Winemaker Erich Krutzler has carried a lot of baggage in his life. At 46 he is still a relatively young man, but when he smiles from under his mop of slightly graying bangs, you can see the miles he has traveled in the corners of his eyes.
Even leaving aside the difficulty of purchasing vineyards in the very limited market of Austria’s Wachau valley, beginning a wine label wasn’t going to be easy for Krutzler. For starters, there was the long shadow of Blaufränkisch to step away from. Krutzler was partners with Roland Velich when he began the MORIC project, and thanks to the remarkable wines, his name had become synonymous with Blaufränkisch.
“People would say ‘Oh, here comes Mr. Red Wine from Burgenland,'” laughs Krutzler. “And look, he’s with Mrs. Pichler, the posh lady from Wachau.”
Marrying the daughter of FX Pichler, arguably the most famous winemaker in the Wachau, added its own set of expectations and pressures. And that was before he and his wife moved in with her parents.
“It’s not so easy to live in the same house as FX Pichler and do your own thing,” says Krutzler, who has made a conscious effort to forge his own style of wines, even under the watchful eye of his father-in-law. “It’s hard. I’ve known her father 15 years longer than I’ve known my wife.”
The wines of FX Pichler resemble the bold, modern winery a few kilometers down the road, whereas the wines that bear the names of his daughter and her husband more resemble the quiet garden behind their stately salmon-colored home just off the main thoroughfare in the village of Oberloiben.
“I began making wines with my brother at our family winery, Krutzler in 1986,” explains Krutzler. “This was a good time. We were a small family winery with three brothers. The youngest, he was the one with the education, so it was always clear that I would leave.”
Without the family winery to run, Krutzler cast about for another place to indulge the passion for winemaking that had been cultivated since childhood. With his good friend Uwe Schiefer, he talked about maybe moving to Hungary and beginning a wine project there.
Two possibilities appeared almost simultaneously, and the brash young Krutzler embraced them both. The first was the work in Burgenland that would become the MORIC project in partnership with Roland Velich. The second was the opportunity to begin a winery in Slovenia on the site of an old monastery.
It quickly became apparent that Krutzler couldn’t do both.
“I was putting 60,000 kilometers on my car every year. I left the MORIC project before harvest in 2003 to focus on Slovenia. It was a good project. I thought I would stay my whole life there.”
After replanting 90 acres of vineyard and building a winery on a 50 Million Euro budget, Krutzler found himself the director, the winemaker, and the salesman for a project with big ambitions, but headed in a decidedly more commercial direction than he desired. Sensing his discomfort, the project backers brought in another Austrian to make and sell the lower-end wines, with the hopes that Krutzler would focus on the top end, but his heart was not in it.
“That was the year my daughter was born,” recalls Krutzler, “In 2006 I was sitting in an office without any wine.”
After leaving that project Krutzler again found himself unmoored for a time. “All my friends had started much earlier, and were on their way. I was thinking I might do something with my family. My father told me I needed to just make some wine, and we found some Blaufränkisch, and that was our first idea.”
But within a year Krutzler had begun consulting on another Slovenian wine project. “I would leave [the Wachau] at 4:00 AM and drive 300 kilometers to go to work. It was crazy,” says Krutzler, shaking his head.
“But then FX came to me and said ‘I will help you find some vineyards in the Wachau’ and that, in a way, was his permission to do something else.”
Krutzler and his wife, with the help of his father-in-law, secured leases on several acres of vineyards in select parcels in nearby villages and in 2007 began making small quantities of wine in a tiny rented cellar in nearby Unterloiben. The facility is so small that they had to rent another small cellar space to hold their few thousand bottles.
“Now I am in the vineyards and with my kids instead of in the car,” smiles Krutzler, who transitioned to being purely a consultant on his last Slovenian project in 2010.
In 2012 Pichler-Krutzler bought a few small vineyard parcels, including some 60 year-old vines in the well-known Pfaffenberg vineyard, bringing the project’s total acreage to about 25, and the total production to about 4800 cases of wine, split across six Grüner Veltliners and seven Rieslings.
