Interview with Karl Jurtschitsch of Jurtschitsch Sonnhof,
By Jim Clarke
Jim Clarke: Paul
Jurtschitsch has said that you work from “the same
principles as the winegrowers in Champagne;” how did
Champagne become a role model, rather than Burgundy or Alsace?
Different methods of vinification obviously lead to different
types of wines, and we try to use the perfect vinification
method for each wine. On the one hand, we seek fine fruit
components like you can find in GrüVe; this is achieved
through whole cluster pressing – a principles use
in Champagne. This is what my brother is referring to when
he speaks about the principles. However, wines like the
GV Spiegel Reserve are destemmed and cold soaked for several
hours; through this skin contact the aromas are more profound,
softer, and warmer.
JC: Austria seems
to be wavering between native grapes and the so-called “international”
varieties; what do you think are the merits of each, and
how do you strike a balance between the two?
KJ: In Austria we
have the autochthonous grape Grüner Veltliner, which
is unique and which has very much been increasing its importance
over the last few decades. However, it took even us vintners
many years to understand the richness and the complexity
of Austria’s signature grape. In our estate, “international”
varieties are losing importance over time. Even if Riesling
is much less important than GV, it has relatively increased
its importance too, since the concept of terroir is for
both grapes of great importance.
JC: Why did you
decide to plant Sauvignon Blanc on the Fahnberg instead
of a more traditional Austrian grape?
KJ: Sauvignon Blanc
is a grape which my brother, who is our winemaker, loves,
so he wanted to grow Sauvignon Blanc on his own vineyard.
After testing different places, he thought that the south-sloped
Fahnberg vineyard, which is mostly terraced and consists
of bed-rock gneiss covered with brown earth, had the best
prerequisites to bring the fine elderberry and gooseberry
aromas which he wanted to go for into Sauvignon Blanc.
JC: How and when
did the tradition of single-vineyard wines develop in the
KJ: Partially the
concept of single vineyard wines dates back to the Middle
Ages when Heiligenstein was still called “hell stone”
because of its heat during summer. Heiligenstein since then
has always been associated with single vineyard Riesling.
Single vineyard wines are the only reasonable basis for
characteristic and typical wines coming from an area and
are able to show their real terroir. Over the last few decades
single vineyards with their specific terroir have consistently
increased their importance in Kamptal. GV as well has been
associated with single vineyards for many decades.
JC: What is the
aging potential for your Grüner Veltliners, and what
qualities does the varietal develop during bottle-aging?
KJ: The aging potential
of GV is many times bigger than that of Riesling. Moreover,
the maturation path of GV is more steady than that of Riesling.
We have beautiful wines from the sixties in our cellar;
usually the GV brings more herbal notes than does the Riesling,
and less petrol notes.
JC: Why do you
suppose Austrian whites such as your Riesling and Grüner
Veltliners have had greater success in the U.S. than the
KJ: In most parts
of Austria’s wine production the climate is more favourable
for white grapes. Especially in Kamptal we have best prerequisites
for the kind of spiciness which is perfect for GV and Riesling.
I personally think that GV is a perfect substitute for overpriced
Burgundy wines. In addition GV and Riesling are able to
show their terroir the best, and this contributes very much
to the success in the US. In Austria red wines are very
much associated with Burgenland, the area in the east, I
think the red wines face much tougher competition with wines
from the south like France, Italy, Spain, etc.
JC: How did you
come to choose Christian Ludwig Attersee to design the labels
KJ: It was a
friend of ours, with whom I was discussing the topic of
GrüVe 18 years ago – he said Mr Attersee was
the one who would best accompany your modern wine with a
modern art label.