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06 June 2006

Krems: Wine City/Wine People

WgkremsWine City
Krems is one of only two European cities, which owns and operates a municipal winery (Vienna is the other).  Is this a great country or what?  Weingut Stadt Krems (winery of the City of Krems) has been operated by the city since 1915.  This winery is neither joke nor simple tourist attraction.  It produces fine wine from several vineyard sites within the city.  The winery purchases no grapes from outside Krems' municipal boundaries.  I made a brief stop by the winery's tasting room and was duly impressed by the vino.  It is imported into the US by Vin DiVino.  How many people can say they've sampled, "municipal wine" - and liked it?.  Give it a try.

Wine People
GrowersKrems is more than just a winery-city, it is a city full of serious & hobby vine growers.  In fact, nearly 1,400 growers in the region form one of the largest, if not the largest, co-op wineries in the country.  Winzer Krems produces wine from these growers from a total area of approximately 990 hectares.  Many of the co-op members are simply hobbyists who work on a half hectare or so.

I had the opportunity to visit Winzer Krems and its "wine experience" called Wein & Sinn (wine & sense).  Wein & Sinn is something along the lines of It's a Small World for wine (minus the incessant singing).  Visitors can walk right into a small vineyard containing all of Austria's grape varieties.  I was greeted in this mini vine garden by the co-op's export manager, Ludwig Holzer.  He went right at the elephant in the room, by explaining that indeed, wine co-ops are a hiss and by-word to many wine lovers.  However, this aint just any winery co-operative.  It actually evolved out of a wine growers guild, which has its roots in the middle ages.  The Hauerinnung Krems und Stein was founded in Krems in 1442.  This guild won status equal to that of the feudal lords of the day.  This meant the Hauerinnung was able to keep its own vineyards and produce its own wine - without the interference/high taxes/all around oppression suffered by non-guild producers.  In short, this co-op is grounded in centuries' worth of fine wine production.

Herr Holzer showed me the Winzer Krems Co-op's most famous vineyard site - called, "Sandgrube."  This vineyard, known since the 1100s, sits atop the remains of a sandbar, which at one time was covered by the Danube River's dino-sized progenitor.  As we walked through the vineyard, Ludwig explained how the co-op pays for the producers' grapes.  Winzer Krems has rated all the sites on a scale of one to five; with one being the premier vineyard sites, and five corresponding to the "least premier" sites.  Additionally, the co-op tests each producer's grapes for ripeness.  Thus, the ripest grapes from the best sites command top Euro; and not-so-ripe grapes from average sites receive much less.

Barrelrib Once Ludwig gave me the low down on the co-op, it was time to enjoy Wein & Sinn.  After the vineyards, our next stop was the cellar.  This is where the experience became somewhat disney-like.  Visitors to the cellar are treated to a cellaring lesson by two zany ghost denizens.  After the happy haunting, we exited to the "Weinaltar."  The wine altar is very cathedral-like, with the centerpiece being two old barrel ribs sitting atop an oak tasting table.  After paying alms to the wine altar, we hit the scent & touch cinema for a short film on how grapes mature in a vineyard.  During the film, I felt cool breezes, smelled apricot blossoms, and sniffed wine scents courtesy a few strategically places scent spritzers in the theater.  One exits the theater via a ramp, which contains four interspersed tables, replaying birds-eye videos of wine in daily life - at the family dinner table, while cooking, during board game play, and as an accent to a romantic dinner. 

I must confess, I was still a bit apprehensive about tasting the co-op's wine.  I, like many other wine lovers, cringe at the concept.  Winzer Krems produces basic quality wines for the supermarket, and high quality wine for the connoisseur.  We bypassed the grocery wines for the top of the line vino.  It is on par with most of the 'boutique' wine I've sampled in the area.  In other words, it's not plonk.  I was particularly impressed with the "Kremser Wachtberg" 2005 Grüner Veltliner.  It's an extracted expression of G.Veltliner, with mango and red apple scents along with spicy flavors to accent the silky finish. 

One  advantage of a co-op over boutique producer, is that Winzer Krems produces enough wine to maintain an extensive library of old vintages.  Ludwig was gracious enough to allow me to sample well-aged Riesling and Grüner Veltliner from the vintages 1970, 1977 and 1987.  There is nothing quite like finishing off a wine experience with mature wines full of evolved scents and flavors.  Wine & sense, indeed.

Winzer Krems works with a number of import partners in the USA, including Morandell imports (CA), Total Wine (IL) and Bayfield Importing (NY).  See more WK photos here.

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