03 September 2002

Austria/France 2002 - Tuesday

PRISM/Web training day. I had about 13 students from 9 different countries (Italy, Austria, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Portugal and Czech Republic...Poland and Bulgaria had to back out at the last minute due to harvest issues in those countries). Over lunch discussions I found out that:
  • The very windy weather over the last couple of days is very typical of the region.
  • The things in all the vinyards that look like really cheesy wooden guard towers or outhouses-on-stilts are actually deer stands. Apparently, deer hunting is very big there. In fact, I had venison several times.
  • Gerhardt (one of my students) runs a vinyard. When he found out I was interested in seeing a vinyard and how wine-making works, he offered to set up a tour and wine tasting with THE premier vintner in the area. Turns out most of the students were interested in a wine tasting too so we made the arrangements for that evening before supper.
We left the office in a little 5-vehicle convoy to go to the vinyard. Greg, Delinda, Rolando and I were vehicle #2. Greg was driving, Delinda was riding shotgun and assinged the duty of keeping track of Dirk's vehicle ahead of us. As we hit the very first round-about in Parndorf, we lost them while being distracted, wondering how such a BIG bus could negotiate the little round-about. By the time the bus was through the circle, we realized we'd totally lost sight of Dirk and started down the wrong road. We knew the place we were going was somewhere east of Neusiedl so we got turned around and headed that direction, all the while trying to figure out we were going to find everyone again.

Of the 4 of us, only Rolando had a cell phone...but we didn't have a cell phone number for anyone else in the group. Eventually, Rolando ended up calling the Pioneer office in Italy to get Felix' number. He then called Felix in the Parndorf office who transferred him to Dirk's cell phone who handed the phone to Gerhardt (the student) who guided us to the little town of Gols and told us to wait there. He met us in a little parking lot at the edge of town and led us through a maze of tiny little dirt track roads back into the vinyards. We'd have NEVER found it otherwise.

As we arrived, there was a small plane flying low over the fields. They told us that was to keep the birds away from the vinyards. They pay pilots to spend all day just making passes over the fields.

We met Gerhardt Pittnaur (the vintner...not Gerhardt, my student) and he gave us a tour of his winery. He has about 13 hectares (very large for that area) and a very new processing facility (less than a year old). His family has been making wine for several geneartions and the Pittnaur label has a very good reputation in a province (Bergenland) that is known as Austria's best wine country. We saw the large plastic crates used to bring the harvest grapes from the field. We saw the presses and large stainless steel tanks where the inital fermenting takes place. And we also saw the cool-storage room where the wine, now housed in oaken barrels (made of French oak...American oak is more suited to Spanish wines, according to Gerhardt) is stored for a couple of years (typically) until it's bottled.

Then it was on to the testing. He'd set up a couple of tables and a large umbrella out front with some baskets of breads and wine glasses. We started out with a Chardonnay (not typical of Austria, but he was in the process of branching out to a more international market), then 4 of his label's red wines. The Zweigelt is a tradional Austrian wine, hints of ripe cherry and a strong peppery-spicy bite. The grapes growing right around the building were the zweigelt grapes so we got to taste the grapes directly and then the wine made from them. The Pino Noir was also a sort of international style...only slightly peppery, more smooth than the zweigelt. The Pannoble is a very special wine...it's actually a blend of 5 different wines (called a cuvee). There is a sort of co-op of vintners in the area that are responsible for the region's Pannoble every year. The vintners blend their own Pannoble every and then come together to decide whose version will be THE Pannoble for the year. It was a VERY good wine. The St Laurent, however, is the top wine under the Pittnaur label. It's a very local wine...only produced in Austria and some tiny parts of neighboring countries. It's a very old wine, some of the oldest in the country and definitely my favorite of the wines we tasted. The most expensive, too...go figure.

Then we got to taste some of this year's vintage straight from the barrel. He has this sort of long glass tube with a big bulge at one end. He would stick the long, skinny end into the barrel and sphon off some wine from the barrel up the tube and into the bulb. he would hold his finger over the end of the tube to keep the wine in and pour the wine into our glasses from that tube. This is a sort of 'raw' or young wine, normally it owuld be bottled and sit for a while in the bottle before being drunk. It was very smooth and mild and obviously needed some age on it before it would be a really good wine.

From the vinyard, we joined the rest of the group at a restaurant in Neusiedl. Another late night after a very full day.