BREITENBRUNN | Are you looking to visit a lesser known wine region? Consider a visit to the Austrian wine region. Our interest in the region was piqued after trying Blaufrankisch, an Austrian grape variety that’s spicy, rich, and inviting.
During a recent trip to the Burgenland we had a chance to meet winemaker Martin Lichtenberger at the Heinrich Winery in Gols near Austria’s largest lake, Neusidel. We were impressed by several of Heinrich’s biodynamic wines we had tried in London so were pleased to learn the winery was available for tours and tastings. Despite being busy with the wine harvest, Martin took time to provide a comprehensive tour. The facility is ultra modern but the techniques used are rooted in time. The result is an impressive range of balanced and elegant wines. In particular, we loved the Salzberg which is a blend of Merlot, Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt which is aged for 30 months in 500 liter wooden barrels.
During our tasting with Martin, we learned that he and his partner Ariana had their own wine label representing their two family names – Lichtenberger Gonzalez. Ariana, a native of Spain, met Martin during an internship at a California winery. Wanting to know more, we took the opportunity to sit down with Martin to talk about Lichtenberger Gonzalez and the Austrian wine making tradition.
Martin, you come of a family of wine makers. What traditions have you kept as part of your new generation of wine making?
Winemaking is such an ancient craft that it really doesn’t require any more innovation. All of the methods and techniques that are any good have already been invented. Many of them have been forgotten, even more have fallen into oblivion and some have been ousted due to the quest for maximum profit and the desire to appeal to the masses. Please don’t expect us to be on the same page as the rest when it comes to taste.
The opposite is the case. We tend to take the long road and make our wines slowly and patiently by hand: the way wine has always been made. Spontaneous fermentation, in wooden barrels, a long time on the wine and minimal intervention. After all, nature knows best what it needs and doesn’t require any certificates to be itself. Just like us.
What sets Austrian wine apart from other regions?
Austria has a great history for winemaking, especially in Breitenbrunn which is my hometown situated between the Leithaberg Hills and Lake Neusiedl, fifty kilometers south of Vienna. Here we have old vineyards, already settled for decades on limestone and pure slate. These conditions provide us perfect conditions to vinify wines showing their origin. Saltiness, spiciness with a balanced tannin structure and a filigree body are the things what we are searching in terms of winemaking. We focus on our indigenous grape varieties like Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt for the reds and Grüner Veltliner, Weissburgunder, Neuburger Welschriesling and Muskat Ottonel for the whites. We give our wines as much time as they need to become just how nature intended them to.
What things did you and Ariana learn in California that have been incorporated in your own label?
I think for both of us it was the best decision of our life, to spend our internship in California in 2007. We met, started to love each other and for this reason the USA will be always special for us. We really took the passion for winemaking back with us to Austria. We started our first wine in 2009.
What is the best way to enjoy Lichtenberger Gonzalez wine?
The best way would be to enjoy bottle of wine in one of our vineyards, to feel, to see and to hear the surrounding of the Leithaberg region.
What does the future hold for Lichtenberger Gonzalez?
Our daughter was born recently in November and she is taking our full attention at the moment. She is a great gift and we are looking very hopefully into the future. In terms of the winemaking we do have a couple of very interesting spots in Breitenbrunn where we want to recultivate old vineyards!
For a list of where Lichtenberger Gonzalez is distributed in the USA, visit Winemonger website.