Roman Pfaffl is the face of where Austria’s wine industry is heading … and this is a good thing. He was in Seattle this last week and we had the good fortune of being charmed by him in the most unpretentious yet solid kind of way. In fact, he was so modest during my interview that the importer had to prod him a bit to get him to cough up more of his story as he didn’t think that the American audience would think it was interesting. Decide for yourself:
Roman’s parents, Roman and Edelheid, founded Weingut R&A Pfaffl in 1978 when they inherited the family farm. Over the last decades, Roman Sr. has played a big role in the Austrian winemaking community. Aside from being called Mr. Veltliner by the Austrian press, he is credited with founding the Weinviertel appellation, Austria’s first DAC, and he was named Austrian Winemaker of the Year in 1996. I figured young Roman was probably in the early stages of learning the ropes and a promotional tour to the US was part of that plan, but that was actually incorrect. He explained that in the Austrian school system, you go to elementary school for 4 years, then Gymnasium (which is university bound secondary school like in Germany); however, in Austria at the end of grade 8 you can choose to continue with Gymnasium or attend an academic trade school. This is the route that Roman took, attending the Höhere Punkt Lehr Gestalt für Wein und Obst Bau, which provided him with training in both oenology and viticulture. After school he did his 8 month compulsory military service (which he, like Jens, remembers fondly, telling me (with a little smile) that 2 of those months were posted on the border, directly protecting the motherland). At 19, he arrived back at the farm, and his dad basically wished him luck and handed over the keys, letting him know that he was there if Roman Jr. had any questions, but that he was heading off to be the Chairman of the Regional Wine Board of the Weinviertel region. That was five vintages ago.
So, I asked him, were you a nervous? Yes, he said with this charming grin, but he assured me that he had grown up around winemaking and it was sort of like coming home. And, he told me not to forget that 2004 (his first vintage) was a perfect year in Austria, lots of sun, just enough rain, an easy harvest. The perfect year to get your feet wet, so to speak. Since then, he has started to move the focus from Grüner Veltliner (the fruity, crisp, peppery white famous to that part of Austria) to red wines, which he feels are the winery’s future.
He has his work cut out for him though. Austrian wines are still little known in the US, but way more people are familiar with Grüner Veltliner than Zweigelt or St. Laurent. We’re going to work to help Roman change that though as these wines are beautifully crafted, elegant wines. I was particularly impressed with the two entry level wines. Their names “Pepper” for the GV and “Cherry” for the Zweigelt were a little cutsie; however, I can forgive them as a German label is close to a death sentence in the American market and efforts to overcome that are commended. Especially when they are as good as these for $17.99 | Sale $15.99 | Case $12.79. When I told Roman that I had been pleasantly surprised by these wines, he said, “In a winery, the cheapest wines have to be very good. If they’re not good, I don’t want to taste the expensive ones.” We agree …
Pfaffl 2008 Grüner Veltliner “Pepper” REG $17.99 | Sale $15.99 | Case $12.79
100% Grüner Veltliner. This is their entry level GV and it’s a delicious wine for the money. Hints of citrus, herbs on the nose. Flavors of white pepper, lemons. Great acidity. Very refreshing as a sipper. Pairs well with fish, chicken, pork dishes.
Pfaffl 2008 Grüner Vetliner Hundsleiten REG $41.99 | Sale $34.99 | Case $27.99
100% Grüner Veltliner. Single vineyard with very stony soils. This vintage had a very late harvest (November). Not so much pepper. Bigger, rounder wine with flavors of grapefruit, citrus & herbs. Beautiful, elegant wine.
Pfaffl 2008 Zweigelt “Cherry” REG $17.99 | Sale $15.99 | Case $12.79
100% Zweigelt. Lots of dark cherry fruit, a little bit oaky, but lovely (aged 6 months in 30% old barriques). Smooth tannins. Roman said this is a typical Austrian red.
Pfaffl 2006 St. Laurent Altenberg REG $55.49 | Sale $45.99 | Case $36.79
100% St. Laurent. Very elegant, smooth, old world style wine. Plums, blackberries & “exotic woods” on the nose. Flavors of cherries & blackberries with a touch of smoke.