The Vineus Wine Culture Awards

Through the Grapevine: When Vienna hosts a wine event, the organizers go all out

Services | Michael Lee | April 2012

The venue at the Aula der Wissenschaften (Photo: Havel-Petz)

Where would civilisation be today if it weren’t for wine’s enigmatic influence?

As an enduring cultural symbol of European living, one principle that has remained unchanged is the tradition of presenting and communicating wine, which focuses on the origins, heritage and viniculture being woven into an endless display of wine and food experiences.

And so to the Vineus Wine Culture Awards, held for the third year on 19 March in Vienna: A celebration that acknowledges the publicly voted individuals or establishments from four categories: Gastronomy, Hotels, Newcomer Winemaker, and Sommelier, with an additional Lifetime Achievement Award given to an industry icon who has embraced and influenced the face of wine culture in Austria.

The gala dinner was hosted at the Aula der Wissenschaften on the Wollzeile, which on first impression seemed a stark, clinically white exhibition space, instead of an ambience resonating the warmth of wine and food’s flavours and colours. But this was the only slight in what was a superbly-run and executed event, where an inspiring menu by Ruth Havel was accompanied by a selection of wine from the finalists of the newcomer winemaker category.

Winners epitomised the richness of Austrian wine culture, and with the following recipients, also a more innovative and modern interpretation of individual elements.

Gastronomy winner

Gut Purbach. A restaurant, guesthouse and winery in Purbach, Burgenland, the award was accepted by head chef and Slovenian native, Max Stiegl. A focus on seasonal inspirations and regional ingredients presented with an innovative yet purist heart, plus a wine list topping 1,200 selections, were enough to secure the prize ahead of finalists that included restaurants Steirereck and Holy Moly.

Hotels winner

Hotel Rathaus Wine & Design is a modernly designed theme hotel that embraces many a vinophile manifestation in the fabric of its philosophy, including wine cosmetics in the rooms, wine cheeses with the breakfast buffet and a focus on presenting vintner tastings each month.

Newcomer winemaker winner

Nicole Bannert, Weingut Bannert. Fourth generation vigneron Bannert, at only 33, has etched an incredible reputation with her wines from the 18 hectare estate in the picturesque village of Obermarkersdorf, near the famous wine city Retz in the western part of the Weinviertl region in Lower Austria. Environmentally conscious viticulture and innovative winemaking practices have combined to produce wines of depth and balance.

Sommelier winner

Alexander Koblinger. Recently awarded Master Sommelier status at the UK master examinations, and heading to Japan shortly for the World Sommelier Competition, Koblinger from the Restaurant-Hotel Obauer in Werfen, in the Salzach Valley, has promoted Austrian wine firmly on a world stage. The value of such a service when dining in restaurants whose aim is to transcend wine and food experiences, through understanding and communicating a customer’s needs and desires is priceless.

Lifetime achievement award

Awarded to Anton Kollwentz, Weingut Kollwentz. The highlight of the awards ceremony, Kollwentz is a pioneer in the Austrian wine industry, being the first to plant Zweigelt in Burgenland, and make untried varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon. Presenting the award was Willi Klinger from the Austrian Wine Board. He introduced, in what was a beautifully heartfelt and sincere speech, Josef Schuller from the Austrian Wine Academy.

Enlightened with stories of daily forages into his cellar, choosing a world-class wine to share with his son over lunch where they would discuss the nature of what they were drinking, the Kollwentz philosophy is nothing short of a precision and dedication to the art and craft of winemaking.

While we were drawn into the world of an industry great, a mystery wine was poured into our glasses. Whether the golden-hued, multi-faceted liquid added to the grandeur and romance of the speech was a mystery in itself. I could only relish a pause in the evening to enjoy layers of grapefruit, kiwi and honeysuckle in my glass, wrapped in a structure that neither restrained nor overtly released its characters, finishing with power, length, and the tell-tale signs of almonds, dried pears and a hint of cedary oak – that was finally revealed as the Kollwentz 2009 Chardonnay.

It may be overtly presumptuous to exaggerate the role of wine, its influence and transcendence through the ages. But were it not for the unbridled appreciation of this elixir in ancient Greece, when Socrates encouraged its consumption to promote philosophical dialogue, what kind of society would we be?

We can only give thanks to their wisdom in undertaking the study of wine, and securing its place as a product of civility, and a catalyst for the pleasures of life.

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