Wine on Starchefs JURTSCHITSCH

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An Interview with Karl Jurtschitsch of Jurtschitsch Sonnhof, Austria
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?

Karl Jurtschitsch: 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 Kamptal?

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 country’s reds?

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 for Grüve?

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.

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 Published: August 2005