In Conversation With Gunter Triebaumer
Günter & Regina Triebaumer, Rust
“The less I put into the wine the better recommendation we get.”
Rust is a city in the Austrian state of Burgenland, located on the western shore of Lake Neusiedl near the border with Hungary. With only about 1,900 inhabitants, it is the country's smallest statutory city. It is also Austria’s oldest wine appellation. The exceptional Pannonian climate enables very high degrees of ripeness, unmatched in most other parts of Austria. The first mention of a Triebaumer vineyard in Rust was in 1691.
Tell us about the winery.
When Regina and I took over my parents' estate 10 years ago, we had just 7 hectares. Now we have 25 hectares and we buy grapes in from 3 other hectares. We pick all the grapes from our own vineyards and the farmers we buy from. My parents produced wine and sold it from the estate and had very few export or trade partners, but we have changed the structure completely.
We think 25 hectares is a reasonable size for a family to control. We could easily sell the wines of 45 hectares but then we would encounter a lot more expense. We don’t want our children, Greta (8) and Ellas (5), to pay for us in 20 years.
Were you both born in winemaker families?
Regina, like me, was born into a winemaker family – on the other side of the lake. Her parent’s estate was taken over by her brother. That is the tradition. When we got to know each other 20 years ago she said: ‘I will never ever be a winemaker wife’ but ended up marrying me!
Regina worked for the wine academy in Rust. It is licensed to teach to WSET standard. In fact she was one of the founders. She was also the first one to introduce an honours degree in continental Europe. Five years later I had to take the honour degree. I had no choice. She also worked in the USA as an importer of Austrian wines. I have two brothers and one sister. Before I took over the family estate I was store manager for Wine and Co a very unique Austrian high end wine chain.
I never went to winemaking school but learnt a lot from father and uncle. When I was 12 years old I already knew how to make wine. I used to collect wine even when I did not drink it and write the notes in my book. The book is my treasure and now the estate is everything I dreamed off.
We travelled for 15 years, across the whole wine world. From California to Chile and all the European wine growing regions. We spent a lot of money and tasted everything before coming back to the wine estate.
In 1990 I spent a year and a half working for Stellenbosch Farmer’s Winery (SFW) in South Africa. It was a very strange time to be in South Africa as Nelson Mandela was released in March 1990.
What did you learn from your travels?
Our reason for travelling was to see how wine was made outside of Austria. We wanted to learn new winemaking techniques and introduce those that would work where we lived, but as our finances were limited when we took over the estate, we ended up with a low tech winery. A modern press is the only winemaking facility we use. Today, we use water, no chemicals and we have barrique barrels and do not add oak chips and tannins. When I took over in 2003 I used everything I could get my hands on, but year by year we went back to basic wine making. The less I put into the wine the better recommendation we get.
We employ five guys from Hungary all year round and at harvest time the men pull in more labour from their three different clans. We have 22 people. They bring their cousins, brothers, aunties, to help us pick the grapes by hand.
And the wines?
We have a huge range of wine varietals but Blaufränkisch, a red wine grape, is our local hero. It has been in the region for more than 1,000 years and loves the chalky and loamy soils. It was introduced by the first German settlers.
All in, we produce 200,000 bottles a year that makes us a medium-size Austrian estate. We have a big range of wines because we have so many different soil types. Our international wine grapes such as Cabernet and Merlot grow on mineral soils. Our vineyard is 125 metres above sea level. The highest hills near us are only 180 metres.
Our wines age well because we don’t live in a semi-desert, in a moderate climate the grapes are not cooked on the vine. In a moderate climate you have to get good ripeness but not over ripeness.
In 1990, I was the first one who brought Syrah back from South Africa. For the export market our Austrian varietals sell brilliantly. For the Austrian market our customers want our international varieties – Merlot, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc.
Tell us about the wine label.
We don’t have a nice chateaux to put on the label so I went with a graphic style using our family name, Triebaumer means ‘three trees’ and suits graphics. Not everyone will like the label but they do remember it.
What is your favourite wine?
My favourite wine depends on the situation, but I would take the classic Blaufränkisch, our signature red wine, to a desert island. We define “classic” as intensively fruity and powerful.
Are you open to tourists?
Yes, but we prefer it if tourists make an appointment as we are very busy and often somewhere else.
What other interests do you have?
We both love reading, travelling and cooking. I especially love historical books. Regina would like to have more spare time.
What is your favourite food?
I love using olive oil in my cooking. It is a pity olives don’t grow in our area. I tend to love more Italian food and I think that comes from my great grandfather who came to Austria from Italy. I would happily have spicy pasta with Blaufränkisch or match the wine with an Austrian goose dish.
Our website focuses on wine and food. That is really important to us as wine should always be drunk with food.
Rosé of Blaufränkisch Reserve
Rosé made from the free run juice of the grapes that will become the Blaufränkisch Reserve. Supremely refreshing, quite long. Fabulous wine. Chill well and drink with salads, grilled meats, a great barbecue wine. Also a perfect winter rosé with smoked Salmon for example.
Dry, powerfully structured with substantial smooth tannins which are seemingly covered with cherry chocolate. A very substantial wine indeed with a hint of lively sweetness and good supporting minerality. 13.5% ABV