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The monks who made wines

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With more than 800 years of existence and wine-making experience, Schloss Gobelsburg in Kamptal, Austria, boasts of its unique Grüner Veltliner grape varietal that continues to establish itself as a niche product in the global market. Benjamin Vigier, brand ambassador of Schloss Gobelsburg talks about the uniqueness of the brand By Rituparna Chatterjee

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Benjamin Vigier

Unlike other wineries in the republic of Austria, the castle of Gobelsburg and its vineyards in Kamptal have quite an interesting story to narrate. After undergoing several ownership changes between 1074 and 1740, the turning point came in when the castle and the adjoining areas were sold to the Cistercian monks of the Zwettl monastery in 1740 who used their extensive wine-making knowledge during their travels to Europe to transform it into a famous vineyard in Austria. The winery remained in their possession for around 200 years until in 1996, Eva and Michael Moosbrugger were granted the wine-making and viticulture contract. Despite the present change in ownership, what is unique about this winery is that its owners continue to follow and develop the traditions that were laid down by their predecessors, the monks of the Zwettl monastery. For instance, to give a distinct and authentic taste to the wines, timber is brought in from Manhartsberg, a region north of Langenlois, which is used for making the large and small oak casks. “During the 10th century the monks from Burgundy, France travelled all over Europe and started practicing wine-making in Austria and Schloss Gobelsburg is one of those places where their knowledge was put into practise,” states Benjamin Vigier, brand ambassador of Schloss Gobelsburg, adding that, at the beginning the winery was managed by around 20 monks which grew to more than 100 till the numbers dwindled to 30-35 monks by 1996 when the community shrinked with less people opting for monkhood. Then the decision was made to handover the property to a non-monk and finally the Moosbruggers signed a contract with the monks for three generations,” adds Vigier.

20141130eh34Though Schloss Gobelsburg has been producing both red and wine wines, their focus has been majorly on producing wines from the grape varietal, Grüner Veltliner and Riesling, which have a good international market. “Grüner Veltliner is a grape variety exclusively grown in Austria. One third of the wine production of Austria is from this grape varietal. But unfortunately, very few people know about this grape varietal especially in Asia,” rues Vigier. Though Grüner Veltliner contributes majorly (around 50 per cent) to their wine production, the vineyard also grows other varietals like Riesling, Pinot Noir, Zweigelt, Blauburgunder, St Laurent and Merlot. The primary goal of the present owners has been to preserve, develop and take the cultural heritage of Schloss Gobelsburg into a new generation. A heritage which combines prime vineyards situated on the oldest documented sites of the area Kamptal. “We age the wines in 2500 litre casks in the cellar for six to eight months and hence the impact of the oak on the wine is gentle. There are two different categories of wines in Austria – one is the light, fruity, easy to drink wine (the younger, the better) and the other is the full bodied wine (which needs to be kept in the cellar for 10 to 25 years). With Grüner Veltliner and Riesling you can do both,” mentions Vigier.

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Creating the demand

20141130eh35Austria, one of the old world wine markets, shares a similar wine-making story with France and Italy. However, it still hasn’t attained the famed wine-making status enjoyed by its other European counterparts. However, with the Grüner Veltliner grape varietal the situation is slowly but steadily changing as the global market is gradually realising the fine nuances of this varietal especially India. “Though India is a small market for wines, it is changing, and there is interest to know and learn and it shares a good balance between red and white wines. So we have a long term vision for this market,” opines Vigier adding their vision is to create more B2B and B2C awareness for which they have partnered with Aspri Spirits, for distributing and hosting several training sessions for hotel staff and wine dinners in associations with hotels. “The sales growth has been smooth till now in this market and we want to penetrate further by holding similar training programmes and wine dinners. Presently, we have two white wines in India of the varietals – Grüner Veltliner and Riesling, however, 70 per cent of the people here prefer the former since it has a fine balance, lemon aroma, fresh, fruity and not too acidic taste and pairs well with any type of Indian food,” he adds. Presently, Schloss Gobelsburg exports their wines to around 50 countries. The main markets being Germany, Switzerland and America. While Japan, Singapore, China, Hong Kong and South Korea are the major markets in Asia.

Apart from creating awareness, further penetration in the India market still stands to be a challenge with high duties charged on imports. “Though the wine market in India has potential, the taxes levied on imported wines are high, thereby discouraging exports,” he points out.

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