Weingut Josef Jamek
JJJ – Weingut Josef Jamek
The Doyen of the Wachau
The late Joseph Jamek is known in the Wachau and greater Austria as the pioneering leader of quality wine production and the father of the modern-day style of dry Wachau wines. For those not familiar with Jamek, especially my fellow Americans, you can think of him like Robert Mondavi and what he did for the Napa Valley. Jamek came to be a winemaker later in his life, but it was still early times for modern vini and viticulture in the Wachau. Jamek’s first single vineyard wine was the 1959 Ried Klaus Riesling bottled in 1960. In the Wachau at the time of Jamek’s rise, the Wachau was not known for dry wines and loaded the sweet wines they already made with a sugar additive that boosted the sweetness level even further. Dry wines existed but were mostly for personal consumption according to a few people I spoke to on my visit.
Joseph had a keen palate for fine and dry wines and decided that was the style of wine he wanted to pursue, which today is now the dominant style of wine made throughout the Wachau and all of Austria in regards to Gruner Veltliner and Riesling. Today his legacy lives on with his family farming and tending to 27 hectares of vines in the Wachau, one of the largest landholders in the region.
We met the good Dr. Herwig Jamek, grandson-in-law of Joseph, in the reception house that houses the wine tasting room and the restaurant. He asked what I wanted to see, graciously allowing me to select the details of the visit. Vineyards, of course, were first and then I asked to see the remaining parts that bring the wines to life and tell the story of Jamek.
Being a father himself of 4 girls, one which was a similar age to Camille, was a happy coincidence. Herwig already had a car seat in his van that we hopped into to see the vineyards. Camille took to him pretty easily handling and adjusting the car seat for her and off we went. We drove down the Danube a few minutes and then took a small road that wound up the terraces to the crown jewel of Joseph Jamek, Ried Klaus. This was my first encounter with one of the special “Ried” vineyard designations that look like a small religious monument at the foot of specific vineyards. Think of “Ried” as a high-quality designation like Cru, or more specifically Grand Cru.
Klaus was my first look at serious Wachau vines, terraces and grape bunches of Riesling and Gruner Veltliner. The upper portion of Ried Klaus is hard rock gneiss for the Riesling and the lower portions are a mix of gneiss with loess and other more alluvial soils keen for Gruner Veltliner. Adjacent to Ried Achleiten, Ried Klaus faces south, south-east looking down river to Kremstal and across to Mautern and then upriver west to Spitz.
The old way is new again on the left to not use a binding agent (concrete) to bind the stone walls (right).
Rebuilt Achleiten vineyard terraces, a lot of hard work and money are put into building and maintaining them. It is crazy to think that centuries ago there were even more terraces in production and no modern tools at their disposal.
We meandered down a few terraces to a set of terrace walls Herwig wanted to show me as they were in the midst of being rebuilt from a landslide. This was very important and extremely informative as it showed how back breaking the work is to maintain and build these walls.
What happened was the wall buckled and gave way from years of pressure and ultimately rainwater in a storm that built up behind the wall. The portion that broke was composed of masonry binding with cement between the rocks that made up the bricks of a thinner wall. This terrace method has been mostly abandoned as the cement allows no flexibility or drainage under stress and the walls tend to break like a levee. Instead, what we now see are walls that are deeper front to back with longer or wider stones. To seal them smaller stones are wedges in like stoppers to effectively lock the rocks in place. This allows for water drainage so the pressure on the wall is much less. Maintenance is required for some upkeep but the work an effort over time is less.
Back at the Weingut, we toured the winemaking facilities and cellars, adorned with ornate carvings on the large wood tanks that adorn many Wachau Weingut. We saw the family home and the original restaurant that started it all decades ago as one of the early marriages of wine and food that are so common here.
Amongst the family was a heart-warming gesture, they were providing a home for a Syrian refugees family displaced by the terrible war ravaging that country. I was already a fan but this just made me like Jamek so much more.
We finished the visit with a wonderful lunch in the main restaurant which is also the family home on the upper floors. It is here we tasted the wonderful portfolio of wines, tasting the best Federspiel Gruner Veltliner of the trip and one of the best Weissburgunder that had a little age and showed the stuffing to be a long-term ager. Herwig showed us the original Riedel wine glasses that Joseph had commissioned specifically for his wines which really now the gold standard of style in the Wachau. True and original wine antiques they were delicate with a long and medium-sized flit bowl, which a short stem.
I was so excited and enamored with the visit and a little late to get Camille back for her nap I forgot to buy some wines which was a huge mistake as they are not easy to find here back in the US.
Should you be in the Wachau I can’t recommend a visit to Jamek more. You can even stay at the property in a few of the apartments that are fairly priced and nicely appointed.