Stadlmann

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In the rolling hills of Austria’s Thermenregion, just 20 minutes south of Vienna, the Stadlmann family has tended the vine since 1780. Eighth-generation Bernhard Stadlmann, who took the reins from his father Johann with the 2006 vintage, holds three doctoral degrees, but he chose ultimately to dedicate his life to continuing and refining the traditions established by his long chain of predecessors. And Bernhard’s wines—complex, distinctive, and saturated with a sense of place—spoke immediately to our sensibilities.

Although the Thermenregion’s global popularity is eclipsed by that of the Wachau, Kamptal, and Kremstal regions, it was here that Austria’s most prized wines were produced historically. Stadlmann owns 20 hectares of vines in 35 separate parcels in the northern sector of the Thermenregion, a chain of gentle east-facing slopes with soils of varyingly mixed limestone and clay. (If this topography brings Burgundy to mind, that is no accident: Cistercian monks brought Burgundian varieties to the Thermenregion in the late 12th century, surely sensing a certain kinship with the lands from which they had come.) Wines produced from the indigenous Rotgipfler and Zierfandler varieties were favorites of the Habsburgs, and although the Paris Exposition of 1855 is perhaps better known for sparking Bordeaux’s classification system, it was actually a Rotgipfler from the Thermenregion that took first prize at the fair.

While the Stadlmann family produces outstanding examples of Grüner Veltliner (which assumes a lovely saltiness in these limestone soils), Weissburgunder, and Pinot Noir, they are most renowned for their riveting and age-worthy Rotgipfler and Zierfandler. Only about 120 hectares of Rotgipfler and 75 hectares of Zierfandler still exist in the Thermenregion, and Stadlmann is their clear standard-bearer, having perfected the management of these finicky varieties through accumulated generational wisdom. Zierfandler, though capable of articulating site with startling precision, is naturally low-yielding, and prone to rot due to its compact clusters of thin-skinned berries. Rotgipfler (named for its red (“rot”) shoots), on the other hand, must be carefully managed to avoid overproduction, and loses acidity quickly once it achieves phenolic ripeness. And these varieties’ late-maturing nature, a result of the daily cooling winds which descend eastward from the nearby Alps, only serves to increase the possibility for calamity during the lengthy growing season.

In Stadlmann’s hands, however, these obscure varieties attain a gravitas that places them among the great white wines of Europe, and Bernhard’s fastidious irrigation-free and chemical-free farming (certified organic since 2006 and practicing biodynamic more recently) and hands-off cellar approach allow his wines to articulate their sense of place with clarity and power. Ripe bunches, always harvested by hand, are pressed whole-cluster and fermented spontaneously in distinctive 18-hectoliter casks made of local oak from the forests around Vienna; the wines are racked off their gross lees after fermentation, spending ten to twelve months in these same casks resting on their fine lees before bottling. These traditional casks, all of which are at least 30 years of age, promote efficient settling of the lees, allowing Stadlmann to eschew fining and to bottle with only a gentle non-sterile filtration; they also allow the Rotgipfler and Zierfandler to achieve a textural expressiveness impossible in stainless steel’s anaerobic environment. Malolactic fermentation is never blocked, but it occurs in fewer than ten percent of the wines and is always allowed to complete if it begins; and because Bernhard employs indigenous yeasts and prefers not to interfere with the wine during the aging process, his Rotgipfler and Zierfandler typically end up with four or five grams per liter of residual sugar—a texture-enhancing amount that rarely manifests as a sense of actual sweetness.

Notably, while many Austrian growers produce bottlings of various ripeness levels from the same plot each vintage, Stadlmann has always issued forth a single wine per site, harvested at what they believe is the correct moment to capture the characteristics of vineyard and growing season—typically around mid-October. (Bernhard spent a brief period in the Côte de Beaune, and as he stated cheekily in an interview with Levi Dalton in 2015, “When I worked in Burgundy, we made only one Montrachet and only one Chevalier-Montrachet.”) Charming in their youth but capable of aging for decades, Stadlmann’s wines are textural masterpieces which eschew the dominant Austrian paradigm of stainless-steel-fostered digital clarity in favor of a profoundly harmonious layered character.

