In the last 10 years Gemischter Satz – the traditional field blend wine of Vienna – has been transformed from a bland jug wine to a top-quality tipple, says its leading proponent, Fritz Wieninger.
Fritz Wieninger says his first taste of Gemischter Satz wine from his Nussberg vineyard reminded him of a Meursault without the oak (Photo: Respekt-Biodyn)
Archaeological findings show that vines existed on the Nussberg, Kahlenberg and Bisamberg hills (Georgenberg is the other main site associated with Vienna Gemischter Satz) outside Vienna as far back as 750BC. In the first century AD, Romans established their own system of viticulture on these sites.
Gemischter Satz is a field blend wine made from several different co-fermented grape varieties. It was originally designed to protect yields and minimise risk during poor harvests. Among the most common grapes associated with Gemischter Satz are Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Chardonnay, Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Welschsriesling, Neuburger, Müller-Thurgau, Sauvignon Blanc, Traminer and Gelber Muscateller (Yellow Muscat).
Historically, Gemischter Satz has been associated with heurige wine taverns, where is was and still is drunk as a jug wine, often as a spritzer. However, since 2006 a small group of winemakers – WienWein, led by Fritz Wieninger – has been working hard to transform the image of Gemischter Satz by making and promoting premium field blend wines from the Vienna region’s best vineyard sites.
Such is the recognition of the quality of Gemischter Satz from Vienna (it is also made in other parts of Austria) that in 2013 Wiener Gemischter Satz became the Austria’s ninth DAC (Districtus Austriae Controllatus) – the first time Austria had recognised a wine style rather than a geographical region for DAC status.
Vineyards in the DAC have to include at least three quality white grape varieties, planted together, and must be listed as Wiener Gemischter Satz in the vineyard land registry.
The first grape variety must constitute no more than 50% of the blend, and the third at least 10%. The wine must be dry, no more than 12.5% abv and should not have a ‘strongly recognisable expression’ of wood.
Single vineyard wines made under the DAC must be at least 12.5% abv, do not have to be dry and cannot be released until 1 March in the year after harvest.
Weingut Wieninger is one of the biggest producers, producing around 350,000 bottles from 72ha of biodynamically farmed vineyards. Fifty-two are Wieninger vineyards, while 20ha is Hajszan Neumann, a winery which Fritz Wieninger owns but is a separate operation.
Fritz Wieninger’s Nussberg vineyard in Vienna – the only city in the world to have a wine designation of origin within its boundaries (Photo: Respekt-Biodyn)
“It always was here,” explained Wieninger. “Gemischter Satz was not invented, It is a super-historic way of making wine, not just for us, but for probably all regions in the world. It was never just one variety in early history.
“Also in Vienna, until the time of the start of the Second World War, the wine was named after the region where it came from – so it was not Grüner Veltliner on the label, it was Nussberg on the label, it was Eisenberg on the label – it was the cru and after the Second World War that was changed towards varietal wines, and the whole of Austria changed the vineyards to varietal vineyards.
“Partly because of that and partly because the universities and colleges for winegrowing said this is not clever any more, this is not a good idea to have different grape varieties, this is old-fashioned. The modern way is to have one variety that flowers the same day, that you can pick the same day – this is the modern way.
“In Vienna, we had the luck that most of the wine that was and still is sold is the heurige, which is sold at the wine taverns of the winemaking families that are also called heurige [wine of the last harvest].
“So you get out of a bottle or out of a tank a wine poured where on the label often here is no label, and it’s called heurige. And nobody ever asks what variety is this. So we had a chance that, if the Gemischter Satz vineyard was still good, it survived. Because if it was good, they used it, also for later.
“That’s the reason we still have those vineyards. They survived. And even at the worst time 17% of the Viennese vineyard land stayed Gemischter Satz.
“Then, there were people like Mayer from the [Weingut Mayer am] Pfarrplatz estate. He was a good fatherly friend of mine. I was a young man doing my things and he was trying to convince me on Gemischter Satz. And I didn’t believe it. Show me the wine, I thought, that is so great.”
The right blend
Wieninger, who is the chairman of the WienWein group and head of the Wiener Gemischter Satz association, was initially unimpressed with the idea of producing Gemischter Satz. However, in 1999, having bought a vineyard on Nussberg which was planted with field blends with the intention of replanting, he first made a wine with the grapes already planted to check its quality.
