Wines of character


Tasting in the historical halls of the Esterházy Palace © RWB

The RWB winegrowers (famous Burgenland cellars) traditionally use the month of May to present their vintage in the pleasant coolness of the Palais Esterhazy. At lunchtime, the press, merchants, gastronomy and professionals are invited, and future wine scholars from a wide variety of countries mingle with visitors. The evening belongs to private wine lovers and invited friends, but also to professional visitors. A scholarship is awarded each year during the presentation and the proceeds from the evening are donated to a social cause.

The group was founded 27 years ago with ten members at the time, and now has twelve companies. Generally considered the flagship of Burgenland, they have partly contributed to shaping local viticulture. Quality is the maxim in family businesses. In the self-definition, origin and craftsmanship are highlighted, as well as the emphasis on natural viticulture (eg avoiding herbicides and insecticides) and recently an initiative to increase biodiversity in and around the vineyards. Vineyards regularly cultivated by the RWB itself. Even though wineries are steeped in tradition, new styles of wine are certainly being actively discussed and pursued by some, especially among organic or biodynamic companies. And a lot of tact. “Extremes are never good”, sums up an RWB winemaker. “Neither industrial wines nor extreme natural wines are the measure of all things. But every well-made wine is an asset to the market.”

Character – no interventions

A few meters from the palace, the Orangerie provided space for the first natural wine fair in Central and Eastern Europe, the Karakterre. According to the original motto “Parker gave me 50 points”, a reflection of the European natural wine scene gathered at the fair. More than 120 natural winegrowers, ten times more wine estates than in the castle, presented their wines. Exhibitors had to meet specific requirements (keyword “minimum intervention”, see list below) to be allowed to participate in the event. About a quarter of the companies came from Austria, and there were also representatives from Germany, Croatia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and other countries.

This year, for the first time in Eisenstadt, the fair took place for the 9th time. The new site was very well received by exhibitors and visitors. Despite the crowds, there were fewer people and the sun-drenched rooms of the orangery gave the event a favorable setting. Many winegrowers, especially those who have often exhibited at Karakterre, were delighted with the strong enthusiasm of visitors. Some exhibitors have criticized the date chosen, like other wine fairs in May. The individual winegrowers dared to make a comparison with ProWein: the interest here at the trade fair is significantly higher than in Düsseldorf.

Visitors, for their part, were delighted with the ever-increasing quality of the natural wines on offer. At the beginning of the fair, there were many “natural contraindications” in the wines, but these are only rarely observed. Typical styles were found among wines, such as mash-fermented wines or wines with long maceration times or aging on yeast. What they all have in common is the minimal use of sulfur or complete renunciation. Many innovations such as Piwi wines but also wines co-fermented with fruit juices as well as pet nats and ciders were represented. The credos, precise handwork, sufficient time and practiced sustainability, are the top priority for almost every grower.

Due to the growing demand for European natural wines in the United States, the event also took place in New York, with a difference of only a few days. A small sample of European natural wine producers presented themselves there almost exclusively to a specialist audience, while the Eisenstadt audience was dominated by consumers.

Eligibility criteria: To be admitted to participate in the Karakterre fair, wineries must meet the following criteria:

  • Organic, biodynamic or natural working methods in the vineyard and in the cellar
  • Minor interventions in wines; less than 50 mg/l of total sulfur in all wines
  • Active promotion of sustainable farming and living as well as authentic grape varieties
  • Family business

Conclusion

The wine market is large enough for many suppliers. Whether mainstream or niche, diversity enriches the offer and appeals to different social classes. Today it is becoming more difficult to draw precise boundaries between wine styles. In the best-case scenario, traditionalists and borderers can learn from each other and make a positive contribution to wine culture.

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