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Austrian Wine Grower Sets New Record For Maturing Grapes

Austrian Wine Grower Sets New Record For Maturing Grapes

An award-winning Austrian winegrower is believed to have set a new record after leaving harvested grapes for an incredible nine months before fermenting them to create an ultra-sweet white and red wine.

Christian and Nora Trierenberg, who run the 20 hectare Georgiberg vineyard, which was established in 1777 in the southern Austrian province of Styria, harvested 2,500 kilos of red wine Zweigelt grapes and white Gewuerztraminer grapes.

But instead of extracting the juice straight away, the grapes picked in September were stored in a specially converted barn, carefully laid out on a reed bed, and constantly checked so that any mouldy or damaged grapes were removed. The juice that was finally extracted contained so much sugar, that it tastes more like honey than wine.

Nora said: "We have always attached great importance to a long maturing time, as that controls flavour and the development of the flavour is a top priority for us. Our vineyards are worked by hand, and the grapes are picked solely by hand. No pesticides or herbicides are used, and so we wanted to see what we could learn from waiting longer before we extracted the juice from the grapes."

To make a traditional sweet wine, vintners will leave the grapes on the stalks longer, so that the moisture in the grape slowly disappears leaving a higher sugar concentration. This process is taken to the extreme in the making of ice wine – where the grapes are left until the first frost and only then harvested when everything is frozen.

But the new technique being perfected in southern Austria involves the grapes being harvested and left untouched even longer than winter, right the way through to the following year.

Nora said: "We had the grapes tested constantly to make sure we only extracted the juice when the sugar content was absolutely perfect.

"The extract that we got was more like syrup than wine, and had more of the consistency of honey than the traditional wine juice."

She estimates that from the 2,500 kilos of grapes they will end up with not more than about 25 litres of wine.

She said: "If we had extracted the juice right after harvesting in September, we would have had a 75 percent yield. But by leaving it so long we ended up with just 7 percent.

"But the advantage of using this method is that leaving the grapes hanging on the vine means that we would have to contend with birds and the weather. Some years the birds can eat almost the entire crop. But even without them we have a lot of rain in this area and that is a big disadvantage of just leaving the grapes on the vine."

Austrian wine expert Willi Opitz whose clients include Bill Clinton and whose wine is sold around the world at top stores, including Harrods in London, said: "This method is not normally done because it is a lot of work for very little result. The grapes need to be checked all the time and those that have gone bad thrown away - about 30 percent is lost that way. Normally, there is also the problem of contamination as the grapes take flavour from whatever they are in contact with - however, this is overcome in this case by using reeds that are neutral."

Austria has a reputation for good quality sweet dessert wines which come mainly from Burgenland where the weather is not as wet as it is in the more mountainous southern Austrian province of Styria where the Georgiberg vineyard is located.

The Georgiberg vineyard's first red grapevines came from the Italian car manufacture Ferruccio Lamborghini’s wine nursery and in 2008 it was taken over by the Trierenberg family.

The typical Styrian white wine grapes are Welschriesling, Moscato Giallo, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Traminer, Morillon and Sauvignon Blanc as well as the monovarietal Scheurebe. The red wines which are untypical for Styria and are of outstanding quality are Zweigelt, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet.

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