For many Austrians, Wachau stands as a symbol of prestige, a place where the very best wines can consistently be found. The steep terraces, paired with Austria’s favourite variety Grüner Veltliner (as well as some Riesling), still today attracts a certain fascination among Austrophile aficionados. But what started in the 1980s as a region with high natural acidity and low alcohol has now evolved into an area yielding wines often reaching 14% alcohol or more, mainly as a choice of style, but also due to ever progressing global warming.
Back in the 1980s, Martin Muthenthaler was working for the local cooperative, Domäne Wachau, as his vineyards high up in the Spitzer Graben wouldn’t always produce prime fruit due to the cool winds coming from the continental plate, making physiological ripeness in his grapes the exception rather than the rule. Despite possessing the same terroir, few families would rarely bottle their own wine. So, in the early 2000s, when Martin eventually moved on from his day job, he decided that it was time for a change.
Fast forward 2020, Martin is now one of only a handful of growers in the Wachau practicing organic viticulture, as well as producing wines without the local classification system which values the quality of wine based on alcohol levels - a value system that may have worked back in the 1980s when temperatures were more moderate and only healthy, non-botrytized grapes were harvested. However, in today’s context, balance is more important than the level of ripeness.
Strangely, both working organically and preferring to stay out of the common system has made Martin a persona non grata in the Wachau, selling his few thousand bottles exclusively outside of the Wachau region. His single-vineyard wines from 'Bruck' and 'Schön’, as well as his monopole Cru 'Viesslinger Stern' on top of the mountain, are among some of the most celebrated wines coming out of Austria today.