Ott • Feursbrünn • Wagram

Over the last years I have driven from my tastings in Germany directly to Austria. It is about a seven hour drive and not unpleasant, forming a kind of one day break from my rather intense tasting schedule. I usually arrive in Vienna, then drive south to Mödling. I check into the Babenbergerhof Hotel, stretch a little, maybe take a short walk, and then trot down to the little outdoor café of the hotel, which is on the main street of the old town, now a pedestrian zone, so there are no annoying cars going by, just locals taking their late afternoon promenade. If it’s warm, people will be nibbling on ice cream cones. There is a relaxed, Gemütlich quality in the air. It feels different from Germany. And for me, I’m looking forward to my first Grüner Veltliner. So I flop down at the little table with my fellow travelers, and order a glass. The first time I did this, I thought the wine was delicious and amazingly good. I asked the waiter what it was, mightily impressed by the quality. He brought out the bottle. It was Ott. Who’s he, I asked my Austrian friend, Peter, whose two boys were playing in the fountain next to us and beginning to get seriously wet. It’s awfully good, this wine, I said. No surprise, said Peter. Ott’s one of the best in Austria. Why haven’t I heard of him? I said. Peter shrugged his shoulders. Which is why Mr. Ott became a prime destination when I began to think about direct importing.

It looks as though I caught a tiger by the tail with Bernard Ott. Suddenly, in Austria, the man’s name is on everybody’s lips , he is the hottest thing since Schnitzel, his round, cheerful, face is appearing on magazine covers, featured in articles and, for all I know, is the star in the hottest Austrian television series, and thus it is a challenge even to get his wines. I ordered 150 cases of one of them, and got exactly 15. And so it went up and down the line. So there’s a good news/bad news deal here. On one hand, everybody in Austria recognizes how great the winery is, and you will have a chance to find out yourselves. On the other hand, you will have to hurry and be content with tiny quantities. I sense that this winery could become my Willi Schaefer, and amounts may in the future have to be allocated. The other possibility, of course, is , as time goes by, I will move up the list of those asking for wine, and Bernard will let me buy more. We’ll see. Either way, if you have any interest in Grüner Veltliner at all, this is the place to start. (Recent note: 2012: This has indeed happened and now I receive plenty of Am Berg and a goodly amount of Faß (Fass) 4.)

Wagram-Donauland is the Austrian area directly east of the Kamptal and just north of the great river as it flows eastwards towards Vienna and beyond. The Wagram, as best as I can understand, is a word referring to the old river bed and the shoreline, really more or less a small cliff, that parallels the river between four and eight kilometers north of it. You can drive along the base of this cliff for a number of miles. To the south is a flat plain leading to the river; to the north, once you ascend the cliff, is hill country. The vineyards extend from just above the cliff and into the hills behind. Most of the soil is loess (löß) and thus perfect feeding ground for Grüner Veltliner. Bernard Ott is a Veltliner specialist. It accounts for 95% of his production. It is his passion and obsession. It is also the basis of his very considerable reputation in Austria.
A few years ago, like Johannes Hirsch, Bernard decided to work bio-dynamically. It is a big commitment, and a serious one, but I sense a great peace in both men. Both say they are in the vineyards more, and that’s where they want to be. Bernard also has a field of apricot trees, and makes the best jam you could imagine. I think the rest of the fruit becomes Marillen Schnapps,  going to his close friend, Hans Reisetbauer (whom we import), possibly the best Schnapps (Eau de Vie) maker in Europe. The winery is fairly large, as these things go, at 22 hectares (he wants to go up to 30), and is concentrated on a few top vineyards, all of which I visited. Everything is made in stainless steel; there is no wood anywhere to be seen. Bernard is a 4th generation wine maker; he took over in 1993. All wines are bottled in screw caps and the package and labeling are elegant. Slightly shy, at least around me, he moves quite gracefully for a big man, but word has it that he is a serious party animal.

Looking at him, you might think he would fit pretty well as Right Guard for the 49ers. Don’t know about his footwork of course, but the size alone… But ‘Bubba’ Ott is a wine guy, with a lot of ideas about his beloved Veltliner. So what are they like? I was impressed enough to compare them with Schloß Gobelsburg – they are that good. But totally different. Whereas Gobelsburg’s wines caress you, Ott’s seem to be made of sterner stuff. These are wines of structure. They have power, but not the lavish and hauntingly seductive power of Gobelsburg. No, these show all their bones.

The Veltliners are designated in interesting ways. Am Berg, is the basic Veltliner, which comes from a significant vineyard just north of the old Wagram.  Faß 4 is actually from 5 small parcels on the edge of the Rosenberg. 90% of this wine goes to restaurants, only a little being available. In Austria, it is his most popular wine, usually coming in around 12% alcohol (Am Berg is around 11.5%). Der Ott now is from young vines in the Rosenberg . This is a somewhat heftier Veltliner, and was a personal favorite of the bunch, at least initially. The Rosenberg is his signature wine, the powerhouse wine of the assortment. This is the wine the Austrian Press went mad for, so I am lucky to get what I got. In 2010, he produced two new wines, the Spiegel, (the word means mirror) now that the vines are in full maturity, and the Stein, from the next village to the west (I’m not sure, but I think the village is technically in the Kamptal, or at least is on its border. Both are splendid Veltliners, the Stein a little more opulent, the Spiegel a little more tensile. I love them both. Bernard makes a little Riesling and a little Sauvignon Blanc; and I usually get a small amount of each, most being sold to my retail clients. I am excited and honored to be able to sell Bernard’s wines. I think you will be dazzled by their quality.

Finally, beginning in 2009, Bernard began making an “Amphora wine”, called Qvevre. The story is unique. First, he removed soil from the best part of the Rosenberg, brought it down to the winery and filled up a sizable room with it. Next, he ordered Amphorae from the republic of Georgia, made from a particular clay. I’ll add in a couple of photos so you can see what they look like. He buried the Amphorae in the room with all the Rosenberg soil so that just the top was exposed. Then he harvested the grapes from right around where he took the soil, brought them down and put them in the Amphorae. I’m not sure whether he pressed them or just dropped them in – I suspect they are pretty well packed in. Then he sealed the tops and went away. After a few months, he siphoned out the fermented wine, bottled it, and voilá, Qvevre. The wine is quite amazing. As of this writing, I’ve tried (and sold, two vintages – the 2011 will be released this year, so he holds them an extra year. Surprisingly, the color is quite pale, and the wine not especially oxidized, the way other amphora wines  (orange wines) often are. On the other hand, I’m not sure I would recognize the wine as being Grüner Veltliner, which it is, but it is an absolutely fascinating wine. I still have a few bottles of the 2010. For a splurge, you might want to try one.

Europe, 2010 276