Helmut Lang’s wine cellar no longer shares space with the large tank of Pike-perch fish from Lake Neusiedl. They have been moved outside, and so what was literally a “garagiste” operation when we met in 2002 has been modernised and developed. But it’s likely that there will be some fish or recently shot game in the cold room where the vats store wines before bottling. He is a real man of the soil, loves his hunting and fishing, and is a great guide of the wildlife of the area. He is also a very fine ice skater, and guide on the different frozen lakes of the Seewinkel when conditions allow it.
His son, Helmut Jnr, has caught the wine bug too, and now in his mid-20s, is training to take over eventually from his dad. Helmut’s speciality is sweet wines, both from botrytised but also frozen grapes. In my wine education, I learned that this area of Austria was consistently blessed, year after year, with ideal conditions for the production of sweet wines – both from botrytis-affected and frozen grapes. But times have changed. In recent years the opportunities for Eiswein, which require a minimum night time temperature of minus 8 Celcius, have been very rare. Botrytis has become more difficult too: drier conditions increase phenolics and thickness of skins, so these grapes are much less sensitive to the botrytis fungus so vital for the ‘noble’ sweet wines. So paradoxically, harvest dates for these kinds of wine have become later and later.
But somehow Helmut manages to turn out the same great sweet wines year after year, even if quantities are much reduced. It’s astonishing how apparently filthy grapes, still on the vine in January, looking black and very sorry for themselves can transform from ugly duckling to beautiful princess; perfumed and diaphanous. It is a mystical transformation, but one which Helmut manages with great experience and huge skill. His vineyards are located on the Eastern side of the lake around Illmitz. The vines are immaculately trained and all located in the National Parkland which surrounds the lake. (4/20 LF)