Austria’s Eruption Winemakers ‘Generate Energy’ In Steiermark

A group of nine family winemakers in Austria’s Vulkanland Steiermark have organized themselves for the future, based on ancient soil and modern skills. The Eruption winemakers, as they call themselves, demonstrate that, while they produce wines of variety, they are also consistent in terms of quality and authenticity. The name Eruption (as it is in Vulkanland) is tied to the 40+ volcanoes that once defined the region. The winemakers here attribute this particular soil to a mineral expression in the mouth.

The group describes themselves as such: “People who approach each other, drift apart, rub against each other and thereby generate energy.” This energy helps the world understand the place and people that make these wines, and allows consumers to learn about potentially new wines for their own enjoyment.

Marie Christin Baunach, head sommelier at Restaurant Überfahrt near Lake Tegernsee in Germany’s Upper Bavaria region, explains that the group has developed an external auditing system, modeled on the methods of Bourgogne in relation to the location and Bordeaux in relation to the winery — this is oriented towards Germany’s Verband Deutscher Prädikats (VDP). LACON serves as an independent control body which assesses the quality of the vineyard site and the skill and experience of the winemaker. Baunach notes that this requires transparency of production methods on behalf of the winegrower.

This process arrives at wines that can be labeled Erste Lage (literally “first vineyard,” similar to Premier Cru in Burgundy) and Große Lage (the top quality category, similar to Grand Cru). While this is interesting and helpful to consumers, it’s not only about visibility. The producers came upon this plan after reflecting on all the data they have at their disposal, collected over vintages and with years of responsible planning. In partnership with the external audit, and with the feeling that indeed they have something authentic and excellent, Eruption winemakers took advantage of the data to turn it into measurable outcomes that could be communicated to the public.

As a reference, there are winemaking bodies around the world that work together to build a common quality structure. Lodi Rules in California comes to mind, as does Austria’s own Sustainable Austria, to which all Eruption winemakers adhere. Eruption is unique in that the members hold themselves to the country’s highest standards of responsible production, and also use these outcomes to communicate to consumers, not a score based on taste, but a designation that is similar to what people expect from the finest wines that can be discovered around the world.

Austrian wines have in place a DAC (Districtus Austriae Controllatus) system for origin, which also applies to production points. Like many wine producing countries in Europe and elsewhere, this is to distinguish to the consumer that the wine they purchase and drink has been made under certain conditions, requirements set forth to claim the origin on the label.

Eruption winemakers can produce wines under the regional designation of Steiermark DAC, or the Vulkanland Steiermark DAC (which is sliced into three segments) or one of the two Eruption designations: Erste Lage or Große Lage. They can also be labeled with a single vineyard (called ried, in German) and a vineyard could produce both Große Lage and Erste Lage wines.

Suwi Zlatic is a highly awarded sommelier (winner of the Austrian National Championship and finalist at the 2021 European-African Sommelier Championship) and he says that these wines lean on terroir, less on oak treatment and cellar interventions. Each of the permitted grapes (listed below) are white wine grapes, which reflects the rules of the region — all the grapes permitted as Vulkanland Steiermark DAC are also white wine varieties. (Interestingly, the Eruption producers have worked together to bottle a sparkling wine and a red wine — creative endeavors outside of what’s typical.)

All this designating and rule-making might seem confusing to a newcomer, someone who wants to taste, simply, an Austrian wine. But the reassurance is that, behind the scenes, the people producing these wines care enough about their process, reputation, and product to spend time, money, and energy making this happen. In other words: You are in good hands. Look for the names of the following producers on the label (or pay them a visit) and get ready to explore!

Eruption Winemakers (location, family name)

Großwilfersdorf: Thaller; Hof Bei Straden: Krispel; Feldbach: Hutter; Klöch: Frühwirth, Müller; St. Anna Am Aigen: Pfeifer, Scharl, Ulrich; Tieschen: Gollenz

Eruption Große Lage Rules

Must be made from old vine Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Traminer, or Riesling. Harvest yield is limited to 5,000 kg/hectare and must be done by hand. The wines are released on or after September 1 of the second year following the harvest.

Eruption Erste Lage Rules

Must be made from Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Gelber Muskateller, Traminer, Riesling, or Welschriesling. Harvest must be done by hand. The wines are released on or after September 1 of the year following the harvest.

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