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Carnuntum’s Ortswein offers a lesson in geology

Six Appellations – a Single Origin: Carnuntum DAC

04.05.2021

The patch of terrain that today stretches out as a relaxed and slightly undulating landscape between the rivers Danube and Leitha has a dramatic history behind it. And not just since humans have existed on the planet; Carnuntum’s remarkable geologic past reaches back over many millions of years. Attentive winegrowers have followed clues offered by the earth’s history and have designated six appellations for Ortswein in Carnuntum, based on the different soil formations. These subdivide the Carnuntum DAC system, in existence since 2019, into six stylistic types.

Carnuntum Pyramide © Patrick Band
When developing the DAC system, which has existed since 2019, winegrowers took a closer look at their six Ortswein appellations. © Patrick Band

Some twenty million years ago, the Alps split off from the Carpathian Mountains. The resulting gap between the great mountain ranges is called the Brucker Pforte, which lies between the Leitha Range (Alps) and the Hundsheimer Mountains (Carpathians), connecting the Pannonian Plain with the Vienna Basin. Powerful winds roar through it year in, year out, rendering Carnuntum one of the most arid regions in Central Europe, nakedly exposed to the continental climate. The moderating influence of Lake Neusiedl can no longer be felt here. Temperature swings between day and night, and the differences between summer & winter, are striking. Driving from west to east, one also notices the temperature rising significantly.

With exactly 906 hectares currently under vines, Carnuntum is indeed one of the smallest winegrowing regions in Austria, but one in which the soil formations are particularly diverse. The reason for this goes back many millions of years.

How the primordial Danube set the stage for viticulture

Breakers of an ancient sea, the Paratethys, washed up on today’s Alps and Carpathians until about sixteen million years ago. We can picture the Hundsheimer Range as the ancient seacoast, hence the limestone soils of Prellenkirchen and Hainburg.

When the primeval sea retreated, extensive watercourses emerged, which later came together to form rivers. These rivers underwent further changes a few more times – for example, the Danube once flowed via Hollabrunn and Mistelbach, crossing the Brucker Pforte in a southeasterly direction, before it assumed its current path through the Lesser Carpathians.

This ancient course of the river can still be seen in Carnuntum today: a long strip of large pebbles polished round runs along a gentle curve of the hillside. Loamy soils, the alluvial land of the erstwhile river bank, are the next geologic feature to present itself. This distinguishes, for example, the neighbouring Ortswein (village wine) of Höflein (gravelly) from that of Göttlesbrunn (loamy), while the Ortswein from Petronell-Carnuntum grows on sandy-pebbly soils. Stixneusiedl, on the other hand, enjoys its special position: a massive wall of loess covers the gravel soils and imparts a very special freshness to the wines.

Ortsweine Carnuntum DAC - Appellation Hainburg © Robert Herbst
The Danube has not always taken the direct route through the Carpathians, and so has left behind strikingly varied soil formations, ideal for viticulture. © Robert Herbst

The Geology Project

Of course, winegrowers had known for a long time that the wines from the different parts of Carnuntum exhibit different flavours. But it was only after an intensive four-year project investigating the soils had been carried out in cooperation with the Geology Institute that the background became clear. Soil physics and water balance (permeability of the soil), soil chemistry, geology (soil types), geochemistry (soil analysis) and geophysics (soil resistance) were analysed and finally provided results that corresponded to the experience of the winegrowers. They then served to articulate the  process of identifying origins in Carnuntum, to assign the different terroirs to six Ortswein (village wines) and to determine the grape varieties of the Carnuntum DAC regulation.

Göttlesbrunn Ried Neuberg - Schluff, Ton, Lehm © Dr. Maria Heinrich
Göttlesbrunn Ried Neuberg – silt, clay, loam © Dr Maria Heinrich
Göttlesbrunn Ried Rosenberg - Schotter © Dr. Maria Heinrich
Göttlesbrunn Ried Rosenberg – gravel © Dr Maria Heinrich
Hainburg Ried Berg - Granit © Dr. Maria Heinrich
Hainburg Ried Berg – granite © Dr Maria Heinrich
Höflein Ried Rotenberg - Terrassenschotter © Posch-Trözmüller
Höflein Ried Rotenberg – terrace gravel © Posch-Trözmüller
Höflein Ried Scheibner - pannonische Kies, Sand © Dr. Maria Heinrich
Höflein Ried Scheibner – Pannonian gravel, sand © Dr Maria Heinrich
Prellenkirchen Ried Spitzerberg - Kalkhaltiger Sandboden © Dr. Maria Heinrich
Prellenkirchen Ried Spitzerberg – calcareous sandy soil © Dr Maria Heinrich
Stixneusiedl - Lehm © Christian Kling
Stixneusiedl – loam © Christian Kling

Which grape varieties are ‘typical Carnuntum’?