Grüner Veltliner: Whereas much of Austria’s Grüner Veltliner is planted in soils of loess, Stadlmann’s grows in the limestone that characterizes their sector of the Thermenregion, resulting in an elegantly chalky, salty wine less opulent than many versions grown elsewhere. Fermented spontaneously in large neutral-oak casks, it is bottled in May the year after harvest without fining and with only a gentle filtration, rarely topping 12.5% alcohol.
Rotgipfler Anning: Analogous to Burgundy’s regional wines, Stadlmann’s basic Rotgipfler and Zierfandler are named after the Anning hills which characterize the northern part of the Thermenregion. Produced in large part from younger vines planted in the lower, flatter parts of these hillside vineyards, the Rotgipfler Anning ferments with naturally occurring yeasts in large, neutral Viennese oak, and rests on its fine lees until it is bottled the May after harvest. Its core of round, broad, melon-like fruit is given ample definition by a blatantly saline sense of minerality, and it possesses exceptional cling and concentration given its modest level of alcohol.
Rotgipfler Gumpoldskirchen: In a similar spirit to Burgundy’s village-level wines, Stadlmann bottles a Rotgipfler from vineyards immediately surrounding the nearby town of Gumpoldskirchen. Like their regional-level wines, this ferments naturally in large, decades-old Viennese-oak casks, but it spends nearly an entire year in cask on its fine lees before being bottled—without fining and with a gentle non-sterile filtration. Both richer and more taut than the Rotgipfler Anning, this presents a stonier sense of minerality, its nearly invisible few grams of residual sugar amplifying the palate’s intensity and elongating the finish.
Rotgipfler Ried Pfaffstättner Tagelsteiner: This single-site offering, from the high-altitude gravelly clay-limestone of the Tagelsteiner vineyard just outside the town of Pfaffstätten, illustrates the expressive capabilities of Rotgipfler at its finest. Clearly articulated and very Alpine fruit undergirds a palate of remarkable tension and penetrating, chalky minerality, and an overall sense of concentration bodes well for this wine’s long future. In the cellar, this is handled in precisely the same fashion as the village-level wine: spontaneous fermentation and aging on the fine lees in 18-hectoliter Viennese-oak casks of 30 or more years of age, and bottled after one year of aging with only a gentle filtration.
Zierfandler Anning: Produced in large part from younger vines planted in the lower, flatter parts of these hillside vineyards, the Zierfandler Anning—like its Rotgipfler counterpart—ferments with naturally occurring yeasts in large, neutral Viennese oak, and rests on its fine lees until the May after harvest. In keeping with its varietal character, this offers a more subdued fruit profile than the Rotgipfler Anning, with a palate of greater cut, more intense minerality, and a firmer sense of structure.
Zierfandler Traiskirchen: Named after the Stadlmanns’ home village of Traiskirchen, this village-level Zierfandler offers subtly honeyed fruit on an acid-driven frame, its treble register enhanced by a lovely rendering of the variety’s signature spiciness. Like the Rotgipfler Gumpoldskirchen, it spends nearly a year on its fine lees in large neutral-oak casks following a spontaneous fermentation in the same vessel type.
Zierfandler Ried Traiskirchner Mandel-Höh: Perhaps the Stadlmann estate’s crowning achievement, this exceptionally complex and age-worthy Zierfandler hails from 50-year-old vines planted in the Mandel-Höh vineyard (“Mandel” means “almond tree”—and where almonds thrive, so do wine grapes) outside Traiskirchen. This legendary site’s poor and fossil-strewn soil—the limestone bedrock is just 15 centimeters below the surface on this upper part of the slope—produces a wine of profound, smoke-tinged, palate-staining mineral potency whose layers of complexity require years of patience to unfurl. Following the family’s well-established traditional cellar methodology, this spends a year on its fine lees in large, decades-old Viennese-oak casks after fermenting spontaneously in the same vessel type.
Pinot Noir: Produced from vines planted well south of the cluster of northern-Thermenregion villages that comprise the majority of their holdings, Stadlmann’s Pinot Noir (called “Blauburgunder” locally) is simultaneously fresh and substantial, offering the textural harmoniousness of their white wines, as well as a lifted and elegant spice character that puts one in the mind of excellent red Burgundy. (After all, it was the Cistercian monks who brought Pinot Noir from Burgundy to the Thermenregion in the late 1100s.) Like the estate’s white wines, this is fermented and aged entirely in large, well-worn oak casks and bottled without fining and with only a gentle filtration.
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