Neumeister

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Styria is a winegrowing region of extremes. Bordered by Slovenia to the south, it occupies the southeast corner of Austria, with its eastern edge flanking the Burgenland’s western edge along its entire length. Styria, or Steiermark in German, divides into three winegrowing areas: Südsteiermark (South Styria); Weststeiermark (West Styria), or Schilcherland; and Vulkanland Steiermark, Styria’s largest winegrowing subregion, named after the slopes of the extinct volcanoes (Vulkane) on which many of its vineyards are planted. Although its surface area is close to that of the larger Niederösterreich (Lower Austria) to the north, Styria comprises just ten percent of all Austrian wine by volume, as vineyards here tend to dot rather than blanket the landscape.

In the southeast corner of Vulkanland Steiermark, close to where Slovenia’s northwest corner meets Hungary’s southwest corner, third-generation winegrower Christoph Neumeister farms 30 hectares of vines spread over numerous steep hillsides around his hometown of Straden, planted at altitudes of 340 to 380 meters above sea level. Soils here are diverse, with volcanic basalt, sandy loam, chalky limestone, and sandstone all influencing the characteristics of the grapes grown on these slopes, most of which exceed 65% in gradient. Vulkanland Steiermark’s climate is mercurial and difficult: cool winds from the Alps clash with warm breezes from the Adriatic Sea to the south and Hungary’s Pannonian plains to the east, bringing lots of rainfall and frequent hailstorms; and the zone’s extremely cold nights—diurnal shifts regularly exceed 20 degrees Celsius during summer—make for a lengthy growing season.

Between the area’s steep slopes, extreme weather conditions, and relatively small share of Austria’s winegrowing spotlight, producing wine here is neither easy nor glorious; however, much like in the Carso, the growers who do tough it out are necessarily deeply committed. Neumeister is one of a dozen wineries in the STK (for “Steiermark”) organization, a tight-knit grower collective that engages in landscape preservation, prioritizes biodiversity, and promotes a sustainable, integrated approach to farming, energy usage, resource management, and social issues. STK also employs an internally developed and rigorous classification system, designating certain wines from certain prized vineyards “Erste STK Ried” (or “1STK”—premier cru) and “Grosse STK Ried” (or “GSTK”—grand cru), provided they meet certain mutually agreed-upon requirements for vine age, farming technique, yields, must weight, dryness, and aging process.

Thoughtful, meticulous, and articulate, Christoph Neumeister took over from his father Albert in 2006, when he was just 25 years old, obtaining certification in 2013 for the organic viticultural practices Albert had begun employing in the 1990s. Vulkanland Steiermark’s extreme inclines make machine work next to impossible, so not only is harvest conducted manually, but all tasks in the vineyards are completed by hand. The Neumeister cellar was designed top-to-bottom to treat fruit, must, and wine as gently and naturally as possible: all wines ferment spontaneously, and everything is moved solely by gravity from harvest through bottling. Christoph favors well-used oak in the aging of his wines, which allows the mineral potency and textural splendor inherent in his low-yield-derived fruit to blossom over the wines’ lengthy stints in cask; such transformations are impossible with a curt passage in highly thermoregulated stainless steel.

Christoph owns well-situated parcels of multiple grape varieties, including Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris), and Morillon (Chardonnay), but it is Sauvignon Blanc—brought to Styria in the early 1800s by Archduke Johann of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine—that produces arguably the region’s most distinctive and complex wines. Christoph’s Sauvignon Blanc is a far cry from most of those produced in the eastern Loire Valley in which the variety was born. While pockets of great terroir exist in appellations like Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, of course, many of its wines are cropped for high production, harvested by machine, inoculated with intrusive artificial yeasts, and crammed into bottle after only a few months in stainless steel—relying on name recognition to do the heavy lifting in the market. Christoph’s yields, on the other hand, rarely top 35 hectoliters per hectare; hand-harvesting ensures that only perfect and intact fruit enters the winery; and patient aging allows his Sauvignon Blanc to assume a breadth and texture experienced in very few examples from elsewhere.

