- Burgenland, Austria
Austria's sweet wines are among the best in the world, led by the Kracher winery. - Wine Spectator
It's no secret that the Kracher wines are some of the most widely respected in the world among sommeliers, collectors, and wine writers. When Bowler started to distribute the wines in New York, we were excited to learn more from Gerhard Kracher about the regions history and his family's rise to fame.
Weinlaubenhof Kracher is in Burgenland, an hour southeast of Vienna and near the Lake Neusiedl. Driving through his vineyards, which are within the National Park Neusiedler See-Seewinkel, just three kilometers from the shore, the main attraction in the area is the lake itself. It’s nearly 22 miles long, and very shallow, less than six feet deep at its deepest point. The influence of the lake and the Pannonian climate (low precipitation, hot summers and moderately cold winters) create a very special micro-climate, with fog occurring regularly in the fall; these conditions are ideal for the development of botrytis cinerea, the famous “noble rot”.
Kracher explained that his area on the east side of the lake did not have a history of making sweet wines until after World War II. Sweet wines are made on both sides of the lake, west and east, but historically, the west side was more succesful because of the proximity to the rest of Austria and the west has made sweet wines for a hundred years. The east side, where the Kracher winery is located, is isolated by the lake and the border with Hungary. Gerhard’s grandfather, Alois Sr., was a pioneer for making sweet wines east of the lake and today, the east is considered the best area for making sweet wine. This area is very flat and sandy, with a gravelly subsoil. The sand goes up to four meters deep in some areas. On the east side, in addition to the Lake Neusiedl, there are twenty or so smaller lakes. These smaller lakes are so small that sometimes they dry up in the summer. There soil has such a high mineral content that you can see a build up of salt and minerals left behind where the lakes dry up. This explains the salty freshness on the finish of the sweet wines; it comes right from the terroir.
Today, Kracher owns 35 hectares total spread over 89 plots. In the vineyards, Kracher follows sustainable farming and has never used herbicides. The vineyards are planted at a high density to lower yields, which gives the wines more concentration and complexity. Traditional varieties are planted—40% Welschriesling , 20% Chardonnay, and the balance is mostly Traminer, Pinot Blanc, and Scheurebe. Welschriesling and Chardonnay were brought to the area two hundred years ago by monks. All of the Welschriesling is is propogated from a vineyard planted by Alois Kracher in 1959.
Eighty-five percent of their wines are sweet. Auslese normally has 75-90g/L residual sugar; Beerenauslese has 110-135 g/L RS; and Trockenbeerenauslese 140+ g/L. Kracher also makes some dry wines now, notably, an excellent Grauburgunder, labeled Pinot Gris. The Pinot Gris mostly comes from vineyards that they own and also some leased vineyards.
Kracher built a new winery in 2014 that is run entirely on solar power. At harvest, the grapes are strictly sorted according to ripeness and each plot is vinified in it's own tank. Fermentations are long and slow with natural yeasts in stainless steel or large oak barrels depending on the cuvée. Before bottling, each vintage blend is determined by blind tasting. The goal is to capture the balance of acidity, luscious fruit, and the complexity of this very special micro-climate.
2015 was the hottest summer on record in Burgenland, with two weeks of daytime highs that topped 104 Fahrenheit. Fortunately, the best years for sweet wine are warm, allowing botrytis to come quickly before the acidity begins to drop. 2015 is one of the best vintages for TBA's in a generation. In 2016, 85% of the harvest was lost because of frost damage in the spring. 2017 and 2018 were both warm vintages and very good for sweet wines.