The bubbles of Poysdorf

On the Saurüssel trail, you walk among old vines, wide fields and the traces of Austrian sparkling wine. Two exceptional winemakers tell their stories.

Poysdorf and the Champagne region are closer than one might think at first glance. They are popular hiking regions, lie on the same latitude, have a similar climate, are home to an exceptional winegrowers' community and, above all, to first-class sparkling wines.

From Saurüssel to sparkling wine

If you follow the Saurüssel trail, a leisurely hiking route of around six kilometres from the Poysdorf wine market along Kolpingstraße and past the Oldtimer Museum into the vineyard landscape, you will discover a small treasure - a south-facing vineyard, sheltered from the wind, exposed to the sun, nestled in the wide fields and hills of the Poybach valley.  A slope of only 13 hectares, whose shape is somewhat reminiscent of a pig’s snout and is also called such. Several winegrowing families share the Saurüsseln Vineyard, this coveted plot of land. One of them is the Riegelhofer family, who are among the largest sparkling wine producers in Austria.

As far as sparkling wines are concerned, the family-run winery can look back on a long tradition - sparkling wine has been produced here, in Poysdorf, for several generations, and they have been supplying Schlumberger for more than 90 years. "Chardonnay, Grüner Veltliner, Pinot Blanc and Welschriesling are the main varieties here", says Max Riegelhofer Senior. The now 80-year-old travelled to the Champagne region several times and took away not only impressions but also useful knowledge about the production of sparkling wines. Although there are almost 1,000 kilometres between Poysdorf and Champagne, the similarities cannot be denied, says Riegelhofer. In addition to the latitude, the changeable weather and the green undulating hills, people here and there share a similar mindset - sparkling wines stand for pleasure; they are the epitome of exuberance and joie de vivre. The Poysdorf area, says Max Riegelhofer, is exceptionally well-suited for the production of sparkling wines – it’s no coincidence that almost 75% of the grapes for the sparkling wines come from the surrounding area.

How does the sparkling wine get its bubbles?

In addition to the microclimate, it is mainly due to the loess soil that is typical of the area, which gives the wine a very special malic acid, says Riegelhofer. But climate and soil alone are by no means enough. Producing sparkling wine needs experience and, above all, the right instinct. "For sparkling wine, the grapes need to be harvested earlier and, above all, very carefully. Because every mistake and every piece of decay intensifies in the second fermentation". explains Max Riegelhofer, who has also made his passion for sparkling wines accessible to the general public. Together with Schlumberger, he runs the Sektwelt (“sparkling wines´world”), a special museum in a historic monastery cellar in Poysdorf's Gstetten, where everything revolves around sparkling wine.

The best of sparkling wine

If you follow the Saurüssel trail on the narrow gravel path further towards Poybach over a small incline, past Ketzelsdorf and the Hubertus Chapel, you will recognise them from afar - the vines of the Ebner-Ebenauer vineyard in the Riede Steinberg. However, their special feature – which makes the Ebner-Ebenauer wines so strong in character – remains hidden from the untrained eye. No wonder. It is also located 20 metres underground. This is how deep the gnarled roots of the vines dig into the chalky loess and thus access minerals that give wine and sparkling wine an unmistakable, deep flavour. This is a characteristic that the vines owe to their advanced age. After all, they have been able to gather a lot of experience in their up to 70-year-old lives and have learned to live under the most adverse circumstances.

Put all this together – the old, deep-rooted vines, the chalky loess soil and the dedication and passion of the winemaking couple Marion and Manfred Ebner-Ebenauer –, and the result is a sparkling wine of such high quality and unmistakable character that it is considered top class, even on the international market. The "Blanc de Blancs Zero Dosage" has not only been listed as Austria's best sparkling wine for years, but also competes in the Champions League of sparkling wines, together with the largest and most elegant champagnes such as Dom Pérignon, Taittinger and Krug.

Casting a shadow on Champagne

The region's potential for first-class sparkling wines was recognised by winemaker Marion Ebner-Ebenauer, herself a great lover of champagne. "Sparkling wines have always captivated me. There is something joyful about them, they are carefree and, yes, also a little unreasonable", she says. And exactly that is what makes them so appealing. Together with her husband Manfred Ebner-Ebenauer, she worked on the "Blanc de Blancs" for a total of six years, and it matured in the cellar for a whole seven years, until it finally met her requirements, went on sale and at the same time surpassed the taste of top international sommeliers. The direct connection between Poysdorf and Champagne was then made by none other than the world's most famous wine critic Robert Parker, who said, "Ebner-Ebenauer's Blanc de Blancs Zero Dosage is killing champagne!". Since then, the two places, Poysdorf and Champagne, have become quite close to each other, at least in the wine world.

If you want to see this for yourself, follow the Saurüssel trail for a few hundred metres until you come back to the Poysdorf area, and take a detour to the Ebner-Ebenauer winery before the trail ends. Behind the doors, in addition to first-class sparkling wines, you will find yourself in a house that could just as easily be in France with its green shutters, winding corners and overgrown façades.