Vintner Stories - January 4, 2022
Claus Preisinger is pushing boundaries in the progressive region of Burgenland in Eastern Austria
In the vast farmland region of Burgenland in Austria, there is a modern building that stands out from the rest of its surroundings. It is the winery of Claus Preisinger, a winemaker at the forefront of the natural wine movement in Austria. His charming presence, strong surfer vibes, and sarcastic sense of humor make visiting this estate very memorable, welcoming, and engaging. This energy translates into the wines and ciders that boast minimalistic yet recognizable labels that feature Preisinger’s signature on the white background.
Preisinger was born in 1980 in Eisenstadt. He went to a viticultural high school in Klosterneuburg. After graduating, he crossed the pond to build on his winemaking experience in the Californian vineyards. Upon returning to the homeland, he worked at another well-respected biodynamic wine estate in Burgenlad – Anita & Hans Nittnaus. He would spend the next three years there before eventually making wines with his father in 2002. Since then, he still makes wine on the north shore of Lake Neusiedl in the wine-famous Burgenland town of Gols.
Following what he learned at Nittnaus, he converted his vineyards to biodynamic. In 2004, the renowned Pannobile association of wineries, where Hans Nittnaus is one of the founders, accepted him into the organization. In 2006, he officially converted all his vineyards and winery to biodynamic production. A few years later, he was certified by the Austrian biodynamic group Respekt.
In 2009, Preisinger built his new modern winery on the periphery of Gols, overlooking his vineyards. However, visitors should not let the look of the building fool them. Regardless of the aesthetic, everything else about the winery moves away from modern protocols. Credit this to Preisinger, who is deeply committed to working manually and as naturally as possible, without the latest machinery. He firmly believes that winemakers should be in the vineyards to produce pure, balanced wine that is expressive of the terroir.
In that sense, his approach is very traditional. However, this doesn’t stop him from being innovative. Preisinger is well-known in the wine world as someone who loves to experiment and try new things. A testament to that is his co-ferment of apples and grapes which resembles a mixture of cider and pet-nat. One of the first vintners in the area to experiment with skin-macerated white wines and use amphorae, he uses no set formula, instinctively making important farming and wine-making decisions.
Preisinger works primarily with the indigenous grape varieties, such as Blaufränkisch, Zweigelt, Grüner Veltliner, and St. Laurent, but also with a little bit of Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc. Grapes come from the west and east sides of Lake Neusiedl from 64 different plots. Naturally, he works with different microclimates and soil types, from limestone to loess.
To best express the differences of his terroirs, but also the purity of his healthy, natural grapes, Preisinger’s winemaking approach is very minimal. He does not use any cultivated yeast but rather depends on the ambient ones that grow in his vineyards and cellar. He doesn’t filter or fine his wines and only uses a very small amount of sulfur or none. At times, this has made it difficult for Preisinger to have his wines approved by the officials and to label them under specific appellations.
He ages many of his wines in amphora rather than wooden barrels, which he views as a conscious step back, a reduction to the essential - the grape and the soil. He also uses partial carbonic maceration to produce Blaufränkisch, which gives this grape vivacity and fruitiness. It is a conscious move to produce wines that are intriguing when young but also have good aging potential.
Over the years, Preisinger gradually expanded his land. Today, he owns around 25 hectares (62 acres) of vineyards. He also leases another 15 hectares (37 acres), which are solely used for production of his entry-level cuvée Puszta Libre. His total production is around 200,000 bottles a year.
Preisinger has obtained several accolades from famous wine publications and is one of the movers and shakers in Burgenland. His wines range from being fun, easy drinking with interesting labels to the more serious wines that require meditation and time. At the forefront of the natural wine movement in Burgenland and Austria, he is always pushing the envelope to make unapologetic wines that best portray himself and his homeland.