|Neumeister 2021 'Straden' Sauvignon Blanc
Thoughtful, meticulous, and articulate, Christoph Neumeister took over from his father Albert in 2006, when he was just 25 years old, obtaining certification in 2013 for the organic viticultural practices Albert had begun employing in the 1990s. Vulkanland Steiermark’s extreme inclines make machine work next to impossible, so not only is harvest conducted manually, but all tasks in the vineyards are completed by hand. The Neumeister cellar was designed top-to-bottom to treat fruit, must, and wine as gently and naturally as possible. All wines ferment spontaneously and everything is moved solely by gravity from harvest through bottling. Christoph favors well-used oak in the aging of his wines, which allows the mineral potency and textural splendor inherent in his low-yield-derived fruit to blossom over the wines’ lengthy stints in cask.
Christoph owns well-situated parcels of multiple grape varieties, including Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris), and Morillon (Chardonnay), but it is Sauvignon Blanc—brought to Styria in the early 1800s by Archduke Johann of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine—that produces arguably the region’s most distinctive and complex wines. Christoph’s Sauvignon Blanc is a far cry from most of those produced in the eastern Loire Valley in which the variety was born. While pockets of great terroir exist in appellations like Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, of course, many of its wines are cropped for high production, harvested by machine, inoculated with intrusive artificial yeasts, and crammed into bottle after only a few months in stainless steel—relying on name recognition to do the heavy lifting in the market. Christoph’s yields, on the other hand, rarely top 35 hectoliters per hectare; hand-harvesting ensures that only perfect and intact fruit enters the winery; and patient aging allows his Sauvignon Blanc to assume a breadth and texture experienced in very few examples from elsewhere.
Christoph farms 30 hectares of vines spread over numerous steep hillsides around his hometown of Straden, planted at altitudes of 340 to 380 meters above sea level. Between the area’s steep slopes, extreme weather conditions, and relatively small share of Austria’s winegrowing spotlight, producing wine here is neither easy nor glorious; however, the growers who do tough it out are deeply committed. Neumeister is one of a dozen wineries in the STK (for “Steiermark”) organization, a tight-knit grower collective that engages in landscape preservation, prioritizes biodiversity, and promotes a sustainable, integrated approach to farming, energy usage, resource management, and social issues. STK also employs an internally developed and rigorous classification system, designating certain wines from certain prized vineyards “Erste STK Ried” (or “1STK”—premier cru) and “Grosse STK Ried” (or “GSTK”—grand cru), provided they meet certain mutually agreed-upon requirements for vine age, farming technique, yields, must weight, dryness, and aging process.