November 11, 2011 Nikolaihof
Nikolaihof Riesling vom Stein Federspiel
Nikolaihof Riesling vom Stein Federspiel 2005
Gold in a silver goblet. Clean, citrus, mineral aromas carried over to the palate. Here it shines. Crisp with a touch of apricot and pear, all sharply focused. Steely mineral notes softened by a depth of winterish fruit. A stylish winner, delightfully subtle. $$
Nikolaihof is the oldest wine estate in Austria. Documentary evidence indicates that wine has been made on the site since at least A.D. 470, during the time of the Romans. The present-day cellar was once a Roman crypt, and the tasting/reception room a 15th century chapel.
Since 1894 Nikolaihof has been in the hands of the Saahs family. Christine Saahs and husband Nikolaus have been in charge for the last 40 years. The estate comprises 20 hectares of vines, principally riesling and gruner veltliner, planted in mineral-rich alluvial gravel on primary rock. Annual production amounts to 100,000 bottles.
Nikolaihof has the distinction of being the first biodynamic winery in Europe, operating as such since 1971, predating by a dozen years that of the Loire’s biodynamic guru, Nicolas Joly. It happened that Christine’s mother-in-law was a doctor who practiced medicine in accordance with anthrosopophy, the philosophy espoused by Rudolph Steiner, the father of biodynamics. From the anthrosophical approach in medicine to a similar approach in the vineyards seemed a natural transition.
The use of stinging nettle, valerian teas, and other preparations (in the same sense as homeopathic medicine) enrich the deeply rooted vines. As a consequence, the vines (which are roughly half a century old) do well even in the years that other, chemically treated wine estates nearby find difficult.
Harvesting is by individual plot and entirely by hand, in accordance with Maria Thun’s lunar calendar. Fermentation of each plot is separate, using only naturally-occuring yeasts. It takes place in large wooden vats, without any temperature control. There is an aging period of about six months prior to bottling. Overall, the winemaking is strictly non-interventional.
Christine has always been in the forefront of the estate, taking the leading public role, while her husband prefers to remain in the background. With 55% of the production exported, she travels widely promoting the Nikolaihof wines and the case for biodynamics. Recently, more and more of the operation has been taken over by their son Nikolaus. Having studied winemaking at the Geisenheim Institute in Germany, he brings a new perspective to the estate, while still holding strongly to biodynamics.
There’s a restaurant on site, serving organic and locally grown food, and a guest house not far away (operated by daughter Elizabeth and her husband). A visit to Nikolaihof could be an inclusive, all-in-the-family experience. With a wonderful range of world-class wines at its centre.