In Vienna, there’s a popular slogan on T-shirts, refrigerator magnets and other tourist souvenirs that states, “No kangaroos in Austria,” and shows a drawing of the hopping marsupial that is prevalent Down Under. The fact that there’s a popular slogan like that seems to indicate that there are a lot of geography-challenged — or spelling-challenged — people in the world who confuse Austria with Australia.
Wine is something else that is prevalent in Australia, but you won’t find any “No wine made in Austria” slogans because not only is there a lot of wine produced in Austria, but there’s also world-class wine made there by passionate producers.
One such producer is Fred Loimer, owner of the Loimer winery in Langenlois, a town in Austria’s Kamptal wine region. Located northwest of Vienna, Kamptal is influenced by the confluence of the hot Carpathian Basin climate with the cooler climate from Austria’s forest quarter to the northeast. This dynamic creates warm days and cool nights, a climate condition that helps fully ripen grapes while maintaining fresh acidity. For this reason, Kamptal is considered one of Austria’s premier winemaking regions.
After studying wine in Austria and the United States, Loimer returned to work at the family winery that bears his last name in 1990 and then took over running it 1997. His winemaking approach emphasised freshness and allowing the unique climate and geological attributes of Kamptal to shine through in his wines. In 2006, however, Loimer took an even bigger step with his decision to adopt biodynamic farming practices.
Biodynamic farming incorporates many of the same practices as organic farming, but adds the theories espoused by Austrian Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s. With a holistic biodynamic farming approach, the vineyard is treated as its own ecosystem where everything in nature is linked.
“In nature, you can’t separate the animals from plants,” Loimer says, adding that in his vineyards, the grapevines live among many other plants. “Trees and bushes in the vineyard create a kind of diversity in the landscaping.”
Among other things, biodynamic wine production requires nine different preparations in the vineyard and the timing of specific tasks to be based on the rhythms and cycles of the earth, sun, moon, stars and planets.
“This of course is a part of biodynamic farming, but the most important part is you have to do very proper farming,” says Loimer. “It’s a form of social responsibility and respect for resources.”
Biodynamic farming aims to create “a living organism with your farm,” Loimer says, and since people are an important part of any farm, their role is vital.
Loimer, along with 10 other Austrian winemakers and one from northern Italy, was a founding member of respekt-BIODYN, an organisation that seeks to translate the ideas of Rudolf Steiner into the 21st century in order to show “the highest imaginable respect for nature, our earth and humanity.”
To have a bottle labelled with the respekt-BIODYN logo, wines must be produced by grapes grown biodynamically, with no chemicals or synthetic additives, and fermentation must use natural yeast, and in most cases be allowed to happen spontaneously.
In addition, all respekt-BIODYN wines must be vegan, which means that animal products cannot be used in the fining process that helps clarify wines.
Respekt-BIODYN has now grown to have 22 members from Austria, Germany, Italy and Hungary. Few would deny that adopting biodynamic farming practices is good for the long-term health of a vineyard, but opinions differ on whether those practices make a wine taste better.
Loimer has no doubt.
“For me, for sure the wines taste better,” he says.
Although the Loimer winery is best known for its Grüner Veltliner and Riesling — which together account for about 70 per cent of its production — in keeping with its goal of having diversity on its farm, it grows many other wine grapes, including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Muskateller, Traminer, Rotgipfler and Zweigelt.
Loimer believes, as is typical with European winemakers, that his wines are defined by terroir, the combination of a vineyard’s climate, soil, angle to the sun, biodiversity and human interaction.
“Wine quality comes from the vineyard,” he says. “A wine style comes from the cellar.”
The style of Loimer’s wines is focused on primary fruit flavours and freshness. He also prefers to make well-balanced wines with lower alcohol levels.
For the wines he ages in oak, he uses Austrian oak barrels instead of the more known French, American or Slavonian oak barrels.
“When you talk about terroir and you use wood from another place, it makes no sense,” he says about his decision to use Austrian oak barrels.