which lends its name to this appellation, and on the other side of the river, yet more vineyard mountains: Seeberg, Hasel, Käferberg, and Schenkenbichl. 4,000 hectares of vineyards – those are just a few of the familiar vineyard names that one sees on the labels of Kamptal wines. “The actual boundaries of the Kamptal appellation are judicial; it comprises the legal district of Langenlois. Kamptal borders the other Danube area appellations. Kremstal is to the west, Traisental south, and to the east we have the Wagram.”
Anna takes a long cool bottle out of the ice bucket and pours each of us a taste of the Arndorfer Riesling. Marie continues to munch on grapes as her mother and I chat. “I grew up on a winery. My sisters and I were always following my mother and father around in the vineyards, the cellar, the office, the kitchen. There were always a lot of happy people around drinking wine, eating good food and enjoying the peaceful countryside. It’s a nice life and one I would like to share with my children, too.” Anna married the talented young vintner Martin Arndorfer, and moved a few kilometres from her family’s Steininger winery in Langenlois to the Arndorfer winery in Strass. The Riesling Anna has poured for me bears the “Kamptal DAC” origin. It is pale green-yellow and has pronounced aromas and flavours of white vineyard peach and apricot that are highlighted by racy, citrusy acid and cool minerals reminiscent of a mountain stream pebbles linger on the finish.
“Kamptal DAC” and “Kamptal DAC Reserve” were established in 2008 as controlled labels of geographic origin. Like AOC in France or DOC/DOCG in Italy, Austria’s DAC always follows the name of the appellation. The Kamptal DAC and the Kamptal DAC Reserve are always single-varietal wines from either Riesling or Grüner Veltliner. To pass the strict tasting inspections the wines must exhibit pure and clearly defined varietal character. No new oak or botrytis notes are allowed for the Kamptal DAC, but a hint of both are allowed for the more powerful, full-bodied Kamptal DAC Reserve.
“Grüner Veltliner and Riesling have been established as the most important grape varieties in Kamptal for generations. They quite simply find an ideal terroir here and make up more than half of the Kamptal vineyard area.” The Heiligenstein is one of the appellation’s most famous sites. Directly translated, Heiligenstein means “holy stone”, but its historic name was Höllenstein, probably because the meagre sandstone with volcanic components dating back to the Palaeozoic era 270 million years ago, can get as “hot as hell” in summer. Luckily large forested areas and open exposure to cool air masses coming from the north ensure large diurnal temperature differences. The Heiligenstein vineyard is particularly favoured for Riesling and some of Austria’s very best examples come from this site.
As you travel further south and closer to the Danube River, the soils change. Loess and loam terraces provide ideal conditions for Grüner Veltliner. Marie is now sitting comfortably on my lap as Anna pours me a glass of Grüner Veltliner Kamptal DAC Reserve. It is pale medium yellow, full-bodied and generous, but with firm acid structure. Exotic fruit reminiscent of mango and grapefruit mingle with pepper, celery and even a hint of lentils. The Kamptal DAC Grüner Veltliner is generous and full-bodied, but with good acid structure and plenty of peppery spice.
In 1992 the Association of Traditional Wineries Austria was founded with the ambitious goal of achieving a vineyard classification in the Danube area. The creation of region of origin labelling in the form of DACs was the foundation for the further development of aprime single vineyard concept. It was a historical moment for the association when after 20 years of research and discussion, the members presented 52 vineyards which were classified as ‘Erste Lage’ (grand cru). This is the beginning of a classification process that is expected to last for at least another 20 to 30 years.
“Certainly Riesling and Grüner Veltliner are our flagship wines in Kamptal, but we have other varieties and specialties, too. You can find several other varieties like Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc and there are a couple vineyards that are predestined for early-ripening red wine varieties like Zweigelt, St. Laurent and Pinot Noir. My family, the Steiningers have specialized in the production of sparkling wines and Bründlmayer and Schloss Gobelsburg also make superb alternatives to Champagne.” Not only does the Kamptal offer much diversity, 10% of Austria’s vineyard area is now organically cultivated and two of Austria’s leading vintners and champions of the organic movement are located in Kamptal: Fred Loimer and Hannes Hirsch.
Wine culture and tourism play an important role in the Kamptal region. Langenlois is the largest community and has a superb tourist information office called Ursin Haus that has bicycle rental and will help you find accommodations. The Ursin Haus also serves as a regional wine shop where you can taste wines from all over the region before you purchase and also attend seminars and events. Restaurant Schwillinsky has the best wine list in the appellation and is located in the picturesque heart of Langenlois. Weinkontraste is another recommendable regional wine shop in Strass that is very generous with information and tourism assistance in the region.
The innovative little winery that Anna grew up on has grown to a sizeable venture for Austria at 30 hectares. The Steiningers also initiated quite an exciting wine experience centre that has become a major attraction for the region. The Loisium is a futuristic architectural monument to wine designed by the New York architect Steven Holl. Visitors begin with a walk through the vineyard and are led through a 1 km long network of wine experiences. The cellar of the Steininger winery is integrated in the facility and one follows in the steps of the winemaker as he guides the grapes from the vineyard to the bottle. The Loisium now includes a designer hotel and restaurant called the Vineyard, which has a very good selection of regional wines by the bottle and by the glass.
“Producing wine is a wonderful lifestyle,” exclaims Anna. “It is for me and I think for most of the vintners here in Kamptal. Every village has a couple of winery-operated taverns where you can experience the typical country ‘Gemütlichkeit’ of the Kamptal. These are the places that locals go and they have the function and atmosphere of our second living rooms.”