Each grape variety places its own particular demands on the environment. Zweigelt & Grüner Veltliner require soils that retain moisture even during the long, hot and very arid summers. That is why they are planted in Carnuntum on the loamy soil of the former Danube watercourses and on lake shores, so that the vines can optimally supply their grapes with moisture. These varieties also thrive on thick layers of loess. Chardonnay & Weissburgunder feel quite at home on the strip of gravel & pebbles along the former course of the Danube. In addition to their flowery ripeness, they also show a firm minerality here. The fine, sandy limestone soils of the onetime seacoast and lakeshore, however, offer an ideal environment for Blaufränkisch. On these higher-elevation slopes of the Hundsheimer Range, the meagre soils pose a real challenge to the vine, but precisely because of this, an incomparable & individualistic character develops here.

CARNUNTUM DAC
The five varieties mentioned above are representative of Carnuntum. If they are monovarietal or dominant (minimum 2/3) in a wine, it can state the name Carnuntum as its origin and the abbreviation DAC (Districtus Austriae Controllatus) as confirmation of origin. This applies all the way from regional wines to single-vineyard wines – and of course for the six Ortswein appellations as well.

Rubin Carnuntum Weingüter Göttlesbrunner Hügelland mit Pyramide © Rubin Carnuntum Weingüter/ Robert Herbst
From (mostly) monovarietal Gebietswein (regional wine) to the distinctive & recognisable character of the single vineyard wines, there is no mistaking the intrinsic nature of the geologic & microclimatic conditions affecting the Ortswein appellations. © Robert Herbst
Ortsweine Carnuntum DAC - Appellation Stixneusiedl @ Robert Herbst
Stixneusiedl is strikingly fresh & extremely elegant. © Robert Herbst

STIXNEUSIEDL

Stixneusiedl is situated on the southern rim of the Arbesthaler Hillsides; geographically, it belongs to the Alpine West. The subsoil here is a stratum of clay with the thickest layer of loess in the region on top. This terroir puts highly elegant, delicate and strikingly fresh wines in the glass.

Ortsweine Carnuntum DAC - Appellation Göttlesbrunn @ Robert Herbst
Göttlesbrunn is juicy & spicy, impressive for its great longevity. © Robert Herbst

GÖTTLESBRUNN

The vineyards in Göttlesbrunn are laid out on terrace-like gradations of the Arbesthaler Hillsides, which face south/south-east. In addition to loamy silt, one will also find sand & gravel here; on some slopes there is also loess. The cool breath of the nearby Maria Ellender Forest encourages the juicy & spicy, tightly woven style of wine. The red wines in particular are impressive for their velvety fruit, which contributes to the longevity of the wines.

Ortsweine Carnuntum DAC - Appellation Höflein @ Robert Herbst
Distinctive raciness & notable freshness characterise the wines of Höflein. © Robert Herbst

HÖFLEIN

Höflein is separated from Göttlesbrunn by a small plateau. The quartz-rich terrace gravel of the Danube’s former valley floor shapes the soils here. Depending on the degree of the slope, more topsoil of loess & clay has collected in the lower area and less in the upper reaches. The substantial temperature differences between day and night – which are mainly attributable to the Maria Ellender Forest and the Danube – bring a distinctive freshness to the wines. Whether white wine or red, a lively raciness characterises the Höfleiner style.

Ortsweine Carnuntum DAC - Appellation Petronell-Carnuntum © Robert Herbst
Petronell-Carnuntum is spot-on with crisp, fruity wines. © Robert Herbst

PETRONELL-CARNUNTUM

Petronell-Carnuntum was the epicentre of Roman (viticultural) activities between the     1st & 4th centuries. The municipality is situated directly on the Danube, which provides a cooling balance especially on hot summer days. The soils here are ideal, with their finely grained loess & gravel. A combination of the good water retention capacity of loess and rapid drainage thanks to the gravel makes for fruit-forward wines with a firm backbone and lively acidity.

Ortsweine Carnuntum DAC - Appellation Hainburg © Robert Herbst
Light on their feet and easy on the palate, Hainburg’s wines have a lovely spice to them. © Robert Herbst

HAINBURG

Here the conditions for viticulture are much more barren & dry. The south- & southwest-facing slopes sit just under 480 metres above sea level. Apart from the fact that precipitation is significantly lower here than in the other parts of Carnuntum, Hainburg drains very rapidly, because the granite & gneiss soils with their layers of quartzite & carbonate have hardly any potential to absorb water. Hainburg shines with wines full of finesse & delicacy, graceful & flavourful.

Ortsweine Carnuntum DAC - Appellation Prellenkirchen © Robert Herbst
Firm structure & finesse: Prellenkirchen © Robert Herbst

PRELLENKIRCHEN

Prellenkirchen is located in easternmost Carnuntum, historically and today above all Blaufränkisch territory. The village lies at the foot of the Spitzerberg, a free-standing, south-facing promontory. This gentle incline is rather barren and extremely rich in limestone. Constant winds are primarily responsible for the very dry growing conditions. Brilliant freshness and firm structure are characteristic for wines from the Spitzerberg, as are substantial finesse and easy grace.

Verteilung der Rebfläche - Ortsweine Carnuntum © Wine+Partners
How the vineyards are apportioned among to the appellations – despite differences in size, a common denominator could be found. © Wine + Partners
Rebfläche der Ortsweine Carnuntum © Patrick Band
Viticulture is mainly concentrated around these six winegrowing communities, which also correspond to the six Ortswein appellations. © Patrick Band
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