Silvia Heinrich from J. Heinrich
Itake the train 100km from Vienna to the well-manicured town of Deutschkreutz, population 3,000, where Silvia Heinrich has personally come to pick me up. With a wide smile and sunkissed countenance, she bounds up in her Converse All-stars to the obvious only Asian at the station. Winemaker, field hand, single mother, daughter, designer, marketer, adminstrator – name it and she does it all, with barely six hours sleep a day. It's a privilege to spend the next 24 hours staying at J.heinrich, before a hectic weekend begins at wine show Vievinum 2018.
“A feeling from the heart”
In the cosy winery grounds, I meet Silvia's parents, Gerte and Johanne Heinrich, from where the wine got its name. Silvia is considering a name change to just Heinrich, although many already confuse them for larger Burgenland winery (Gernot) Heinrich. Maybe she should also consider S.heinrich, seeing how she has completely transformed the business once she fully took over in 2010.
Her dream to make wine nearly didn't come to fruition as her parents initially told her that it was too difficult a job for women. It was her brother Hannes who got to attend winemaking school, although he had wanted to be a chef. (Today he's happier as a policeman and a farmer.)
The winery officially started in 1993, when Silvia was 19 and had finished school, so she eventually went to Vienna to work with companies like Reuters. She didn't give up though, and attended viticulture classes as a guest student at the Höhere Bundeslehranstalt für Wein- und Obstbau. She also took the chance to make wines in other countries like Germany and Italy, before her parents relented and she joined them in 2002.
Her late grandparents had always planted vines – in fact, the oldest plot of grapes in Deutschkreutz is theirs, the three-hectare Alte Reben with Blaufränkisch from 1947. Silvia grew up with “the best education” – pruning, harvesting, green work, and doing cellar work like pumpovers. She also dabbled in marketing and designed the logo and labels herself in 1993.
Many faces of Blaufränkisch
We head out to her vineyards, a scant 10-minute drive away, where she details the growing season – beginning September, they harvest Pinot Noir, Zweitgelt, Blaufränkisch, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and
Shiraz, pretty much in that order. Before 2010, they also had white varieties which ripened in late August, but she boldly decided to concentrate on being a red winemaker, with 80% of the 36 hectares devoted to the indigenous grape. She has since converted to biological methods. Instead of insecticides, she uses pheromones to chase away pests. Hot years have not been unheard of, such as 2003, 2006 and 2013, but like all winemakers, she prefers cooler years with more hangtime for her fickle first love – Blaufränkisch.
Zweitgelt, a crossing of indigenous Blaufränkisch and Saint Laurent, is boring, she declares – it's too safe, consistent and easy. It is Blaufränkisch that challenges and defines her as a winemaker, from reflecting its terroir to choosing the right blend of oak barrels to mature it in. In her hands, Blaufränkisch ranges from a vibrant, sparkling Rosé to wild, expressive, spicy, rustic and elegant, proving its long ageing mettle along the way.
My visit concludes with a tasting of almost all her reds, as we marvel at how differently each Blaufränkisch expresses itself. The Alte Reben, with just 1,800 bottles, is a standout, thanks to the hard handwork that goes into it – separated harvesting, punching down, and no tanks, the way grandpa would have understood.
It's clear, however, that Silvia is stretched from the recent stylish expansions to the winery. With a four-room hospitality offering, modern visitors' centre and production capacity of 200,000 litres, she needs additional help, especially in looking after the viticulture which is mostly in the hands of her father. Her natural optimism falters a little as she confides that she's been looking, but that this little corner of Austria may be too quiet to draw the kind of talent she needs. Her own two daughters, at eight and 15 years old, are a long way from deciding if they will join the winery, and her parents are not getting any younger. The moment passes, and Silvia is back with a ready laugh – after all, she was born to make wine, and she's never begrudged a moment spent on her life-long mission.