Making Austrian Wine in Poysdorf
Dirt clung under my nails. My hair went wild in a messy ponytail (the ugly, wispy type). I wore ragged old clothes rather than my favorite dress, and not a smidge of makeup. My lower back hurt from carrying heavy things. My legs and feet ached from standing on old shoes or borrowed boots too big for me. My shoulders and neck felt like bricks from both carrying big loads and driving a tractor. And my hands had blisters from hoeing weeds. For the first time in quite a while, my body was more exhausted than my mind and emotions. It felt good for the soul, and was incredibly hard training for the body.
I came to Poysdorf, the “wine town” of Austria, to experience the harvest, or “vintage”, and make amazing wine at a small family winery. My boss, Wolfgang, was a firecracker. Like most winemakers I have met, he was a little off his rocker. Wolfgang was passionate about supporting his family and local community, and he did that through managing a farm, winery, pub, guesthouse, and cafe. I get tired just thinking about it. But the experience working on his farm was one that I will never forget.
The night that harvest began was the most exciting moment of all. Growing up on a farm myself in the Midwest, I made parallels to the long anticipation and nervous excitement for harvest. While the Polish farmhand irritably agreed to work extra that night, I was surging with enthusiasm as I nervously drove the tractor 30 kilometers down an Austrian highway to arrive at the first field to be harvested. I was eager to begin the full process of harvesting the grapes, transporting them to the press house, and beginning the process of fermentation.
I am an amateur at wine making, but I really appreciated Wolfgang’s attitude. He said that making wine is one part knowledge and depth of experience, and one part love and care for the whole process.
After the short-lived thrill of the first night of harvest, the weather changed and rain began to pour. Everyone hung their heads a bit low, as the conditions for harvesting were terrible. Rain came down for a whole week–and then some. This is not at all typical of Austrian weather, and very devastating to a crop of grapes that are susceptible to disease (Botrytis, most of all). With rain and little sun to dry vines, the botrytis spread and spread. Wolfgang saw just one solution, which was to harvest the grapes even though most did not reach full maturity. What that meant is that back at the press house we had to add a lot of sugar, full 50 kilogram bags.
One day, we were circulated some red must (wine speak for tending to the wines) and added some sugar using one giant plastic mixing bowl and one giant wooden stirring stick. As we stirred the sugar into the must, Wolfgang stated that he loved this moment. He could stir well wishes and all things good into the grapes and juice that would soon become his wine. I am an amateur at wine making, but I really appreciated Wolfgang’s attitude. He said that making wine is one part knowledge and depth of experience, and one part love and care for the whole process. The vineyards are still calling, and at some point, I must go again.