KREMS: Stift Göttweig, a Benedictine abbey stands proudly across from Krems on the south bank of the Danube. Monks have been cultivating wine on the abbey’s 26 hectares of vineyards for almost 900 years. The winegrowing estate was outsourced in the early 1980s, and in 2006 a consortium of wine enthusiasts assumed responsibility for cultivation.
It’s fortunes had been waning, just like those of the wine in the Austrian city of Krems.
Then, they decided to put Fritz Miesbauer at the helm, taking the reins not just of the city’s wines but also the Stift Göttweig.
Today, 14 years later that decision has been rewarded. The winemaker has become the toast of Austria as falfstaff magazine has named him Winegrower of the Year.
The changes were not just cosmetic. While the winemaker upgraded the label to the unforgettable label motif: the world-famous ceiling frescos from Paul Troger from 1739, the wines inside also began a steep ascent. They emerged as emerging as classically lithe, elegant and terroir-driven representatives of the Donau region. The single site wines from Ried Gottschelle, Silberbichl and Pfaffenberg in particular are counted among the finest ambassadors of the Krems Valley.
Fritz Miesbauer is today also the managing director of Weingut Stadt Krems and the guiding light of for the wines of a working cloister which has 28 monks.
The winemaker, together with his young motivated team has driven the winery to the peak of Austria’s winemaking elite while elevating Weingut Stift Göttweig to its star status.
Just over 40 hectares are currently owned by the city of Krems. Those holdings include numerous parcels in exceptional sites, all cultivated by an estate that was once housed in a historic cellar directly in the old city center but have since been located alone the city moat for almost a century. Its vineyards are among the oldest in the region, having once belonged to the Bürgerspital (13th century) before being gifted to the city in 1452.
Winegrowing plays a massive role in the self-identity of the city of Krems. In medieval times, more than 50 cloisters and monasteries held vineyards all around the city. The “Weinzierler,” as Krems’ winegrowers were known, cultivated their plots and sent the fruit to majestic wineries for processing and barrel maturation, with the finished wines then shipped up the Danube to Upper Austria, Salzburg and Bavaria for use as sacramental wine at cloisters.
Yet the estate had lost much of its luster by the time Fritz Miesbauer took the helm in 2003. Miesbauer had previously served as cellar director at what is now Domäne Wachau, with an outstanding record of accomplishment there.
At the age of 27 he was declared Winemaker of the Year by leading Swedish wine magazine Gourmet. The switch to Krems and its municipal wine estate certainly raised some eyebrows.
“I was always convinced that the estate’s vineyards held tremendous potential,” Miesbauer says with delight. More than 5 million euros were invested in replanting of vines, renovation and modernisation of the cellar and increasing the number of employees.
“When I came to the company in 2003, the mayor at the time, Franz Hölzl, laid out four goals that I should achieve: high quality, good image, economic independence and the trust of the city administration. We’re three mayors past that point, and at this point we’ve reached each of those goals, all while working in a friendly partnership.” The declaration as “Winegrower of the Year” only confirms this.
The investments and changes bore fruits. Each year saw Weingut Stadt Krems climb a few rungs up the rankings and ratings. Where the early vintages earned between 85 and 90 points, those numbers slowly but surely began to rise. “To succeed in the wine industry, you need a tremendous amount of patience, because change takes at least a decade to really manifest itself, and sometimes a full generation,” Miesbauer says. No problem for a city with a millennium of wine history behind it, but more of an issue for a city administration facing annual budgets.
“The fact that we are representing an entire city with our wines has advantages and disadvantages,“ Miesbauer explains. “You ultimately bear responsibility for 25,000 co-owners. But when something does work well, you get a lot of very positive feedback. You build trust, respect and many friendships along the way.”
Radiant wine personalities
By turning the opportunities he observed into reality, Miesbauer successfully transformed wines from the city of Krems into radiant wine personalities. The bottles stand out for their precise aromatics, liveliness and elegance. Miesbauer has always had a fine talent for finesse, producing lithe wines of polish even in warm vintages.
The single site wines from the Wachtberg (Veltliner) and Grillenparz (Riesling) have been classified as Erste Lagen by the Österreichische Traditionsweingüter, placing them among the elite of Austrian winegrowing.
In recent years, these wines have lifted Weingut Stadt Krems repeatedly into the Top 100 of Wine Spectator and helped it claim the Kremstal Cup from falstaff magazine several times.
The changes have drawn the attention of more than just trade magazines and critics. The wine estate itself has seen massive changes to its customer base in recent years as well. Today 75% of the wines are exported, to 26 different countries.