Vienna may have 300 wine growers, but few are as passionate and forward-thinking as Fritz Wieninger. Overseeing the family winery started by his father in the 1960s, Fritz has not only grown its output and reputation but also reoriented it to the future by converting to biodynamic practices. The 2011 vintage is the first to feature biodynamic wines, currently numbering eight different bottlings.
Sipping wine with Fritz next door to the family heuriger, now run by his brother, we talk about the struggles of making wine in Vienna and the responsibility of winemakers to future generations. After a stint in Napa Valley, he took over the winery in 1987 and, in 1999, picked up land at the highly regarded Nussberg vineyard. In the intervening years, Fritz became a champion of the city’s wines and its typical white wine, Gemischter Satz, a field blend of various grape varietals grown together. But his biggest leap was to biodynamics, a process he began in 2008.
When I ask what precipitated the change, he mentions his three children, saying he grew concerned for the future and that it was “my duty to do something.” He had noticed the downward spiral of ever worse results from spraying, reaching as he calls it a “dead end” in 2005. “And at the end of the day it’s better for the quality of the wine,” he concluded.
A tasting of the 2011 vintage yields a good overview of the potential of Viennese wine. Lying on both sides of the Danube, his two sites, Bisamberg and Nussberg, are vastly different though part of the same city. Near the winery north of the Danube, Bisamberg has sandy, loess soil while Nussberg, one-third of his lands, which he refers to as the “better site,” sits on limestone.
With an able assist from his young son Max opening our bottles, the tasting included several biodynamic wines, including two 2011 Gruner Veltliners from Herrenholz and Nussberg. The Herrenholz, grown on sandy soil in Bisamberg, was fresh and high in acid while the Nussberg showed nice minerality with potential to age for years. Rosengartl in Nussberg represents Wieninger’s top cru and his 2011 Alte Reben showed a high acidity upfront with excellent structure. The 2011 Nussberg Riesling finds the perfect terroir in this vineyard, producing a balanced wine with a hint of honey and stone fruit.
While his own vineyards are 100% biodynamic, Fritz also rents some land tilled in the traditional fashion so his Gemischter Satz is not yet biodynamic. But with an eye to the future, his goal is to soon change that, as well introduce organic principles to his fellow winemakers. The next act for Vienna’s wine ambassador may be a challenge but if anyone is up for it, it’s Fritz Wieninger.
Michael Tulipan is the Editor of TheSavvyExplorer.com, a travel guide for sophisticated independent travelers on a budget.