Growing up in the vineyards and cellar of his parents’ estate in Strass, Martin Arndorfer comes from a long line of winemakers. Anna Steininger is the daughter of one of the top and most respected wine makers in Austria, Karl Steininger, quite simply, they are a match made in ‘wine’ heaven. Both born with a natural, and it seems in that region, almost genetic understanding and love of the Riesling and Gruner Veltliner grapes.
After attending winemaking school Martin headed off to Italy to get some practical training. He attributes much of his inspiration to two Italian producers: Ronco del Gnemiz, run by Serena Palazzolo, where he experienced his first full-bodied whites matured in small oak barrels, and Fabrizio Iuli. With Fabrizio he learned how to make, “complex and straightforward red wines of outstanding quality”. These two wineries sparked his interest in thrilling red wines and his passion for barriques. He said in both cases, he has also found friends for a lifetime.
When Martin returned from Italy, he and Anna moved in together, and not only did they unite their living spaces, but also their love, ideas, passion and knowledge for winemaking starting their own label, ‘M & A Arndorfer’.
The Arndorfer watchword is origin. Martin & Anna also believe that the role of the vigneron is crucial – artisanship thus is the combination of creativity, sensitivity and personality. “Origin for us though is restricted to the vineyard and the vines. The vines soak up the vigour of the soil and their surroundings and give the grapes their unmistakable character based on their origin. Even though we do not feel bound by tradition, we want to emphasise that the influence of the vineyard is crucial to our philosophy. We are convinced that it is impossible to make two wines exactly the same if the grapes come from different vineyards, regions or countries.
“We think that the most important part of the vineyard is life and balance. Both things are very closely connected with our soils and the work/management we do with the soil. There are lot of little animals and partly very big mycelium in the soil which help the vine to get water and nutrients, but they need their “home” and food. So in our viticulture we try to provide them what they need so they will provide our vines what they need… if we assault our vines (fertilizer and herbicide) we will not have life and balance in our soil.”
They have created different ranges to capture various distinctive yet essential truths behind their vineyards and the grape varieties. We begin with Vorsgeschmack (Foretaste), a symbiosis of the two star grapes of the Kamptal. Martin and Anna describe the wine as the beginning of a friendly talk, the prelude to a meal and the gateway to simple pleasure. A blend of 80% Grüner and 20% Riesling with the former from clay on loess soils raised in old barrels, whilst the Riesling is from old vines on primary rock but with an early pick to preserve freshness this fruity and floral white is then fermented in stainless steel. Indigenous yeast ferments are used for all the wines. The wine is balanced, the Riesling give a little aromatic zip to the solidity of the Grüner. Strasser Weinberge is the next range, comprising a Grüner and a Riesling. These wines are, in effect, vineyard reserves from the best vineyards in Strass. The Gruner is based on grapes selected from three vineyards: Strasser Gaisberg, Wechselberg and Hasel, each producing grapes which are totally different in style and taste as a result of their diverse soils and microclimates. Thus the final blend “reflects the whole village of Strass in all its complexity and variety”. The Riesling is from Gaisberg and Wechselberg on those particular primary rock soils that confer mineral tones as well as finesse and elegance to the final wine.
Certain vineyards are singled out for special treatment. The lesser-seen Roter Veltiner grows in a plot planted in 1979 on the south-western slopes of the Zobinger Gaisberg. Although the variety itself possesses low acidity, a combination of old vines and mineral soils (these being on primary rock) gives lovely textural depth to the wine. Notes of mandarin and honey are unveiled as the wine warms in the glass. Grenzenlos is also a single vineyard, this time from the Strasser Wechselberg, their oldest Grüner vineyard, planted in 1959 on clay soils with gravel and chalk. After five years ageing in stainless steel the wine spends another six months in bottle to relax. This is notably elegant and shows the personality of the grape variety in its most naked form. The upbringing of the wine runs counter to the Arndorfers belief that Grüner prefers a gentle sojourn in oak barrels.
Die Leidenschaft, Martin & Anna’s passion line, pushes the boundaries that bit further. The wines are fermented and matured in small barrels without stirring. The Grüner, for example is really spicy and herbal, the stunning Riesling from the cru vineyards with its honeyed golden plum fruit has to be sipped slowly and appreciated.
Finally, there is the natural range which reflects the playful side of the vigneron’s nature. Here one tastes a Müller-Thurgau Per Se from old vines grown on primary rock, an aromatic skin-fermented (for 12 days) orange-tinged wine made without filtration or sulphur in stainless barrels. Its companion is a truly wild Grüner (also called Per Se) with 14 days on skins and aged in old barrels with 16 months on the lees. A medicinal wine with notes of wild herbs and fennel. In the spirit of further craziness we tasted a beautiful pale pink wine called Rosa Marie which is Zweigelt fermented on Grüner Veltliner skins, to which the appropriate response is “why not?”
Martin & Anna are proud to live and work in Kamptal, especially in the Strassertale. Despite the long history of winemaking and viticulture, it doesn’t inhibit their personal approach. Martin will not dismiss the past: “Talking with the older generation provides a way of learning and understanding about the vineyards of our village; to see pictures of the vineyards from the past is very inspiring.”
For example, why was the vintage 1947 so outstanding? Maybe the sun, maybe the small crop, maybe the pruning, maybe the” trellising system”, maybe crushing the grapes in the vineyard, maybe not having a tractor, nor herbicides and fertilizers, or maybe a little bit from everything. Anyway, I think it is good to learn from our history and use the experience from older generations, but combine it with the knowledge of the present time. The cheapest thing we can do is keep thinking about our work and our decisions…History gives us a bigger background for this idea…
Is the region, or perhaps other winemakers, ever resistant to change or new ideas?
The question is: what are new ideas or changes? Most of the wineries certainly want to produce wines that show the character of the origin – village or single vineyard – to show a very typical wine from the region. Sometimes people call it traditional. I got the impression that there weren’t many growers prepared to innovate in the winery like the Arndorfers, Alwin & Stefanie Jurtschitsch, Matthias Warnung and Matthias Hager. Whilst embracing tradition in one sense they have liberated themselves from it in another. Here are growers working with, for example, skin contact, long ageing, unusual formats (eggs, stainless steel barrels, wood of all shapes and sizes), low or no sulphur. The wines look outwards whilst capturing the historic terroir of the Kamptal.