Producer Spotlight: Pfaffl Winery

Sustainability Certified and multi-award winning, the Pfaffl Winery has gone from strength to strength as it's produced wines across the generations. Fully family-run and focused on celebrating the traditions of Austria's wine history, Pfaffl create stunning wines under an inspiring philosophy that is constantly evolves as more opportunities to respect and protect their land, and the wider planet arise. Dora sat down with Heidi, General Manager of this Austrian gem, to discuss family history, heritage, winemaking techniques and traditions, and, of course, what's in their beautiful bottles - one of which graces our Autumn Season Subscription Case.

 

FACT FILE:

Winery: Pfaffl
Interviewee: Heidemarie Fischer
Role at winery: General Manager
Years at winery: All her life
Red:White Wine: 65:35
Region: Weinviertal, Austria

 

Dora: Austria is one of the oldest wine producing countries in the world. Tell us briefly about Austria’s winemaking roots and where it stands today in comparison to the rest of the world?

 

Heidemarie: Yes, Austria’s winemaking roots stem back for a very long time. The Romans are believed to have brought winemaking to Austria but there is evidence of grape seeds dating back to the stone age! So, you can see we have been making wine here forever really, it’s ingrained in our culture. But most Austrian wine historically and today is consumed in Austria, which is why it is not so well known abroad, almost 80% of the wine produced in Austria is drunk in Austria. We love our local produce and really enjoy our own wine! So, our main market is our home market, but this changing more so recently with more and more export and import which has greatly contributed to the rise in popularity of Austrian wine.

 

Dora: Pfaffl is located in Weinviertel, Austria’s largest wine producing region. Can you tell us about your region, the topography, climate, and soils here? How do these factors influence the wines being produced?

 

Heidemarie: Weinviertel is just north of Vienna, it borders the Czech Republic in the north and Slovakia in the east. It is a big wine producing region with a lot of diversity. Much of the region is flat, with gentle rolling hills layering through the landscape. Although we are the most northerly wine region, it is very warm and dry here, the driest in fact in Austria. That is down to the elevation, Weinviertel is around 150 meters above sea level. Whereas Austria’s most southern region, Styria, is much more mountainous and therefore considerably cooler. Our summers are very hot, getting up to 40°C and then we have cold winters, never much snow or rain. But thankfully we have big temperature differences between day and night, so although the days are hot, the nights are cool, which is the reason we are able to keep that core acidity in the grapes. Lending itself to the fresh, lively, slightly spritzy style of white wines we are recognised for. Loess is the predominant soil type, a by-product of the ice age, where winds brought sand and the sand has been compacted over the years creating this thick, almost clay like soil texture. If you dig a hole in Loess soil it will supposedly stay forever! This is how many of our traditional wine cellars were built. Dug from these Loess soils, one wine cellar followed by another can be found underground in an interlinking network. This is very specific to our region, we have these wine cellars everywhere.

 

Pfaffl Austrian wine region vineyards

Dora: Weinviertel is most famous for its signature peppery Grüner Veltliners, what is it about Grüner Veltliner that has made it synonymous with your region? 

 

Heidemarie: Yes, we are most famous for our Grüner Veltliner wines, it can be found across the region, and although we produce a big range of wines, Grüner has become our most important grape. We love it because it is super diverse, styles varying from light and lively, through to rich and full bodied, there is so much you can do with it. Typically, the younger Grüner Veltliner’s are very fresh and light, reminiscent of green apples and that classic green pepper character. But with age it can really transform, almost like Burgundy in style. We often do blind tastings where we put our Grüner Veltliner’s against that of Burgundian wines and it is really hard to differentiate between them.

 

Dora: What about red wines from Weinviertel, are there any that are really standing out from here?

 

Heidemarie: In terms of reds, Zweigelt is really our signature grape, overall in Austria too. It was invented in Austria in 1920, a crossing between two native grape varieties; Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent. It makes for animated wines, with soft tannins, and this charming, very typical, cherry fruit character. It is delicious. The younger Zweigelts are fresh and lively, but we also make reserve wines which we harvest late and put in to wood, these really showcase its ability to age.

 

Dora: Pfaffl was founded in 1978 by your father Roman Pfaffl. We would love to know more about your father’s journey and what led him to start Pfaffl.

 

It is difficult to land upon a date for when Pfaffl was established. 1978 was actually the year that my parents were married and took over the farm from my father’s parents. Our family have been making wine at this property for a lot longer than this though; my father’s parents, his grandparents and so on, have all have been making wine here for generations. When my father and mother took over, they had less than 1 hectare of vineyards, they also farmed cows, pigs, cereals, and potatoes, so it was a mixed farm in this sense. Much like all the other farms in the area. And wine was mostly made for personal consumption, or small amounts were sold locally. This is why you have so many wineries in the area, everyone had their own vineyards and made their own wine for the same reasons. But my father was one of the very first in the region who was interested in high quality and selling wine at a more commercial level.