“I took this vineyard because it was on the right hill,” he said. “I was not happy that it was Gemischter Satz but it was good in shape, so I thought, I will leave it and I want to try how these wines taste. Then it was fermented and I tasted the wine and I was like – wow – what this old guy told me is really right.
“This really has something behind it that is like magic, it’s something special. It was maybe a raw diamond [and I was] not sure if I [could] sell this because actually Gemischter Satz had a very bad reputation at that time, but the wine was fantastic – for me, like a Meursault without oak.”
Gemischter Satz now accounts for a quarter of Viennese vineyards, with the number growing says Wieninger, who predicts it could increase to up to a third. The grape has even overtaken plantings for Grüner Veltliner , which stand at around 22%, Wieninger said.
There are around 200 commercial Gemischter Satz producers, plus a large number of very small, hobbyist producers who have up to half a hectare to make wine for their own heurige.
Weingut Wieninger’s single-vineyard range of Gemischter Satz on show at VieVinum this month in Vienna
Weininger explained that a turning point for the prospects of Gemischter Satz came with the foundation of the WienWein winemakers group, which this year celebrates its 10th anniversary.
The six wineries involved are from each of the established winegrowing zones of Vienna: Weingut Rainer Christ from Jedlersdorf, Weingut Cobenzl from Grinzing, Weingut Michael Edlmoser from Mauer, Weingut Fuhrgassl-Huber from Neustift am Walde, Weingut Mayer am Pfarrplatz from Heiligenstadt and Weingut Wieninger in Stammersdorf.
“It was very important that we founded the association of WienWein,” Wieninger said. “We sat together when we founded the group and we said, okay, when we think about the future we have to select one type of wine which is our authentic type of wine.
“When you go to Bordeaux its a blend, when you go to Burgundy it’s Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, when you go to the Wachau it’s Riesling or Grüner Veltliner. When you go to Vienna, what shall it be?
“It was not so fashionable 10 years ago but we knew we had to focus on this. We had to go out and yell out that this is our wine and that the quality is much better than the image, and this is what we did, because the wines were 10 years ago already very good, but not a lot of people wanted to believe that.
“The good thing was it was not just me. It was not one person, it was a group if winemakers, everyone with his different personalities and different characters of the wines. All this showed the people out there that Gemischter Satz is really much better than the image, and suddenly, people especially in Vienna became proud because this is our wine.
“This is the wine of the Viennese, and when they had guests from anywhere out of town they ordered a bottle of Gemischter Satz because this is our wine and this is a great wine, and it was successful in Japan and in New York and in many other countries.
“Today it is our identity and our best-selling thing, our best-known wine.”
While Gemischter Satz only has a small presence yet in the UK – Austrian specialist Newcomer Wines imports some, while Liberty Wines recently signed up to distribute Weingut Wieninger Gemischter Satz in the UK – there is reported to be a buzz around the wine in countries as far afield as Japan, the US and the Netherlands.
For Wieninger, it is important that this apparent trendification is not just temporary, but that consumers around the world come to accept Gemischter Satz as a high-quality premium wine like any other.
“It’s just important that we try hard that it’s not a big straw fire and is gone in two years,” he said. “So we are working hard that the quality levels are high enough really to convince the people out there that it is important to have these wines.”
Thanks to the efforts of the producers of WienWein, something of a trend is beginning to merge in countries around the world. According to Wieninger, who exports to as many as 42 countries, predominantly Japan and US, in places like New York, “everybody is talking about it”.
“We sell a lot to Japan,” he says. “The Japanese like very traditional things and Gemischter Satz is like that. We’re talking about centuries [of history] and this is something the Japanese like.
“We sell a lot to the US. When you go to New York, every restaurant is talking about this.”
Russia, Scandinavia, Holland and Switzerland are also particularly strong export markets for Wieninger.
“London is not so strong so far, but we do export the whole range of our Gemischter Satz wines. Weininger is currently imported by Liberty who are trying to push it in Gemischter Satz.
Weingut Weininger exports around 45% of its wine, to around 42 countries. Wieninger said he believed such success in export markets was recognition of the hard work he and his colleagues in WienWein had done since 2006 to push the quality message for Gemischter Satz.
“I love this,” he said. “I’m amazed that this worked out so well and the people [around] the world like this so much, what we’re doing, and respect what we’re doing, and see that we’re working so hard. I really enjoy it a lot. It pays off for all our hard work in the past.”