Prager’s stylistic signature is that of aromatic complexity coupled with power and tension. High-density planting and long hang times ensure ripe fruit flavors and concentration, yet allowing leaves to shade the fruit lend vibrant aromatics of grasses, herbs, and wildflowers. Minerality is a constant feature of any Prager wine.
Franz Prager, co-founder of the Vinea Wachau, had already earned a reputation for his wines when Toni Bodenstein married into the family. The marriage of Franz’s daughter, Ilse, to Dr. Toni Bodenstein in the 1990s was the catalyst for a sweeping renaissance at the winery. Bodenstein, a biologist, geologist, and historian, spent years studying the geology of the region and focused much of his attention on preserving genetic diversity. His “Arche Noah” project, a planting of old Grüner Veltliner and Riesling clones, resulted from his research. Bodenstein’s scholarly approach, passion for biodiversity, and brilliant winemaking has elevated Prager to the highest echelon of Austrian wine producers. The Prager estate is made up of 17.5 hectares planted to 60% Riesling and 40% to Grüner Veltliner. Located on steep terraces, the vineyards are partly in Weißenkirchen (Hinter der Burg, Hinter Seiber, Steinriegl, Zwerithaler, Klaus, and Achleiten), partly in Dürnstein (Kaiserberg, Hollerin, and Liebenberg), and are planted at extremely high densities of up to 15,000 plants per hectare. Bodenstein makes four different wines from the famed Achleiten vineyard including Wachstum Bodenstein Grüner Veltliner (from 110 clones), and Stockkultur Grüner Veltliner produced from a patch of very old post-trained vines at the top of Achleiten. Wachstum Bodenstein Riesling (from 25 clones) comes from the upper terraces of Hinter Seiber. Prager belongs to the prestigious Vinea Wachau and vinifies under the strict parameters of their codex. Harvest is typically from October to November. Grapes are hand-harvested, sorted to eliminate botrytis, and sent directly to press where they’re fermented by what Bodenstein describes as “controlled spontaneous fermentation.” Toni Bodenstein prevents malolactic fermentation from occurring. Since 1996, Prager wines have been vinified entirely in stainless-steel tanks. This minimalist approach reveals wines of precision and elegance, moderate levels of alcohol, and clear expression of origin. “Vom Stein zum Wein” (from rocks to wine) is Toni Bodenstein’s motto and his ideology is reflected by his non-interventionist methods in the cellar.
As Austria’s most prestigious wine growing region, the landscape of the Wachau is—not surprisingly—one of its most dramatic. Millions of years ago, the Danube River chiseled its way through the earth, creating steep terraces of decomposed volcanic and metamorphic rock. Harsh Ice Age winds brought deposits of ancient glacial dust and loess to the terrace’s eastern faces. Today these steep surfaces of nutrient-poor and fast draining soil are home to some of Austria’s very best sites for both Grüner Veltliner and Riesling.
Wachau is small, comprising a mere three percent of Austria’s vine surface and, considering relatively low yields, represents a miniscule proportion of total wine production. Diurnal temperature shifts in Wachau facilitate great balance of sugar and phenolic ripeness in its grapes. At night cold air from the Alps and forests in the northwest displace warm afternoon air, which gets sucked upstream along the Danube.
Its sites are actually so varied and distinct that more emphasis is going into vineyard-designated offerings even despite grape variety. Grüner Veltliner and Riesling are most prominent, but the region produces Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc (Weissburgunder), Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Zweigelt among other local variants.
Fun to say and delightfully easy to drink, Grüner Veltliner calls Austria its homeland. While some easily quaffable Grüners come in a one-liter—a convenient size—many high caliber single vineyard bottlings can benefit from cellar aging. Somm Secret—About 75% of the world’s Grüner Veltliner comes from Austria but the variety is gaining ground in other countries, namely Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and the United States.