Website: Kopfensteiner Winery
Country Location: Austria
Authentic and straightforward without blending in or overpowering you — Thomas Kopfensteiner
Thomas, Astrid, Edith and Manfred Kopfensteiner
The first time we started turning over rocks and looking for producers in Eisenberg was 2014. The area is certainly thematically ripe for Blue Danube given the confluence of Croatian, Austrian and Hungarian cultures and borders. A stone’s throw from the Hungarian border and a part of the Hungarian Empire for centuries earlier, but the Croatian connection is less obvious. After the Turks were pushed out in the mid 16th Century, Hungary repopulated the war torn area with Croatian communities. For centuries, villages like Schandorf spoke a unique Croatian dialect and the culture was distinctly Croatian. This was the case up until 1921 when empires fell, borders changed and then broke up again with the Iron Curtain. The result was a border area in Austria that became neglected and its Hungarian markets cutoff.
Today, Südburgenland is one of Austria's smallest wine regions, and specific areas like Eisenberg are lesser known with its just over 500 hectares under vine. It also feels far less developed compared to other parts of Burgenland like Neusiedlersee or Leithaberg. There aren’t a lot of large commercial wineries, and most of the wines are sold at the Buschenschank (local taverns). The hillsides are dotted with painfully adorable little press houses called Kellerstöckel. These are small houses built into the slope of the hill complete with a pressing room, fermentation area, and a storage cellar. This is something you also see all over neighboring Hungary as well. This area (Eisenberg and Deutsch Schützen in particular) is idyllic even by Austrian standards and families like Kopfensteiner, with a focus on single vineyards, great farming, and a newly established DAC as of 2009, are further proof of how site specific and delicious Blaufränkisch can be.
The Harvest team
What sets Eisenberg apart from other red wine areas in Burgenland or Carnuntum for instance, are the intensely ferrous clay and loamy soils often with layers and blue and green slate in concert with some of the highest elevations in Austria. With 9 hectares in Eisenberg and 6 hectares in Deutsch Schützen, Thomas Kopfensteiner and his wife Astrid have been in charge of the winery since 2005 after Thomas took control from his father Manfred. The vast majority is Blaufränkisch, but they also grow a little Zweigelt, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Welschriesling and Weißburgunder. For the past 12 years they haven’t used pesticides or herbicides, utilize local compost, spray chamomile, and benefit from the dense old growth forests surrounding the vineyards for healthy biodiversity. Similarly, mixed agriculture is still very common which contributes to biodiversity.
In the Vineyard
The vineyards also sit in the transition from Burgenland into the Hungarian plain so persistent winds keep molds and other maladies at bay. The Weinberge, literally “wine mountain,” is a plateau located in Deutsch-Schützen, 295 meters above sea level. Mostly loam and clay, but very iron rich. The Saybritz vineyard, at around 400 meters high, is mostly quartz and sand with a ton of green schist/slate. Both sites enjoy cool climates at night despite being so hot in the day.
Thomas Kopfensteiner and his son in the cellar
In the Cellar
Winemaking is careful and clean, but not overly calculated. Much like volcanic soils in Hungary, the iron rich slate and schist soils are impossible to ignore. The trick is finding some balance. The DAC is fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel but the Weinberg and Saybritz are not. Spontaneous fermentation is standard and racking is minimal depending on the vintage. Oak formats range from 500 to 2000L and Thomas is very keen to top regularly and avoid VA and oxidation. The winemaking is straightforward and not eager to embrace anything new too fast.