If we were an Austrian grape variety—say, Blaufränkisch or Sankt Laurent— then we’d very much like to be in the capable hands of Hannes Schuster.
Hannes' purpose as a winemaker is to bring to the world the Austro-Hungarian varieties of Sankt Margarethen, on the western shores of Lake Neusiedlersee. Focusing purely on the indigenous varieties of Blaufränkisch, Sankt Laurent, as well as white field blend vineyards and an increasing amount of old-vine Grüner Veltliner and Furmint, Hannes is on a mission to redefine the Burgenland as a whole; both on the home front and globally. It requires serious gumption to take over a successful vineyard of 30 years and re-plant the majority of vines with indigenous, lesser-known varieties. It would have been easy to keep the winery as it was — it was doing well, after all — but Hannes’ gut feeling was the driving force behind Weingut Rosi Schuster as we know it today.
When we ask him what he looks for in his wines, he says that it’s simple: ‘purity, elegance, and origin’. Three small words, he says, but with them comes the most complex task of piecing them together.
If anyone can do it…
Meet the Schuster Family
Hannes’ parents, Rosi and Franz Schuster, founded Weingut Schuster in 1979, the same year they married. At first, the winery was small – around two or three hectares, with a sole focus on Blaufränkisch. However, Hannes’ father, Franz, was interested in big, bold wines and so planted Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (this was also in fashion at the time). Soon after, they took over the winery and vineyards from Rosi’s parents in Sankt Margarethen, a classic Austrian white wine village. This was their first exploration of white wine – a Weissburgunder – and then shortly after Chardonnay, produced in a more international (and less typically Austrian) style. But with his father teaching winemaking full-time, it became the sole focus of Hannes’ mother, Rosi, to lead and grow the winery.
“At the start, the winery was called Weingut Schuster. But my father said to my mother: ‘You are the winemaker and the winegrower, so your name should be on the label. My job is as a teacher in the school.’”
He helped with the occasional bit of tractor work, but Rosi was in charge – the head-honcho and the decision-maker. Thus, Hannes had grown up watching his mother successfully turn the winery into a well-oiled machine. After some years spent studying, he took on his first project for his mother and, as they say, the rest is history...
“In the winter of 2000, I had the idea that I would do two experiments by myself. I said to my parents that maybe it was better if I did a white wine, because if I did a red wine then there would always be the discussion about which is better - the parents’ or the son’s.”
It was this experiment—two barrels of Chardonnay—which was the first inkling of the new direction of Weingut Rosi Schuster... Or was it actually a return to a previous life? Hannes explains,
“I explained to my mother that this was what I wanted to do for the future—exactly the same as how they had done at the beginning, before they had switched to this international style of winemaking.”
By 2005, sadly his father’s health had deteriorated, so Hannes took on more responsibility. At this stage, the aim was simple: maintain the vineyards, bring the grapes in, make some wine and that was enough. The only necessity was to keep the cogs turning.
"But then in 2006 and 2007 I took on more and more, and I said to myself that I would love to do this, but in another way. I said to my mother: I do like these international varieties, but just not in our vineyards.”
A (subjectively) tough, but seemingly easy decision for Hannes. His vision was clear: focus on indigenous varieties and move away from the heavier, international styles that his mother had previously focused on. He had enjoyed the wines made from those varieties, too, but they were not right for his vision of championing locality.
“I had the feeling that we have a certain responsibility as winemakers. We should be doing what we can, with what we have, in front of our houses. Over the next few years, it was the most important time for us. There wasn’t a real plan, but I had to decide on the direction I wanted to go in; old vineyards are so important for me, and a crucial part of the direction we wanted to move in.”
In 2007, when his father passed away, Hannes took over the family business completely, with Rosi supporting him from afar.
“In the very beginning she always said ‘I’ll support you 100%... But I have to pay the invoices so we should still aim to earn a bit of money!’”
