Austria: An Overview
The Wachau Valley & Vienna
“Now We Are Three”
When we travel for an extended period of time in a wine region, I like to post a short overview of our experiences. When planning this trip many people asked “why Austria”? “Why not Burgundy, Champagne or the Rhone?” Well, one big reason is that I love Gruner Veltliner and dry Riesling. Also, quite frankly, why not!? Or why not Corsica or Sicily? The big wine regions are already developed and will always be there. There is a lot to be gained in my opinion from taking the road less traveled.
The Wachau is by no means a new wine region or one that has not seen its share of visitors like me searching out the finest wines made in all of Austria. The Wachau had its biggest bizz here in America early in the last decade (2000’s), attaining a lot of uber geek fans in its wake, though it is quieter these days as trends in wine seem to go as fast as they splash onto the scene lately. During visits we only encountered one other set of visitors from a UK wine trade group out of the 8 or so producers we made it to. But make no mistake the top wines from the Wachau have cemented themselves permanently into the global fine wine elite.
So, about that nagging question of why Austria? Well, there were quite a few reasons besides the excellent wine. Wine was a given and would be great no matter where we chose to go. We wanted to bring our young daughter Camille with us who was a little more than 20 months at the time of the trip. She’s already logged a few flights, but nothing like a trans-Atlantic flight. Taking that into consideration these became our requirements:
– A direct flight
– Minimal driving
– Culturally open
– Kid friendly/tolerant
– Great accommodations (size/$)
The flight had to be direct with the wine region in close proximity to the airport. Ironically there are vineyards in Vienna but Wachau was only a 1-hour drive from Vienna. We also did not want to have to feel like we were going too hard against the grain culturally. We wanted to be sure that the destination was friendly with small children. We saw maybe 1 harmless snicker the entire trip. Instead we were greeted warmly and in many cases with help and big smiles. Some winemakers had children of similar age and they played together. All but one restaurant was family oriented and welcomed little ones. For that we had a babysitter who spoke 3 languages fluently.
It helped a lot that Camille was aces, she had fun with the entire experience and only really was bored during some meals and thus had more screen time than usual. We found the perfect places to stay and enjoyed a week along the Danube soaking up the cultural past and present. The cuisine was truly unique and authentic, even at our best meal at Landhaus Bacher there was an originality and authenticity to the style of the cuisine that can get lost at the 2-3 Michelin star level of global cuisine.
We got really lucky with our stay in the Wachau as we were able to secure Villa Schonthal for a great price. Schonthal is a former private home that was recently renovated and is now operated by the Relais & Chateau “Hotel Schloss Durnstein”. Having the extra space and kitchen of a house was a major plus. Camille could go to bed at a normal time and we would not have to be left to only the balcony for the remainder of the night. We also were able to stock up on yogurt, veggies, fruit, milk etc. at a nearby grocer for Camille.
The Wachau wine-growing region is compact, end to end from Mautern to Willendorf it is actually the Wachau Valley which is technically the land between Krems and Melk. However, you look at it, it’s about a 20-30-minute drive end to end. Getting from the Villa to most appointments was a 15-minute drive tops, most times it was less. This was one of the biggest conveniences and ultimately why we chose the Wachau.
A routine day in the Wachau was breakfast in the Villa and then off to a morning wine appointment. Lunch was usually at the morning producer’s Heurigen (Wine Garden Restaurant) or at a nearby restaurant. Camille would nap in the afternoon and Lisa would hang back in the Villa. Lucky (and grateful) me would then meet one more producer in the afternoon.
After our stay in the Wachau we headed back to Vienna for a few days to eat and wander around town and made ourselves at home in a very easy to get around city, devouring the local cuisine along the way.
Make sure you check back or sign up for my mailing list as I spotlight the different Wachau producers we visited.