In many instances, Styrian wines are mountain wines.
You might ask: viticulture on rocky cliffs in the company of cows & sheep grazing on the high-elevation pasture? Not quite. The term Berg (= mountain) applies in agriculture, and therefore also to viticulture, when the vineyards are situated on a hillside with a slope of more than twenty-six percent and the winegrower is thus obliged to work like a mountain farmer.
For the winegrower, the steep slope of the vineyard means that he has to perform almost all tasks by hand.
A great deal of manual labour and many more kilometres of footsteps uphill & downhill are necessary in the course of a vegetation cycle, until the grapes make their way into the press-house at harvest time: pruning the vines in winter. Setting & binding the vines in springtime. Mowing the spaces between the rows and around the vines, from late spring to late summer. (Sometimes work left to the sheep.)
Finally, the foliage canopy management, until early autumn. Add to this the many passes through the vineyards at harvest time in autumn, which sometimes take place under time constraint.
Steep slopes are indeed as valuable as gold.
The sunshine falls much more evenly upon their vines, and the vines get more sunlight in general. In addition, the soils heat up more readily and stay warm longer when darkness falls.
When the cool downdrafts of the night on the hillsides provide for consistent differences in temperature, this brings more finesse and delicacy into the wine. When they describe wines that benefit from this, the Styrians say that they are wines that ‘flow across the palate’.
Working on the steep slopes is financially demanding.
It takes human beings to do it, and human labour costs more than working with machines. Due to the predominance of manual labour, Styrian winegrowing does not differ significantly from viticulture one hundred or two hundred years ago.
Anyone who works as close to nature as the Styrian winegrowers (who are traditionally referred to as wine farmers in the Steiermark) do in their vineyards, also works near-to-nature in the wine cellar.
In the Steiermark wine is most frequently matured in wooden casks, a typical feature of Styrian viticulture.
Gentle cellar techniques
Does the wooden cask exclude modern cellar technology? Not at all. Careful, state-of-the-art cellar technology meets never-forgotten traditions, which every winegrower passes on to his successors. The possibilities and methods involved in the cooper’s trade and the application of cask maturing are a major topic in this winegrowing sector.
Incidentally, in most cases we are not talking about small barriques, like one encounters in Bordeaux. Styrian wines mature primarily in 1,200 litre casks or in 500–600-litre casks, the sizes that are also used in Burgundy. The gently smoke-treated small wooden casks, which transmit their so-called toasting mildly and precisely to the contents, refine some of the finest single-vineyard wines.