“She brings the best critical voice; she’s very critical in the cellar, and when she’s tasting. She loved — 20 years before — wines with oak, from barriques, with a bit of character, but nowadays she doesn’t like this anymore. So when she smells oak in the wines, she’s like: ‘Ugh, cannot drink this!’
Although Hannes took the reins, it has always been about family—hence, for a large part, the continuation of his mother’s name at the winery.
“We started this journey together, and we’re still in it together. She’s still working in the vineyards; she helps me to organise the few workers that we have so they’re all aware of what they have to do the next day. She tastes all of my wines, but the last decision is always mine. But we’re normally 100% on the same wavelength.”
In the beginning—or at the very beginning of Weingut Rosi Schuster—there was almost no movement in Austria, no championing of indigenous varieties or celebration of what the Burgenland had (and has) to offer.
“When I took over, she said she was 100% happy but of course she had some reservations. I said that we would have to sell the Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard, or take the vines out. It was quite a young plantation (10 or 15 years old) but now she says that she’s so happy that we did this immediately in 2008.”
“We can’t work with Cabernet anymore. I like Pinot Noir; I like Cabernet Franc, but we have Blaufränkisch and Furmint, Welschriesling and Grüner Veltliner. This is what we see, and this is what we want to transport into the future.”
At the time, he tells us, there were maybe two other wineries that focused on low-intervention wines. But nowadays, as we know, there truly is a movement. And it’s only going to get bigger.
“When I started, I said, ‘we need sommeliers for this kind of wine’ because no one would buy this kind of wine in the shops. You need a sommelier who says, ‘taste this, it might be of interest!’”
“A few weeks after that Chardonnay experiment, we had the opportunity to buy a neighbouring vineyard, in Zagersdorf; one of the oldest Blaufränkisch vineyards. In this place there were also some Sankt Laurent planted, and so I saw a chance to do red wine because we’d never worked with this variety before.”
This was the beginning of Weingut Rosi Schuster as we know it.
“They were quite small barrels. But the style was a bit different — it wasn’t this international, heavy, extracted style… There was another dimension to the wine, but it was still very far away from what we’re doing now...”
Today, the winery has grown to 11 hectares. The vineyards are located in Sankt Margarethen and the rest, across neighbouring vineyards in Zagersdorf and Rust. The soils vary from heavy loam, to gravel, to sandstone and limestone.
“In Sankt Margarethen we have sand with limestone, whereas in Schutzen it’s more gneiss and limestone. Zagersdorf is more or less the opposite to all of these soils—it’s a heavy soil with lots of clay and limestone.”
And when it came to converting from conventional to biodynamics, it was a natural reflection for them; just the right time for Hannes and Rosi. Another case of ‘right place, right time,’ was regarding their Sankt Laurent. Today, they have developed a particular reputation for the variety, but this wasn’t always the case:
“Sankt Laurent was quite a tricky one. We loved it, and we still love it, but there was absolutely no market for it in Austria, and at that time we had more than 90% of our clients in Austria. We would sometimes get the wines back and they would say ‘there is no oak; there is no sweetness; this is only 12% alcohol.."
However, as the wines began to improve year on year, this coincided with a global movement towards indigenous varieties. This led to some key importers and sommeliers discovering the Schuster wines. Hannes remembers,
“We got our first international partner in the US, and then Belgium. There was definitely a network that helped us in the first few years; one distributor one year, and then the next year another one. After the first five or six years everything moved a bit faster. London, Australia, Sweden… Over the last twelve months we’ve been really happy—it has been a really good sign that we have very nice partners. They did what they could despite everything being closed [due to Covid].”
After their foray into Sankt Laurent, Hannes had the idea to make some white wine — especially, as he tells us, because the surrounding villages are dominated by white varieties. So, they began to work with some very old vines; a field blend (Gemischter Satz) and Grüner Veltliner.
Furmint is another variety that Hannes has been focusing on for the past decade.
