The Wachau region is located in the Danube Valley, west of Vienna. It is one of the oldest and most unique wine regions of Europe. Stone terraces, rising up from the Danube into the region’s ancient, fortified hills, typify the landscape. The narrow Wachau Valley is only 20 miles long, and its wine-growing district covers only half of the area. It is the westernmost – and therefore the highest and coolest – wine region of Austria. By tradition, Grüner Veltliner and Riesling vines are cultivated on the same soils across the vineyards. The Benedictine monastery at Melk is the gateway to the Wachau region to the west. To the east, the 1000-year-old town of Krems marks the limit of the region.
Rainer Wess founded his own winery in 2003 after many years of diverse experience in the wine trade in both his native Austria and internationally. Rainer’s goal was to produce Grüner Veltliner and Riesling wines that would not only be among the best of the region, but also express his very personal style and philosophy. He aims to produce the purest, freshest and most elegant wines possible, with clear expressions of the varietal and site. In 2010, Wess moved his operations to Krems where he renovated a 300-year-old building that once was the wine cellar of a monastery. His 2010 vintage was the first to be vinified in the new gravity-feed winery. With the 2011 vintage, Wess has expanded his collection by introducing new wines from Kremstal vineyards near his winery.
Throughout the growing season, cool air descends from the top of the Wachau and Kremstal slopes. This moderates the warmth at the bottom of the slope which is further enhanced by sunlight reflecting off the Danube. The interplay of temperatures adds complexity to the wines. Wess farms his vineyards sustainably, to create a healthy natural ambiance for the vines. “In the end,” Rainer explains, “my main goal is ripe and healthy fruit which can have extended hang-time on the vine.” As harvest approaches, usually by early October and running through November, Wess ensures that the grapes have an optimal balance of physiological ripeness and acidity, with no botrytis. The fruit is picked by hand and brought to the winery in small plastic crates. Wess vinifies in small batches to ensure full control over the process and the full, individual expression of each varietal and site.
Skin maceration occurs over the several hours during which the press is filled. The clusters are very gently pressed in their intact state using a pneumatic press. This procedure ensures that the grapes are protected from oxidization and the juice is as pure as possible before the start of fermentation, without any extraction of green flavors from the stems. After pressing, the juice is allowed to clarify naturally in 300 litre stainless steel fermentation tanks. The alcoholic fermentation process begins within a day (or later, towards the end of the harvest period when then the temperature has dropped). Wess ferments at between 18 – 22 degrees centigrade to ensure elegance and depth of aroma and flavor. Fermentation can run from 10 days to 2 months, depending on factors including the vintage, ambient temperature, and the particular wine being made. When the alcoholic fermentation is complete, Wess racks the wine off its gross lees; this is the only racking that is performed. He then allows the wines to rest on their fine lees – thereby enhancing their complexity and richness — until bottling in the Spring after harvest. The wines are vegan.
Rainer Wess offers three distinct levels of wines:
For his Grüner Veltliner, Rainer Wess uses fruit from two areas: the 5 hectare vineyard next to his winery in Krems and from several lower-slope sites in the Wachau towns of Unterloiben and Dürnstein. The warmer soils of these vineyards, composed of loam and silt (aka loess), gives a round, bright and juicy style of Grüner that is the perfect introduction to the Wess style. It is aged in tank and bottled and released in January. The grapes for the Wachauer Riesling originate only from flatter sites in the Wachau towns of Unterloiben and Dürnstein which ripen early. The gravelly, alluvial soil is covered with layers of loess. These factors account for the aromatic, vivid, energetic and forward character of the Wachauer Riesling. It is aged in tank and bottled and released in March. Both first level Wess wines have generous “cool” and fresh fruit in their bouquets and expressive citrus, stone fruits and minerals on the palate.
After moving into his new winery and cellar in Krems in 2010, Rainer Wess began to acquire new vineyards around the towns of Krems and Stein. Today, he owns or rents 7 hectares of old vines on the south facing slopes of this region. Wess has created new Kremstal Gruner Veltiner and Riesling wines from these sites which he calls “Stein und Krems.”