Biodynamisches Weingut Birgit Braunstein is an eponymously named Biodynamic estate winery in Purbach-am-See on the western shores of Lake Neusiedl in the Neusiedlersee-Hügelland region of Burgenland, Austria. Wines are also made under the Leithaberg DAC.
Background: Under Birgit Braunstein’s father Paul the estate was conventional (IPM). Birgit had worked with her brother in their mother’s restaurant and she helped her father stick labels on wine bottles. She had not wanted a career in a winery or in a restaurant. She studied at tourist school and studied economics. Drank wine, went to tastings. Consulted to restaurants for a year. Then realised this was not the right thing. She loved nature.
In 1995 Birgit told her father she wanted to take over. She went to Bordeaux in 1995 or 1996 and worked at Château Canon La Gaffelière in St-Emilion whose consultant was Stéphane Derenoncourt. Birgit knew she wanted to become Biodynamic. Her first vintage was 1996, a very tough year here as it rained all the time. She was 25. Knew she had to understand the vineyards better. Most of the budget was going into the winery, not the vineyards. She saw how fertilizers were giving (too) high yields and high sugars (wines with excess alcohol). She stopped selling wine in one-litre bottles.
Great wines, i.e. terroir wines, are not a fashion trend, they are not reinvented, on the contrary, they are lived. Birgit Braunstein is working on this lifelong dream with a lot of joy and commitment. The Leithagebirge behind Purbach with slate, shell limestone and crystalline quartz are the perfect basis for great wines. The irrepressible desire for quality and the openness to new things are their recipe for success for a new generation of wines. Joining the international biodynamic associations Demeter and La Renaissance des Appellations and the accompanying holistic view of the winery are the logical consequence of all these efforts
Staff: 2018 Cellar master: Arianna Gonzaléz (see Lichtenberger-Gonzaléz).
Vineyards: 2015 Around 20 hectares. | 2017 Around 22 hectares (55 acres).
Biodynamics: Birgit says her twin boys (born in February 1998, Birgit’s ex-husband is winemaker Martin Pasler) were treated with homeopathic medicine when they were ill. She sent them to a Waldorf school in Eisenstadt which she and other parents help found. 6 children initially. In 2015 the main Biodynamic treatments being used were Horn manure 500, Horn Silica 501, and plant-based sprays, guided by collaboration with Peter Urban and Birgit’s local Demeter group.
Birgit told me ‘I got to know biodynamics at Château La Mondotte in Bordeaux, France. I saw the difference in the vineyards there. In our area here in Austria there was a big need for change. I took Biodynamics step by step. The soils had more humus and and the wines were much brighter.’ She told me her favourite Biodynamic tasks are ‘applying the Horn manure 500 and Horn silica 501 field sprays– ‘with the earth below and the sky above with biodynamic wine [grapes] in between. For sure there are also the [plant-based] teas and compost. But mainly the sense that [my vines] are rooted in mother earth whilst finding solar energy from above impresses me deeply, and helps against the strongest storms.’
On social responsibility Birgit told me ‘we just rent the land from our grandchildren so we have to think ahead, as farmers are also landscapers. We are also responsible for our employees, some of whom have been with us for nearly 20 years and are like family. Their consciousness influences our vines and therefore also our wines. Having a good working environment is as much about the plants and the soil as the people. The two go hand in hand.’
Birgit told me (early in 2021) her twin sons did their first vintage recently. I am also a Qigong Teacher I want to work with people, in my vineyards, doing seminars on, for example agriculture with both a social and environmental outlook.
Certification: 2016 First vintage with full Demeter Biodynamic certification.
Winemaking: The grapes mostly go into tank or amphora via gravity, using a forklift if necessary. 100% wild ferments. The first amphora wines were made from 2009.
Rosenquartz: Pink pétillant naturel.
Welschriesling: Dry white Welschriesling.
Pinot Blanc: 2017 Chalky-limestone soil. 200-220 metres (656-721 feet). Takes two days to pick. | 2017 The juice spends 4 hours in the press on skins with no sulfur. 20-22ºC ferment. No MLF. Unfiltered. Very pure, diverting and unforced example of this under-stated varietal (Demeter Austria tasting 2018).