“We don’t know it particularly well yet, because Furmint has only been in this region for the last 40 years. It was actually Michael Wenzel’s father who brought it back [from neighbouring Hungary]. There are only five or six hectares, and mainly in one village—Rust—so we have no idea how it works on pure limestone, or on schist and so on...”
Exciting times; like sketching on a blank canvas. Dedicated to Blaufränkisch, it’s been a mission for Hannes to find the right counterpart for varietal white winemaking. He says,
“We really hope – or think – that this could be the right partner for Blaufränkisch. And that’s just perfect, isn’t it? Working in a region with two local grapes, and two great local grapes too.”
“It’s always fresh, it always has enough acidity, and that’s so important for me: working with fully ripe grapes but where you still have enough freshness and drinkability in the wine. Blaufränkisch has that, Furmint has that, Sankt Laurent has that. And so this is our thing!”
When it comes to winemaking technique, there’s no ‘one rule fits all.’ Decisions vary according to the vintage, and are based on instinct:
“We decide what we want to do based on what makes the most sense for the grapes.”
That said, there are certain winemaking techniques that Hannes has settled on. Around 70% of the white grapes are destemmed, with the remaining percentage whole-bunch pressed. For the Blaufränkisch, a small amount of whole bunches are included during fermentation, and a little more for the Sankt Laurent and Zweigelt.
“Blaufränkisch normally has enough tannins and green herbal components, so we’re very careful with whole bunch fermentation.”
All fermentation occurs naturally, and he likes to keep external influence to the very minimum.
“We like oak, but we don’t want the oak taste in the wines. So the barrels are made with a very, very light toasting, or none.”
Once the wine is in barrel or foudre, they wait.
“At some point we do some racking. But it’s always to do with the wines – when we can see that the wines need some oxygen or air, then we rack them.”
Low amounts of sulfites are used. From time to time the wines go through a rough filtration before bottling, but are always unfined.
“We try to bottle the wines as clear as possible — there is of course a little sediment, but they aren’t completely cloudy...”
“Quality is a big word, and everybody has a different definition of it. A wine with 14% alcohol can also be elegant, light and delicious, when everything is in balance. Balance is another word which is used a lot; during pruning, during the vegetation period, and during harvest. Wine should be in balance, and sometimes it’s perfect with 11% alcohol. Other times, it’s perfect at 14%. The glass of wine should not be acidic, high tannins and fruit all at once - it should be just one.”
And of course, we can’t mention the winery without asking Hannes about his decision to keep his mother’s name centre stage on the label, even after changing the design:
“I wasn’t happy with the old labels – we weren’t able to translate what I wanted to translate. But I decided that the winery would still be named after my mother. I have to print ‘produced and bottled by Hannes Schuster’, of course, but the label still says Rosi Schuster because she was the founder. Maybe it was a mistake, economically. When we changed the labels, and kept the name but printed ‘Made by Hannes Schuster,’ customers expected something completely different. They expected a Rosi Schuster wine, but they got a Hannes Schuster wine.”
He thinks, for a second,
“But I never once truly thought about it as a mistake, because I hope for the next generation that it’s also called Rosi Schuster.”
We speak again about the trio of things that Hannes is looking for in his wines: purity, elegance, and origin. But he adapts and pivots, depending on where the vintage takes him or what he feels is relevant at that time.
“Our Aus den Dörfern is an easy-going, entry level wine with (of course) some complexity, but at the end of the day it should be a good bottle of wine which you can sit with on your terrace, have fun with, and enjoy. I like complexity - but you also need to be able to simply say, ‘this is a good bottle of wine.’”
And that’s exactly what both Hannes’ and his wines remind us of—balance. There’s a certain equilibrium with his values, his work, and his wines — a trio in symbiosis with the Earth. It is truly exciting to see someone champion—and redefine—a region as a whole: eschewing varieties from elsewhere, not because he does not appreciate them, but because of an awareness that there is a place for those—and that place, for Hannes, is not the Burgenland.