Post privatisation and in the days of outsourcing, when it is no longer in fashion for governments or local councils to own companies, it is rather unusual for a municipality to own a company not contributing directly to the running of the town, and presumably a vineyard does not fulfil that function. The city of Krems, on the banks of the Danube in Austria, bucks that trend however and owns its very own winery with 30ha of vineyards, which all lie within the city walls. In fact, until 1744, the press and maturation cellars were housed in the town hall itself.
Weingut Stadt Krems, still 100% owned by the city, owes its existence to the generosity of two mediaeval men – Duke Leopold IV of Babenberg and Ulrich von Dachsberg. The former founded a public hospital, Bürgerspitalstiftung, in 1210 and left it some vineyards, the latter bequeathed it some vineyards in 1452. Thus began the 560 year history of the winery.
In 1915, the town acquired a wine cellar in an interesting spot, the town moat, where the grapes have been pressed ever since. The winery still occupies historic buildings, in itself problematic, given that where the building dates back to the 11th century, it is difficult or forbidden to make necessary changes. However, on 28 July 2010, they were in luck, although they probably didn’t think so at the time, when part of the cellar collapsed due to the heavy rain; apparently, there was over 120 litres of water in the building. This enabled them to carry out necessary renovations and extensions.
Over the last ten years, they have made 5.5 million euros worth of investment including 2 presses, now pushed to keep up with the rapidly expanding production of the winery – pressing the grapes is therefore a slow process, and the winemaking team end up working 12-18 hours a day at harvest time. They are planning to buy two more with even greater capacity.
You may imagine winemaking as a romantic job, in a picturesque, historic cellar, surrounded by barrels. The reality is somewhat different. You are surrounded by stainless steel tanks, necessary to preserve the fresh and fruity style of the Grüner Veltliner and Riesling. Cleanliness is all in a winery, so the team actually spends 50% of its time in the cellar cleaning.
The Grüner Veltliner vines spend their time in a more picturesque location, at the top of a high hill, watching over the valley, just like the watchmen of the past did, to warn the citizens of approaching enemies. The Erste Lage site’s name is ‘Kremser Wachtberg’, roughly translated as ‘Krems Lookout Mountain’.