One senses the very pulp of the fruit in Neumeister’s Sauvignon Blanc—an impression fostered by a 12-to-48-hour maceration on the skins before fermentation begins—and the zone’s dramatic diurnal swings manifest in a shimmering, prismatic acidity that seems to illuminate the wine’s manifold layers. The wines show salt, or smoke, or both, as dictated by soil, and they simultaneously caress the palate and cling to it, their immense concentration reflecting their low-yielding fruit of origin. These are wines of terroir par excellence, and we are confident they will prove riveting and revelatory to even the staunchest Sauvignon Blanc skeptic.

Gemischter Satz: Gemischter Satz originated as a co-fermented field  blend produced from vineyards within and immediately around Vienna, but the much-beloved style has spread throughout Austria over the years. Neumeister’s delightfully aromatic version is built around 40-year-old Gelber Muskateller, with fellow early-ripening varieties Welschriesling, Müller-Thurgau, and Scheurebe rounding out the blend. Fermented and aged entirely in stainless steel, it is dry, gently floral, and driven by brisk acidity, clocking in at around 12% alcohol.
Weissburgunder: Neumeister’s Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) forcefully demonstrates the minerality these steep Styrian hillsides can foster, with taut yellow fruit taking a backseat to a glinting, chiseled sense of stoniness; its penetrating depth of flavor belies its modest 12% alcohol. Fermentation proceeds spontaneously in stainless steel, and the wine spends the better part of a year on its fine lees in steel as well—a regimen that spotlights the wine’s crystalline character and keeps its fruit lively and fresh.
Sauvignon Blanc Straden: Named after the Neumeister’s hometown of Straden, this Ortswein (village wine) exemplifies Christoph’s texturally expansive yet intricately chiseled style of Sauvignon Blanc. Fermented naturally after a two-day maceration on the skins, it spends the better part of a year on its fine lees in used oak casks between 500 and 2500 liters in capacity. Expressive in its youth but capable of significant positive development in bottle (like all of Christoph’s white wines), this has an emerald-green cast (not to be confused with under-ripeness) to its aromas and flavors, with a texture simultaneously airy and concentrated.
Sauvignon Blanc Ried Klausen (1STK): The premier cru Klausen sits on an east-southeast-facing mountain ridge at 340 meters altitude, with heavily calcareous sandstone soils and a drastic 65% gradient. Christoph owns seven hectares here, and he wrests a Sauvignon Blanc of fine, clinging minerality and ultra-precise, green-tinted fruit from its poor soils. After a two-day maceration, this wine ferments spontaneously in 25-hectoliter oak barrels and spends 12 months on its fine lees before bottling. Bursting with energy and bristling with tension, it will continue to develop layers of nuance for at least a decade.
Sauvignon Blanc Ried Moarfeitl (GSTK): The renowned grand cru Moarfeitl occupies a south-southwest-facing plateau situated above the Augenweide vineyard at 340 meters altitude. Neumeister planted two hectares of vines here in 1990, and Moarfeitl’s soils of sand, loam, and gravel are intermixed with volcanic elements, lending the Sauvignon Blanc from this site a distinctively assertive and profound mineral character. In accordance with the stringent requirements for GSTK (“Grosse STK Ried”) status, this spends 18 months in used oak casks between five and 25 hectoliters in capacity; like all of Neumeister’s wines, it undergoes a pre-fermentation maceration on its skins for several days before fermentation commences spontaneously.
Sauvignon Blanc “Alte Reben”: Neumeister’s legendary “Alte Reben” (“old vines”) is produced from the two oldest Sauvignon Blanc plantings in Styria: a 1937 east-facing parcel on Buchberg’s “Stradener Himmelsburg” situated at 360 meters altitude in poor, limestone-dominated soils; and an east-facing planting from 1967 in premier cru Klausen’s calcareous sandstone. Christoph ages the “Alte Reben” a staggering three years in used 500-liter barrels, allowing it to develop stunning textural breadth and aromatic nuance. We are fortunate to be able to obtain a handful of cases every so often, and this is one to be snagged swiftly if it is encountered in the wild.

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