03 October 2012

Swinging Sisters

Written by Published in Eco Travel

From a traditional wine-making family in Austria, Birgit Pfneisz, 26 and her sister, Katrin, 22 broke the mould and located their own venture across the border in Hungary. Shaking off convention, they released their combined talents: Birgit as a vintner and Katrin as a businesswoman. The result: a whole new approach to wine making

That Pneiszl wines are unusual is clear right from the vintage names. Each portrays unique events that occurred in the vineyard that year. 2006’s vintage, Wild Thing, conveys the start of working organically – wild and natural. Laughing, Birgit remembers: ‘It literally made my heart sing too, so in the words of Jimmy Hendrix, the wine became Wild Thing. Smoke on the Lake from 2008 conjures up a feeling of the environment the wine was grown in, with constant warm rain creating a mystical mist on the nearby lake.’

The sisters grew up in their father’s vineyards in Austria, close to the Hungarian border. This was their playground. Birgit recalled: ‘As a really young child I loved to help on my father’s estate, living what seemed like a fairytale childhood.’ Later on, when helping became compulsory and teenage rebellion kicked in, the magic wore off. ‘I told my parents there was no way I wanted to become a winemaker.’

Pfneiszl family picnic on the lake

Not giving up so easily, they tempted Birgit with wine school’s many choices combining travel and education. Their plan worked and after a period of intense education came internships in California, New Zealand, Australia, Chile, Italy and Austria. ‘The most important thing I learnt’, said Birgit, ‘was that I did not want to work for anybody but myself.’ She wanted to create her own style and knew that in the very established and conservative Austrian market that would be an uphill struggle.

The sisters’ vineyard occupies 13 hectares, sloping down towards a lake. Their yearly production is around 70,000 bottles, in a good year 80,000. Nature doesn’t always co-operate however. In 2009 hail damaged 70% of their grapes and they were powerless to prevent it. As Birgit said: ‘You work hard but then something happens and all you can do is watch. That is tough.’


Wine in vineyard still shot

Balint Takacs, owner of Hungarian Wine House described the sisters: ‘Their passion, knowledge, attitude and vision of life have helped to create new ideas and products which are not only new to Hungary but probably the whole wine world.’ An example of this is the Wide World(Távoli Világ) wine. Balint said: ‘This red wine made from 5 grape varieties none of which are Hungarian: Shiraz, Carmenére, Malbec, Zinfandel and Sangiovese.’ Truly a global wine.

Pfneizsl wines and many other Hungarian vintages are available through Hungarian Wine House who recently won the Eastern Europe Specialist Wine Merchant of the year title, awarded by the International Wine Challenge.



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