Pinot Blanc, Brigid: Named after a Celtic goddess whose 3,000 year-old grave is nearby. Birgit’s name is Celtic and her initials are on the label and shown as a symbol which brings luck. Vines here are on a hill top, with one end of the vineyard leading to forest. Schist (schiefer) and limestone formed 20 million years ago when it was under the sea, Schist on top, seven levels of limestone below. Records of the monks making wine here date back to 900AD. | 2013 Debut vintage. | 2016 Second release of this wine. Frost, 60% lost late April. Hand picked. Destemmed. Whole berries. Fermented 14 days on skins in open-top fermenters. ‘I ate some grapes and I felt they were suited to skin contact, the influence of the schist. Pinot Blanc carries the terroir,’ she says. Punched down once daily. ‘A bit too much punch…! says Birgit. 13%. Lovely bright creamy fruit. | 2017 Picked over two days. Stainless steel. Fermented at 20-22ºC. 4 hours on skins in the press. No MLF. Unfiltered. Lovely Pinot Blanc, so unforced when tasted at the winery in 2018.
Sauvignon Blanc, Nimue: ‘Nimue’ is the Lady of the lake. Sauvignon Blanc. Planted by Birgit’s father. Chalky limestone. Get a great view of lake from the vineyard. | 2016 Fermented on skins in open trays. Barrel aged. Filtered. 20ppm SO2. 12.5%. Pure, vibrant creamy yellow fruit, mouthwatering mineral salty end (Demeter Austria tasting 2018).
Chardonnay: There are 3 wines from this grape variety, fermented in stainless steel, in barrel, or in clay amphora. The Celts worked in this area with grapes from the Chardonnay family 3,000 years ago. And they buried amphora in the earth.
Chardonnay, Felsenstein: From 2 plots on chalky soil.
Chardonnay, Leithaberg DAC: 2013 Barrel fermented. Wild yeast. No MLF. Very nice zip, creamy, really lovely natural wine style and so pristine (Millésime Bio 2015).
Chardonnay, Magna Mater: Birgit said during the visit to her winery in 2018 ‘I like the idea of the wine being in the amphora, in the Mother Earth (at 1.5 metres). The Earth has a tranquilizing effect.’ | 2009 Whole bunches, with seeds and skins but not with the stems which are “too tannic” says Birgit. | 2013 300-400 bottles. Hand picked. No pumping. All by hand apart from destemming. 24 months in barrel. 13%. Strong personality. Broad, creamy, so salty, vibrant (visit February 2018).
Blaufränkisch, Felsenstein: On limestone.
Blaufränkisch, Leithaberg DAC: From 3 plots of mid-1970s vines. | 2011 “A ripe year,” says Birgit. Very nice red, really good natural wine style but pristine (Millésime Bio 2015). | 2013 13.5% alcohol. Fermented in open-topped oak fermenters. Soft punch downs. 18 months in Austrian oak. Stylish, savoury, pure at the Demeter Austria tasting 2018.
Blaufränkisch, Then: 1960s vines. Tiny berries, loose bunches. Structured tannins, strong personality, dark, wild fruit. Birgit says she learnt that longer skin contact (up to 5 months in 1,000 litre underground tanks = gave more well-defined tannins. On a bed of 20-metre thick limestone. | 2007 A powerful vintage. | 2009 A powerful vintage. | 2012 14%. Punched down by hand. 5 months on skins in 1,000-litre Austrian oak casks, underground. Sulfur dioxide added only after MLF finishes. 24 months in Austrian oak. Ripe, salty fruit. Well textured oak, with spiky, wild and structured tannins, really very nice (Demeter Austria tasting 2018).
Blaufränkisch, Magna Mater: Vines on the Leithaberg. Chalky limestone. 1960s vines. | 2012 Destemmed. Whole berries. Into amphora. 7 months on skins. Lovely wild fruit (Demeter Austria tasting 2018). | 2013 Aged in Amphora buried in the garden outside. Unfiltered. No add sulfites. Open, bricky, wild blueberry, beautifully salty again (Visit, 2018).
Merlot: On limestone, therefore a structured version of this grape.
Exhort: Red blend from the best Blaufränkisch, Zweigelt and Cabernet Sauvignon (planted 1986 by Birgit’s father) on the Leithaberg. Oak aged. | 2012 50% Blaufrankisch, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Zweigelt.
Pinot vom Berg: Pinot Noir and St. Laurent. A light summer wine.
Pinot Noir, Sonnenberg: Pinot Noir.
Sankt Laurent, Goldberg: From slate (schiefer).
Wildwux: St. Laurent, Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch.
Zweigelt, Goldberg: From slate (schiefer). Cherry flavours.
Demeter Austria tasting 2018, Vienna 26th February.
Visit to the winery hosted by Birgit Braunstein 27th February 2018 (one of the most memorable winery visits I have attended, based on how in tune Birgit was with her land and its history, her vines and her winemaking).
Weingut Birgit Braunstein
Hauptgasse 18, A-7803 Purbach, Austria
Tel+43 (0)4326 835913 | www.weingut-braunstein.at/en