“We are still on our way, but we have found our way,” muses Krutzler, perfectly capturing the confidence and presence of his wines, while at the same time clearly understanding that he and his wife are at the beginning of their journey as a winery.
The sensibility into which he has settled will make fans of many who delight in the understated and restrained side of the Wachau. “I am the more old fashioned Wachau,” says Krutzler. “I want to go back to the late Eighties and early Nineties.”
Krutzler prefers acidity to ripeness. (“We had 7.7 grams of acidity in my Trum Riesling, and so I couldn’t even sell it as Federspiel”) and aims to keep his wines in tank and barrel on the lees as long as possible. He likes to keep them in bottle as long as possible before releasing them to market as well (“We would like to sell our wines even later, but even selling them in October, we are almost the last to sell”). Krutzler also aims for a slightly more oxidative style of winemaking, eschewing sulfur additions during fermentation, and using a mix of native and cultivated yeasts as he does a mix of stainless and large barrel fermentation vessels.
When I ask Krutzler how he came to this more traditionalist approach, he laughs. Describing his first harvest he recalls, “My wife came to me and said ‘why are you starting harvest today!?’ and I realized I was coming from the red wine [which is usually harvested earlier than whites].”
He shrugs. “My wines from those years are a little….” He completes his sentence by making a serpentine motion with his hands. “But now I have found my way.”
Krutzler is basically a one-man cellar crew. His wife Elisabeth takes care of sales, but helps him with “all the major decisions” with the wine. He has “a couple of guys from Macedonia” that help him harvest, and if he’s lucky, his mother-in-law will also help manage things in the vineyards.
Now with seven vintages under their belts, Krutzler says he is happy with their size and their style. “We want to build a new cellar, but it is hard to find a place and I’m not sure I want to do it,” says Krutzler. “A little improvisation and I’m fine.”
Seventy percent of the couple’s production is exported, and the thirty that remains in Austria has slowly gained acclaim. “It’s all slowly starting to work in Austria,” says Krutzler admitting that, “Our names have been slightly counterproductive.” But that’s one piece of baggage he’s unlikely to ever get rid of.
These wines have not yet been released in the US. You can find some earlier vintages online, but sadly none of the 2010s.
2013 Pichler-Krutzler “Durnsteiner Frauengarten” Grüner Veltliner, Wachau, Austria
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of pears and linalool and wet stones. In the mouth asian pear and wet stone mix with faint floral and citrus character. Nice acidity and brightness.12.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $26
2013 Pichler-Krutzler “Loibner Klostersatz” Grüner Veltliner, Wachau, Austria
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of pears and green apple, with a hint of lemongrass. In the mouth pear and lemongrass flavors shift to green apple skin and pink grapefruit. Good acidity. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $26
2013 Pichler-Krutzler “Tank Sample – Supperlin” Grüner Veltliner, Wachau, Austria
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of white peaches and wet stones. In the mouth the wine has a wonderful silky presence with crystalline flavors of pear, white peach and a hint of white pepper on the finish. Gorgeous acidity and length. Excellent. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $26
2013 Pichler-Krutzler “Tank Sample – Loibenberg” Grüner Veltliner, Wachau, Austria
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of pear and apple with wet stones underneath. In the mouth, juicy pear and asian pear mix with a hint of chamomile and wet stones. Good acidity and depth. Long finish. Score: around 9. Cost: $36
2013 Pichler-Krutzler “Tank Sample – Steiner Pfaffenberg Alte Reben” Grüner Veltliner, Wachau, Austria
Light greenish-gold in the glass, this wine smells of white peaches and pears. In the mouth the wine is broad and powerful with broad pear and pear skin flavors mixed with pink grapefruit. Nice wet stone minerality, good acidity and long finish. 60 year-old vines. Score: around 9. Cost: $46
2013 Pichler-Krutzler “Tank Sample – Kellerberg” Grüner Veltliner, Wachau, Austria
Light gold in the glass with a hint of green, this wine smells of linalool and pear and wet stones. In the mouth slightly spicy pear cobbler flavors mix with wet stones and quince paste. Notes of lemongrass linger in the finish. Score: around 9. Cost: $36
2012 Pichler-Krutzler “Fass No.43” Grüner Veltliner, Wachau, Austria
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of oak and flowers and honey. In the mouth, flavors of sweet oak, vanilla, pears, and strong honeysuckle mix with a rich silky texture. Because of the fact that this wine went through full malolactic fermentation the acidity is softer, and doesn’t have the edge I would like.. This wine was aged in a 600l liter barrel with no sulfur on the fine lees and bottled with only a tiny bit of sulfur at the bottling but no fining or filtration. 14% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $??
