In a remote corner of the Wachau, a German from the Palatinate and a Wachau native from Trandorf are doing almost everything differently. Welcome to Grabenwerkstatt.
Their best decision ever? To all of a sudden escape. To book two flights for Australia and take off. To seek adventure and discover wineries that do things completely differently from anything Michael Linke and Franz Hofbauer ever learned.
It’s been several years since those months in Australia and New Zealand. Steps along the path leading to Grabenwerkstatt. As time is reckoned in the Wachau, the winery in Spitzer Graben is truly a newcomer. Michael Linke and Franz Hofbauer started it in 2014. It’s located at Trandorf in the westernmost corner of the Wachau wine region. Everything is a little different here. More rugged. Cooler. A climate shaped by the nearby Bohemian Massif. “The Jauerling Hill accounts for the taste. Low nightly temperatures are the rule, even in midsummer. This gives us a basis for exciting wines,” Michael Linke, master of the cellar and Palatinate native, explains. Literally growing up among Rieslings, it was an internship at Domäne Wachau that brought him to the area. “Franz was my boss there. Now the roles are reversed. Or are they?” the Palatinate native asks teasingly. That the two of them get along becomes clear very soon. And they are successful. The cellar where they make their wines is bursting at the seams. A new building is already being planned.
“We are now still working from my parents’ house. The room where we store our wines used to be my grandmother’s root cellar. Michael and I have adapted the 12 square metres as storage for roughly 7000 litres. Michael is not unlike Monk, he spent hours deciding how to stack the barrels,” Franz Hofbauer quips. “German precision work,” is the wry response by the man from the Palatinate.
Untamed and untended, with the stonewalls caving in. That was the condition of the first vineyard the two took on in 2014. Now the men from Grabenwerkstatt work about 3 hectares in Spitzer Graben. “Our goal is to make wine from all the best locations in Spitzer Graben: Brandstatt, Trenning, Bruck, Schön and Kalkofen. But in our own style. Shaped by the soil it grows in, and with a complex structure,” they explain.
The time shared in Australia and New Zealand has left its mark on the two of them. “Our most important stay was at the Pyramid Valley Vineyards. That’s one of the biggest names in biodynamic vineyard cultivation, with a lot of manual labour. We spent a whole week just picking the stems off the grapes,” Franz Hofbauer remembers. “In New Zealand it became clear: I would then either go back to the Palatinate – or start something completely new, together with Franz in Spitzer Graben. That’s where Franz is from,” Michael adds. How the story ends is no secret.
The result depends mainly on the special treatment given to grapes in the cellar. Press whole grapes, allow spontaneous fermentation, and no filtering – those are the main principles. And the special care given by cellar master Michael. “During fermentation, you need to mind every tank as if it were a child. Take your shirt off and give the tank a hug – that was the motto at Pyramid Valley Vineyards. Every tank develops differently, some have hotspots at places. With others, though, we used radiators. My saying is: every tank needs its freedom,” Michael reports. He is, by the way, a fervent devotee of singer Roland Kaiser. Meaning, German pop music can sometimes be heard bellowing forth from the Grabenwerkstatt cellar. “I didn’t get the name Schlager-Michl aus der Pfalz for nothing.” Potentially, that should make for a more than bubbly finish to the Spitzer Graben wines from Grabenwerkstatt.