Muscat Ottonel, a love story

(Almost) every week, I select an orange wine (a white wine made with extended skin contact) that grabbed my attention. View the whole series here.

Martin Lichtenburger and Adrianna Gonzalez in their cellar, March 2017 (Photo (C) Simon Woolf All Rights Reserved)Sometimes the path of true love really does alter everything. When Austrian Martin Lichtenberger and Spaniard Adriana González met in 2007, during their winemaking studies in California, they might not have predicted that they’d soon be making wine together on another continent.

Having fallen in love, they finessed a way for Adriana to do her internship in Martin’s “heimat”, Burgenland. That was 2008. She never left. Together, they rebranded Martin’s old family winery as “Lichtenberger González“, and despite both working 55 hour weeks for separate employers (Gernot Heinrich and Birgit Braunstein, respectively) they’ve slowly building their own name with some delicious wines.

Lichtenberger Gonzalez - Muscat Ottonel 2015 (Photo (C) Simon Woolf All Rights Reserved)This being “Orange weekly”, star billing goes to their Muscat Ottonel 2015, a micro-cuvée made to experiment with long skin maceration. There are or were only 350 bottles, but the good news is that the 2016 is already developing very nicely in barrel. So more is on the way.

Two weeks of skin contact have given this Muscat an assertive, chewy texture that I personally adore. But it may not be for everyone… which is probably a good thing given the quantities available. The aromas are typical of the variety – ginger and rose petals, but they’re accentuated by the skin contact. This is a very fresh, youthful wine, lots of fun but maybe in need of another year or two of barrel or bottle ageing to realise its fullest potential.

Martin with one of his precious old Blaufränkisch vineyards (Photo (C) Simon Woolf All Rights Reserved)The vineyards for the Muscat are, like most of Lichtenberger Gonzalez’s seven hectares, old plots (50 – 80 years) that Martin and Adriana have painstakingly reconditioned and rescued from grubbing up. “Nobody else would have bought these vineyards,” Martin told me “They don’t look beautiful, they’re old and they took years to renovate.” But they clearly make very good wine.

The couple take a similarly focused approach in their winery – which is actually just the Lichtenberger family cellar, stretching below two unassuming residental houses on a quiet street in Breitenbrunn (a village halfway between the Leithaberg hills and the vast Neusiedlersee).

The space is cramped, but sufficient to squeeze in a handful of mainly large old barrels and a few stainless steel vats used for the young wines. As Martin explained “The product has to be grandiose first. We could spend a lot of money building a bright shiny new winery, but it wouldn’t make the wine any better!”

Old Leithaberg vineyards (Photo (C) Simon Woolf All Rights Reserved)

I’ll briefly mention some of the other highlights from this energetic duo. Their Blaufränkisch Leithaberg 2014 is a wonderfully fresh, peppery expression of Burgenland’s highest quality red variety. The entry level Muschelkalk wines (a red and a white) are consistently excellent, perhaps easier going than some of the single vineyard wines but certainly not lesser quality.

A Leithaberg Weiss 2014 made from 100% Neuburger is also truly outstanding in its citrussy precision and focus. Blaufränkisch Vorauberg 2012, from a prized single vineyard site, is brooding, concentrated and barely getting into its stride. Sadly it’s long since sold out – wait for the following vintage, it will be well worth it.

If you spend a few hours with Martin and Adriana, their passion is quite infectious. It’s great to see both partners in a relationship pitching in equally to the winemaking – not so very common. Adriana told me disarmingly that making good wine is easy: “You just need a few barrels and amazing vineyards. You don’t need chemicals or technology.”

What she doesn’t say is that hard work, dedication and love are what makes the difference.

Looking down from the Leithaberg hills to the endless horizon of the Neusiedlersee

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