High up in the mountains in the north east of Austria, about 50km north of its capital Vienna lies a small but mighty wine region called the Kamptal. The region is named for the Kamp, the all-important river that nourishes the region as it travels from the Krems-land Mountains on its way to empty into the mighty Danube. The vineyard area of Kamptal is not large, being based mainly around the town of Langenlois, though in actual fact, this is the 3rd largest region in Austria by number of vines. Vineyards in Kamptal may not be large, but they are very densely packed with vines, especially on the premium hill sites. All these factors and more we will look at to establish what makes the wines of Kamptal significant.
As mentioned above, the vineyards of Kamptal are absolutely jam-packed with vines; despite its small size, over 8% of Austria’s vines are found in this region! This is mainly due to the fact that the region is very mountainous and those slopes that are facing the right direction get filled to the brim with vines to make the most of the short spring/summer ripening season. This has a big impact on the wines that can be made in this region; high density vines on undulating land mean the only way to harvest is by hand- no tractors can get between the tiny rows here. This requirement for man power increases the costs of farming the land, meaning Kamptal is not going to be a region where cheap and cheerful wines are made. Mandatory hand-harvesting; something vignerons usually have a choice in, has had a positive influence on quality however, so the winemakers (and us drinkers) don’t seem to mind!
Hand harvesting is a hotly-debated issue in regards to the effects it has on overall quality. Many would argue in regions like the Barossa where you are dealing with a thick-skinned varietal which needs no whole bunches and stems in the winemaking (generally speaking), and can handle a little oxidation, hand harvesting is an extra cost you’d be better off doing away with. Here in Kamptal however, the style of wine is all about pristine purity of fruit (i.e. no oxidation of the juice), clean, mineral acid, and no real oak influence. So, they plant vineyards as densely as possible here to get as many grapes/hectare in to pay for the added costs of hand harvesting. Richer styles of Kamptal wines do exist, though instead of ageing in new oak or lees stirring, grapes used for these styles are affected by small percentages of Botrytis- which again must be done by hand to select bunches that are infected and sweetened by this fungus. The botrytis fungus also grows well in these densely packed vineyards where airflow is low; another benefit for the high density vineyard, but again a reason you wouldn’t find it in areas like the Barossa (Botrytis Shiraz? No thanks!).
So what are the grape varieties in these densely-packed vineyards you ask? Whilst there are about 10 different varieties grown in this area, 2 varieties rule the roost. Just over half of all production is Grüner Veltliner, and another 30% is Riesling. The other varieties grown are a hodge-podge of experiments (Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay), fashionable varietals (Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc) and interesting local varieties (St Laurent, Zweigeld). Riesling is grown upon the terraced slopes of the Heiligenstein vineyard (which loosely translates as “hell-like”), a severely steep site considered to be one of the top 20 best places to grow Riesling on earth, as well as the Gaisberg vineyard. If you see these names on a bottle of Kamptal wine, you’ll find electric acid, fresh citrus and flowers, and a wine that will last for decades. Grüner is grown all over, but best examples come from the Lamm vineyard, which produces crisply dry whites with a distinctive white pepper and lime tang to them. Whilst not as ageworthy as the Rieslings, these last longer than most!
Within the Kamptal, they have their own Quality system, known as Kamptal DAC (Districtus Austriae Controllatus), set as law only recently in 2008. This wine law not only outlines where a wine can come from, the minimum alcohol, maximum yields and the grape varieties allowed (like the French AOC and Italian DOCG systems), but also gives an indication of the style and how typical a wine is compared to the style of the region (like the German Prädikat system which uses terms like Spätlese and Auslese), in an attempt to use the best of both systems. Those which follow their Kamptal DAC with the term Klassik are lighter, fruit-driven wines, whereas Reserve indicates a slightly weightier wine with a minimum alcohol of 13%, and sometimes with a subtle influence of botrytis and some old oak. As yet no varieties outside Riesling and Grüner are allowed in these categories, however it is still in its infancy, and we may see world-class Zweigelt come from this region in the future!
There is more to Kamptal than its grapes and vineyards, however beautiful they are. The region is at the forefront of cool-climate organic viticulture; especially impressive in a cold, wet region like this where disease is a yearly threat. Willi Bründlmayer is the biggest and best producer in Kamptal, and is also the unofficial spokesman for Austrian Organic wine, and we have a few of his wines for sale listed below. In addition to this, Kamptal is an important centre of Austrian wine tourism. The main town, Langenlois is home to the Loisium – a futuristic visitor centre which leads visitors down into a labyrinth of centuries-old, underground wine cellars.
Wine Sales Manager