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24 May 2006

Birgit's Burgund-land

Birgitb Winemaker Birgit Braunstein stopped the car and pointed to five rows vines.  "From those rows, one and a half belong to us, and the others belong to the neighbors." She said.  She then made similar observations as we traveled through several spots throughout the Braunstein winery's wine-growing area.  Two rows here; five rows there.  The ownership of vineyard parcels is divvied up here, in Austria's Burgenland, much as it is in the Burgundy region of France.  Birgit explained that the old inheritance law of Burgenland required that land be divided up between all heirs.  The result is a patchwork of ownership within a single vineyard site.  A dispersed collection of vines demands much work from the grower.  Birgit must travel to several  locations spread out over several kilometers just to tend to a handful of vines.  The situation here appears to be in stark contrast to Styria, where most vineyards I visited were well consolidated.

As I toured the Braunstein vineyard sites and winemaking facilities, Birgit's awe and enthusiasm for all things wine became apparent.  She offered me the chance to taste her 2005 red wines still maturing in wooden casks.  She would appear with a glass of wine, allow me to taste it, and then dash off to another corner of the cellar for another glass.  Her elfin looks and warm smile, coupled with enchanting wines, caused me to think of her as the wine pixie.  The wines we tasted, St. Laurent, Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch and even Merlot, offered depth, fine flavor and concentration.  I look forward to the release of these beauties.

After my in-cellar preview of coming red wine attractions, we moved outside to the family's patio and relaxed in the  sweet seaside-like air (a result of the Braunstein winery's proximity to Lake Neusiedl, a large steppe lake, which is the greatest influence on this region's climate).  We sat at a picnic table with Birgit's jovial father, her fiancee and Stephan Schindler (of Winemonger).  In between laughter-filled conversation, I sampled Braunstein's current Chardonnay releases (name and Oxhoft).

These Braunstein wines, available from Winemonger, will give you a taste of what is possible on the sunny hillsides of this region - called Neusiedlersee-Hügelland (Lake Neusiedl-Hill land):

2003 Goldberg St Laurent - Read my recent review

2002 Oxhoft Chardonnay - A rich wine from barrique.  Elegant and full.  I initially noticed the wine's minerality, and then , as it warmed, the luxurious caramel-vanilla-pineapple character came to the fore.

Of course, to properly experience Birgit´s wine, you need to come across the street to the family´s restaurant, called Pauli´s Stub´n.  Her brother is the manager and he runs one delicio-ship.  Try the Braunstein St L. or Blaufrankisch with a tasty wienerschnitzl.  Schmeckhaft!

See more photos here.

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Hey Beau-
Just as a wee note, it's actually called the "Oxhoft", not Oxhaft. Oxhoft is the ancient term for the small oak barrels that were used not only to hold the wine, but also as a means of transporting it to the trading houses and inns in the days of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. This traditional method and term got lost over the years until Birgit chose it as the name for her premium red and white wines.

Looking forward to the further adventures!

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