One can perhaps picture the Spitzerberg as a reef, with the primeval ocean breaking upon its rocks for millions of years. Because of this, the Spitzerberg is covered with a thick layer of limestone, which comes from the ‘middle ages’ of geology. The sandy ground retains little in the way of water, and the mount – some 300 metres in elevation – always lies open to strong winds and high temperatures; there is no mistaking the expressive nature of grapes grown on the Spitzerberg. The extreme conditions yield marvellously aromatic wines with complexity and depth, finely woven filigreed texture and a refreshing framework of acidity.
No wonder, then, that the Spitzerberg is a destination of choice for gliders and sailplanes. There are hot and dry air masses that flow continually from the enormous plain to the south, bound for the Danube River Valley. The Spitzerberg, which lies smack in the middle of this corridor between the Leitha Range (Alps) and the Hundsheimer Hills (Lesser Carpathians), presents itself as a barrier upon which the warm air currents rise and collect. These updrafts provide pleasure on a daily basis to innumerable unpowered aircraft, which soar and hover silently above the Spitzerberg.
For the vines, these warm air currents provide a blessing and pose a challenge at the same time. On the one hand, constant winds dry up all moisture in no time at all, so that there is hardly any danger of fungal infection on the Spitzerberg. And on the other hand, the hot and dry conditions put the vines under significant stress, threatening their very existence. Any growth of vegetation is minimal – the plants concentrate their entire energy on the modest growth of fruit. This makes wines from the Spitzerberg expressive in an unmistakeable way.
The exposed situation drives conditions of the continental climate to extremes. During the winter months, an icy wind whistles around the hillsides. In July and August, the temperatures will often climb toward forty degrees, but the nights in late summer and autumn are quite cool. This enables the clusters to develop an advanced degree of ripeness, but thanks to the meagre amounts of water involved, sugar production (and with it the production of alcohol) remains moderate. And the cool autumn temperatures preserve refreshing acidity.
The annual average rainfall is around 400 millimetres – this causes the grapevines on the Spitzerberg to exist right on the edge of survival. Most of the rain falls in May or June, and often takes the form of violent thunderstorms and heavy downpours. The vines must nourish themselves for the entire summer from these. The most important period for the quality of the grapes is in the last weeks before the harvest. This is when one notices the greatest influence of climate change. While thirty years ago the harvest began in mid-October on the Spitzerberg, the warming of the world finds the grapes now ripe around end of September.
Soil & Vineyard Sites
Generations ago the Spitzerberg was arranged into three levels of terrain, and specified thoroughfares were laid out. Thanks to erosion over the course of centuries, conditions in the soils have changed. At the lower end of each level, more soil has collected, which accordingly can retain more water. Here, growth proceeds at a lively pace. But the upper reaches of each level are more barren, drier and more demanding. The wines that are harvested from these parcels deliver greater complexity, with more intense aromaticity – and require more time spent maturing to come into balance.
In order to do justice to the various soil compositions, Dorli Muhr harvests her grapes from the upper and lower parts of each parcel separately. The clusters from the rather more vigorous rows are used for the regional cuvée Carnuntum (formerly the Cuvée vom Berg).
The Spitzerberg is subdivided in to nine component sites, all of which display widely varied characteristics, although they have fully identical carbonate soils (limestone & dolomite). They vary, however in the grain-size of the sandy topsoil. From west to east, the soils become consistently more finely grained. And the difference in flavour is quite impressive.
The vineyards are cultivated organically, and Weingut Dorli Muhr is certified organic as of the 2018 vintage. In order to transmit the characteristic freshness and finesse of the Spitzerberg to the wine, it is particularly important that no overripe berries find their way to the cellar. Given the high temperatures and the extraordinarily dry conditions, this is not always easy. For this reason, the harvest commences just as soon as the tannins in the grapes are ripe – and the harvesting is done in a very precise manner: each individual berry that is either over-ripe or dried-up is discarded in the vineyards itself. That leaves the estate with a harvest volume averaging some 3000 kilogrammes per hectare.