In the Wachau Valley, you’ll find the country’s most esteemed cellars; centuries-old enclaves featuring vintages going back decades; and 100-year-old foudres to house wines that are still ageing before being bottled. But it’s not just a region steeped in history; it’s also home to progressive thinkers; people like Martin Muthenthaler who challenge the status quo.
When Martin first decided to go out on his own, people told him he couldn’t farm organically in this region due to its steep slopes. They also told him he couldn’t make wine from the area known as the Spitzer Graben; that it was too cool to reliably ripen grapes. But Martin isn’t a ‘can’t’ person; he’s a ‘can’ person; and these days, he’s producing some of the most thrilling organic, naturally made wines that the Wachau has seen.
"As I became further immersed in the wine world, I also recognised that in principle—in terms of the future—there’s no avoiding organic viticulture, because sooner or later herbicides will be banned. It’s almost come to that now. I’ve always thought that we need healthy soils. I’ve never liked seeing those vineyards that have been sprayed to death, where only a bit of moss survives beneath the vines. Something happens in the ground when you’re constantly spraying it with herbicides, and somehow I never liked that."
People: Martin Muthenthaler
Place: Wachau, Austria
Varieties: Riesling & Grüner Veltliner
Did You Know? The Wachau is known for its classification system, and for the Vinea Wachau Group of winemakers, as part of which Riesling and Grüner Veltliner must be labelled with Steinfeder (alcohol up to 11.5% ABV), Federspiel (11.5% ABV – 12.5% ABV) or Smaragd (12.5% ABV and above). Martin decided not to use this system early on, as he felt it was more important to focus on pure vineyard expression, as opposed to sugar and thus alcohol.
“The question was whether we could risk converting fully to organics, because we didn't know how it would work on the terraced slopes. People had told me for years that it couldn’t work here. But then I said, well, some winemakers in the Mosel do it — so screw it, it has to work. The Wachau can’t be the only wine region in the world where organic viticulture isn’t possible on terraced slopes… and so that was the turning point when I said - right! I’ll show them how to do it!”
For him, it’s not just a philosophical gut feeling that chemicals are wrong; rather he’s convinced that the science is showing us, too. He says,