 

Pfaffl Family  

 

When my father and mother married, he asked her what she would like to do, and my mother’s dream was to run her own restaurant. And so they acquired a property in the local town and opened a restaurant, we call this a  "Heuriger". A very traditional concept where winemakers sell their own wine and make food from their own produce. So, alongside the wines that my father was producing, they made dishes using the meat from my grandfather’s pigs. This restaurant is really how it all started. My father became more and more focussed on producing high quality wines, he did a lot of research, and began to look to Grüner Veltliner as a variety that had huge potential to produce quality driven, terroir distinctive wines.

 

In 1989 we had 5 hectares of vineyards and we were given the opportunity to buy another 7 hectares. This was an area of dilapidated vineyard land, which had been neglected for a very long time. My father and mother didn’t have the money for it at the time but couldn’t resist the beautiful spot of terraced vineyards and so borrowed the capitol to purchase it regardless (they had many sleepless nights over that decision). And of course, then it was a huge change from farming 5 hectares to 12. But with a lot of hard work and enthusiasm they did it! From this point on we gradually started to develop, expanding further and even began to export our wines for the first time. 2011 was the year my brother and I took over officially, at this stage we had 75 hectares. We had both already been working at the winery for a long time, so nothing changed, this was just on paper. 

 

Dora: Do you still have the restaurant, and have you continued with the rest of the farm?

 

Heidemarie: No this has really changed, in the development of the winery, step by step we had to let go of other parts of the business in order to focus our energy. It was clear that wine was at the heart of the whole family, it became our passion, and so in the year 2000 we made the decision to close the restaurant and let go of the farm in order to focus on the wine business. But when you come to the winery you can still see our properties history, for example the old pigs stable is now our tasting room!

 

Winery Tasting Room 

Dora: You have a strong reputation as one of Weinviertel’s leading wineries. Tell us about the winery in terms of production, and practices.

 

Heidemarie: Our vineyards are quite widespread, we have plots in 12 different villages, all of these are tiny parcels of vines. It can be quite difficult to work with, but we really see this as an advantage as we have a big range of different wines from varying microclimates, soils and grape varieties. We take each plot as an individual, looking at the varying factors to determine how we treat the vines and what types of wines we want to make from there. This is one reason we are so well received I believe, we have a diverse selection, but also people know these wines are individuals and can taste the quality in them being treated as such. Each vineyard is reflected in the bottle and that is really our aim for our wines.

 

Dora: What is your philosophy? Has it remained the same since the start or developed over time?

 

Heidemarie: Pfaffl is certified sustainable, this is our philosophy. We treat the vineyards as naturally as possible, taking care to protect the natural balance of each plot. Not only in the vineyards but at every element of the production process; using renewable energy, minimising our carbon footprint, using our natural resources where possible. We are always re-evaluating this and constantly taking small step towards having minimal environmental impact. This is something we have always believed in as part of our family ethos. We will never say we are finished because things are constantly evolving. Particularly so when it comes to the vineyards, we are often developing and trying new techniques to take it one step further.

 

Dora: We have worked with your wines for many years, Wien.1 and Wien.2 are firm favourites of our trade customers! For those who haven't had the pleasure of trying them yet, can you tell us about these two wines? What inspired these blends and what do they represent to you?

 

Heidemarie: These are very important wines to us. In 2004 we were given the opportunity to purchase some vineyard land in Vienna. We are only 10 minutes by car so very close. Of course, not in the city, but Vienna is surrounded by vineyards in the hills on the outskirts. The soil is different to the soil we have here, mainly limestone, so you get these very elegant expressions, and the climate is a little bit warmer. We were really interested in experimenting with something different to what we already had to offer. We really wanted to create wines that would represent Vienna’s style and pay homage to its traditions. And so these two wines are based on a typical Viennese wine called a Gemischter Satz. Traditionally this is a wine that comes from a vineyard which is planted with many grape varieties (this is very typical of Vienna), the grapes are all harvested together, some are ripe, some are not ripe and some over-ripe, but overall creating a harmonious blend from multiple varieties. Wien.1 and Wien.2 both follow this idea, but we make sure that all the grape varieties are at their optimal ripeness before we blend them together. Wien.1 is a white wine made from a blend of Grüner Veltliner, Riesling and Pinot Blanc and Wien.2 is a red wine which is a blend of Pinot Noir and Zweigelt. These are fresh, lively, easy-drinking styles which work well with food. Like when you go to a traditional "Heuriger" where winemakers sell their own food and wine; you get nice, uncomplicated food and a good glass of wine with it. This is what we wanted to show with these wines.