2013 Pichler-Krutzler “Trum” Riesling, Wachau, Austria
Palest blonde in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers and linalool. In the mouth, the wine has electrically bright lemon-lime flavors mixed with wet chalkboard. Pink grapefruit and lime zest linger in the finish. 12% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $23
2013 Pichler-Krutzler “Pfaffenberg” Riesling, Wachau, Austria
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of pink grapefruit and green apple. In the mouth, bright, even searing acidity makes flavors of green apple and pink grapefruit all but electric in the mouth. A deep wet-chalkboard minerality leaves a chalky tart finish lingering for a long time. 12.5% alcohol.. Score: around 9. Cost: $37
2013 Pichler-Krutzler “In der Wand” Riesling, Wachau, Austria
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of pears, apples, and linalool. In the mouth, gorgeously balanced flavors of pear, apple, and pink grapefruit have a fantastic crackling brightness to them that is totally disarming. It’s hard not to swallow this wine. Long and bright and juicy. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $23
2013 Pichler-Krutzler “Tank Sample – Loibenberg” Riesling, Wachau, Austria
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet stones, white flowers, and a hint of white peaches and pear. In the mouth bright and crisp pear and unripe peach flavors have a gorgeous crackling acidity and great mineral depth. Long and lean. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $27
2013 Pichler-Krutzler “Tank Sample – Steiner Pfaffenberg Alte Reben” Riesling, Wachau, Austria
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of honeysuckle and wet stones. In the mouth the wine has a light sweetness with a great mineral depth to it. Flavors of honeysuckle and asian pear seem glassy and clean with wonderful brightness thanks to incredible acidity. Made from 60 year-old vines. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $37
2013 Pichler-Krutzler “Tank Sample – Kellerberg” Riesling, Wachau, Austria
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet stones and honeysuckle with hints of pink grapefruit. In the mouth bright apple and pear flavors have a deep stony quality to them. Wet chalkboard lingers in the finish with top notes of honeysuckle. Pure and quite beautiful with fantastic acidity and a long finish. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $27
2013 Pichler-Krutzler “Tank Sample – Rotenberg Reserve” Riesling, Wachau, Austria
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of honeysuckle and green apple. In the mouth bright green apple and white flowers have a faint sweetness to them, though most people would think this wine was dry. Excellent, racy acidity and stony minerality round out a very delicious package. Moderate finish. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $57
2010 Pichler-Krutzler “Supperin” Grüner Veltliner, Wachau, Austria
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of elderflowers and chamomile with a hint of warm bread. In the mouth flavors of clover honey and chamomile have a bright juicy quality thanks to excellent acidity. A faint yeasty note lingers in the finish along with a taint, chalky tannic grip. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $27
2010 Pichler-Krutzler “Loibenberg” Riesling, Wachau, Austria
Light greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet stones, cucumber, and candle wax. In the mouth, tart green apple flavors mix with white flowers and phenomenal acidity. Bright, but also deep and resonant thanks to excellent minerality. Wet chalkboard and pink grapefruit pith linger on the finish. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $27
2013 Pichler-Krutzler “Loibenberg” Riesling TBA, Wachau, Austria
Light greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of dried apricots and clover honey. In the mouth, the wine has a thick satin texture and flavors of clover honey, dried and fresh apricots and ripe peaches. Excellent acidity keeps the wine fresh and not too cloying. Very sweet. 10% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $??