Nikolaihof, with vineyards in Austria’s famed Wachau and Kremstal wine regions, has an extraordinary history. In fact, we can’t think of any other winery in the world which is home to a 1,800-year-old building. Not only is the winery rich in ancient history, it’s also home to vines that represent an important aspect of modern history and indeed modern life — the emergence of biodynamic farming. One of the first wineries to adopt this method of holistic agriculture, the vines and land here have been treated biodynamically since 1971; before biodynamic certification even existed.
Today, it is run by Niki Saahs and his partner Katharina Salzgeber, representing the fourth generation of the Saahs family, and hence the modern chapter of Nikolaihof. Together, they are working to fine-tune their farming and cellar techniques, to help the vines withstand climatic hurdles and to bring the already delightful wines to new heights.
Nikolaihof demonstrates that history can be respected while simultaneously embracing a forward-thinking mindset. Together, Niki and Katharina bridge the past and the future in the most respectful and sensitive manner.
LITTLEWINE spoke to Niki and Katharina for this article in August 2022.
People: Niki Saahs and Katharina Salzgeber
Place: Wachau and Kremstal, Austria
Varieties: Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Neuburger, Gelber Muskateller, Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) and Chardonnay
Farming: Biodynamic (Demeter certified)
Hectares: 22 hectares
Did You Know? When Nikolaus and Christine Saas, Niki's parents, were at the helm of the domaine, Christine discovered the world of biodynamics through a family friend, who was an anthroposophic doctor. She taught Christine everything she knew about biodynamics, in particular regarding the moon phases and the preparations. Niki says,
“Immediately my mother said, yes, that's the right thing for us. They were certain that they wanted to work in this way, and so since 1971 we have been working biodynamically. Domaine Eugène Meyer, in Alsace, began in 1969, so together we were the first two biodynamic wineries in the world.”
We ask how it feels to inherit vineyards that have been worked with the greatest respect for nature for such a long time. Niki says,
“Well, it’s a normal thing for me as this is what I’ve always known. There wasn’t a lot to change when we took over winery, because so much had been done already. One generation has already worked biodynamically, so the soil is healthy, and the vineyards are looking great. The only thing that we can do is to focus on the details, such as doing a better leaf management, soil management… like adjusting some little screws here and there to make the quality even better.”
“I think that the vine is a plant which quickly shows what it likes and what it doesn't like. I think you can see the first results of biodynamics very quickly in a vineyard, but to see the effects really take root in the vineyard, that takes a long time.I have spent time in Alsace, where there are a lot of winemakers who have been working biodynamically for quite some time. I was interested in seeing the vineyards and in listening to their experiences, to understand their work and practices. I heard a lot of comments that basically said, you must do it for a certain period of time until you can really tell the difference and see a good result. There are some small reactions which appear more or less immediately, or after the first year of treatment. But seeing the ensemble of how the biodiversity in the vineyard affects the vine, and how it affects the balance of the plants that you have there, that is what takes longer. We're lucky to have a very solid foundation, that Niki’s parents left for us, that we can build upon. It gives us the ability to focus on the details. That’s what makes working here super interesting!”
“We want to maintain and achieve a higher quality in the vine or the wine. The idea is also to really help the plants tackle things like climate change. We work to help the vines to keep or maintain a balance. For me, personally, this is actually what nature is focusing on. When there is an imbalance, nature works to get rid of that imbalance, and to put everything back into order again. Biodynamics actually focuses on the same thing, while including the human being in this very natural process.”
Additionally, they have been adapting their pruning methods to the gentle pruning school of thought pioneered by Simonit & Sirch, but it is too early in their journey to be able to quantify results. They are also experimenting with cover crops.