 

Dora: Heidi, we would love to hear more about you and your journey. You have grown up with the winery, so was working in the family business always part of the grand plan or was there ever a time you considered another path yourself?

 

Heidemarie: No, it definitely wasn’t part of the plan! We are three children, the eldest is my sister Elisabeth, then comes me just 11 months younger and then my brother who is 5 years younger. As the boy of the family, it was always clear that Roman would take over the winery and we would do something else. I was studying Business and Economics at University, but I wanted to make sure I was working at the same time. I come from a family of very hard workers, and I saw my parents working at the winery day and night at this stage, so I started to work in the office of the winery part-time to help out. Before this my father had done all the admin himself. He taught me bookkeeping, amongst other things. I started looking further into the things I could do to make myself useful and really fell in love with it. Upon finishing my studies, it was very clear to me that I didn’t want to stop working in the winery. Thankfully my parents were very open minded. One day my father said they needed help and I was more than willing. It is a very nice fit that I am taking care of the office side of the winery. I am absolutely no wine producer! But I have carved my place in our family business.

 

Dora: We think it is so special that you work with your family, not everyone would be able to do so! Tell us about the family dynamic, who works in what part of the winery?

 

Heidemarie: My brother Roman is our winemaker, my father works in the vineyards, my mother works in the winery (as well as being a part-time babysitter for my kids), my sister-in-law Julia takes care of sales and orders (amongst other things) and I look after marketing and sales.

 

winery

 

Dora: What strengths can you draw from that family bond? And what difficulties do you face at the same time?

 

Heidemarie: For me, working as a family is fully strength. Really, honestly! We are lucky that we all share the same vision and direction, and at the same time our separate interests and personalities mean that we never get in each other’s way. I would never tell Roman how he should make the wines because I have no idea about it and I fully respect what he is doing. At the same time, he would never tell me what to do in the office, because he fully respects the work I do, and it is not something that interests him anyway. So, we all have completely different strengths and personalities, which makes for a very harmonious team. I really do enjoy working with my family, and we know we can fully trust each other.

 

Winemaker in vineyard 

 

Dora: It definitely sounds like it works for you guys! You mentioned your children earlier, do you think we are likely to see any future generations working at Pfaffl too?

 

Heidemarie: I don’t know. My husband is also a winemaker, he has a small winery and farm, where he grows vines, potatoes, and cereals. We are completely open with our children, it is up to them what path they wish to follow, and we want to keep it open for them, as it always was for us. Our parents never said you must do this and that. But at the same time, we show them how much fun we have in our worlds and our way of living and if they want to do it too then we would be very happy. If they don’t want to do it then we will be very happy too.

 

Dora: We love to travel, as do our customers. So I would love to know, if I were visiting Weinviertel for a long weekend and you were my tour guide, where would you take me and what would we get up to?

 

Heidemarie: It depends of course if you have seen Vienna, because if you haven’t, then of course you have to look around Vienna. It has incredible attractions, atmosphere, and culture. And by car we can get to the city centre in just 20 minutes! Out here it is very scenic. Just taking a bicycle and going for a ride is the nicest thing, soaking up the beautiful surroundings, and every now and then we would stop at a "Heuriger", to have a nice, easy, honest meal with a good glass of wine. That is really our strength. You also must visit the Fossilienwelt in Stetten, which is where they found the worlds biggest fossilised oyster reef, it is very interesting. These fossilised oysters form part of our soils in our Grüner Veltliner vineyards too.  

 

Dora: Wine and food go hand in hand for us and our customers. My brother visited Vienna a few years ago and (aside from raving about your wines) still raves about the Schnitzel and Sauerkraut! Can you tell me about the types of food we can expect from Weinviertel and how the local cuisine pairs with your wines?

 

Heidemarie: I have to admit, we eat a lot of Schnitzel! Schnitzel is different in our area compared to the Viennese Schnitzel. The Viennese Schnitzel is made from veal, whereas our Schnitzel is made from pork which has been soaked in salt water for a very long time. When you cut into it, you will see that the meat is pink, it is saltier and juicier than a Viennese Schnitzel, which is also great but different. We have a lot of pigs in our area and so pork is often on the menu is some form or other.

 

Austrian wine region

 

Wien.1 and Wien.2 are light, fresh wines, so they work really well with simple dishes; grilled fish, chicken, vegetables and salads. They also make for great aperitif wines with some cold meats and such on the side.

 

If you've enjoyed hearing a little more about Pfaffl's past, present and future, we know you'll enjoy trying their wines! You can explore them here or via our Autumn Seasonal Subscription Case.

 

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