Weingut Rainer Wess
The father-daughter combination of Rainer and Christina Wess work in tandem in both the vineyards and the winery – deciding when to pick, what yeast to use, and when to bottle. Whilst Rainer appears to do more of the clambering around the tanks, Christina takes the lead in marketing. It’s a successful combination, with Weingut Rainer Wess seen as a rapidly rising star in the Austrian wine industry.
Rainer and Christina
After studying oenology at Klosterneuberg in the 1980s and spending some years working in various vineyards in Bordeaux, Rainer returned to Austria in the late 1990s. He first acquired a cellar/winery by leasing a plot in the great Loibenberg vineyard in the Wachau, later purchasing a vineyard in the same appelation; they now have vineyards in Kremstal as well, where the winery is located. Opened in 2010, it’s based in the former cellar buildings owned by Wilhering Abbey; some years later a modern grape reception area was added. They began with 1.5 hectares. Having very little money, plastic buckets were used to carry the grapes from the vineyard to the winery, where they were foot-stomped. They still occasionally stamp the grapes by foot to begin maceration, but only when there is a very small amount, or it is a special wine, since they now have a crusher. They use a pneumatic press; there is no mechanical pump, just the utilisation of gravity. Their first vineyard was so steep that they had to cultivate it by hand; two years ago, having acquired more vineyards, they finally bought a tractor. Today they cultivate about 10 hectares themselves, buying in grapes from another 6. Although they try to farm by following, as much as possible, organic techniques, they are not trying to gain certification, preferring to maintain their freedom to do whatever they believe will produce the best grapes and wine.
Rainer in the winery
They use both natural and bought yeasts. Roughly 60% of their grapes are Grüner Veltliner and 40% Riesling (they have also recently planted some Pinot Noir), and it is especially with the Riesling grapes that they use natural yeast. It is their approach to the bought/cultured yeast that is interesting, not least because activity can be seen taking place in a bucket at the foot of a tank. This is the plastic yeast bucket: the yeast is put into the bucket with grape juice to feed it, and then when ready, spooned into the fermentation tank. Interestingly, it is not possible to do this with natural yeast.
Two years ago, the estate became a member of the Österreichischen Traditionsweingüter (Association of Austrian Traditional Wineries), which was founded in 2010, and which is in the process of classifying the outstanding sites of the Danube region (with the exception of the Wachau, which has its own system). As of 2016, 62 vineyard sites are classified as ‘Erste Lage’ or first position; they must only grow Riesling or Grüner Veltliner grapes and the wines must be vinified in a dry style. The wines fulfilling these criteria have ‘1ötw’ on their labels. Two of the estate’s vineyard sites in Kremstal, Steiner Pfaffenberg and Steiner Kögl, are Erste Lagen. Rainer and Christina make some of their best wines from grapes grown on Steiner Pfaffenberg. They also have part of one of the great sites in the Wachau, Loibner Loibenberg, which produces some other of their best wines. In addition, the steep terraces and slate of Steiner Kögl produce Riesling wines of wonderful minerality.
Indeed, minerality and acidity are present in all of their wines, although the grüner veltliner wines also have good fruit. What all of the wines share, however, are elegance and purity, as well as a long finish.