If in wine there is truth, there may also be love, as in Susanne Riegelhofer's story. Her viticultural saga began in 1994, when Susanne Riegelhofer, a native of Germany's Palatinate region, pondered what direction her life might take after having graduating from high school. The carpentry apprenticeship she had begun soon proved to be the wrong way to go, so she turned to the local vocational centre for alternatives. After leafing through one catalogue after another, reading job titles, mulling them over, and finally dropping them again, she landed on a degree in viticulture and beverage technology. "The enrolment requirement for this major at the Geisenheim University of Applied Sciences was a one-year internship." So the young woman marched home with her new-found conviction of becoming a winemaker, told her surprised parents, and just days later was already toiling in the vineyards, where she spent her first six weeks pruning the unwanted shoots from grapevine trunks. Looking back, she laughs: "In my whole life, I've never been as tan as I was that year."
"I eventually realised that instead of making a final decision, you just need to give some things in life a try."
"We make our wines drinkable and fun, so you absolutely want to grab a second glass."
This set the stage for admission to Geisenheim University, where she was to be swept off her feet – not only by botany, mathematics, and cellaring – but her now-husband Max. He being a quiet vintner's son from the Austrian Weinviertel, while she was a lively bundle of energy from the Pfalz. Once they both had graduated in 2000, Max headed home to help run his parents' business – Weingut Riegelhofer. But for Susanne, moving to the Weinviertel was not yet in the cards. A three-year period of shuttling back and forth began, until eventually she realised that instead of making a final decision, you just need to give some things in life a try. "I gave my notice, packed my things, drove down to Austria, got married and have been here ever since. I've grown to love the Weinviertel – even if it wasn't love at first sight! It's got such a wonderful charm thanks to its wide-open landscape, its tremendous diversity and its welcoming, warm-hearted people."
A Sustainable Winery
The winery itself has undergone dramatic changes thanks to the efforts of the two winemakers. "Initially, we invested in tractors, machines and cellars, but today we focus on the vineyards, soil health and biodiversity. Although we're not an organic winery at the moment, we do run the farm with a great deal of care." No glyphosate is used at all, and instead of diesel-powered vehicles, electric cars are used to navigate around the vineyards, their power supplied by the roof-mounted photo-voltaic system. What’s more, the Riegelhofer Winery is a proud member of Sustainable Austria, a quality seal for sustainably produced wines. "From the grape harvest to the ageing of the wines to the bottling stage, our entire production process is thoroughly scrutinised to ensure that it contributes to sustainability."
Our Wines are Crisp and Fruity
Weingut Riegelhofer has a reputation for crisp, fruit-forward wines: "They're down-to-earth and authentic. Much like the Weinviertel, after all." A light-bodied classic is the Grüner Veltliner called ‘Saurüssel’. "We make our wines to be drinkable and fun, so you absolutely want to grab a second glass." Yet Susanne makes no secret of the fact that mastering all the different facets of a winemaker's craft can be a bit stressful. "A major issue that we can't fully prepare for is the impact of climate change. Just how long will the varieties we grow be viable?" It's a question that remains unanswered.
New Creations from Fertile Soil
But that doesn't discourage anyone at Riegelhofer Winery, not Susanne, Max, or their three children. Ideas are sprouting here just as vigorously as grapevine shoots. For instance, they have been experimenting with vegan wines since 2020, replacing gelatine additives with pea proteins. "As a winemaker, you're a cellar master, grape farmer and salesperson all rolled into one. For me, creating new wines is a great passion. But it's important that we truly enjoy every new creation, and aren’t just rolling it out it for the hipness factor." It's this authenticity, along with a connection to the soil, that's crucial at Weingut Riegelhofer. As well as the faith that they will be able to harvest fine crops from this fertile soil for many years to come.