Winemaker of the Year: The Power Couple Ebner-Ebenauer
Modern and sophisticated, but deeply rooted in the Poysdorf terroir: Marion and Manfred Ebner-Ebenauer.
© Rafaela Proell
The vineyards of the Ebner-Ebenauer estate are distributed in a star shape around Poysdorf, a wide range of different terroirs offers the diverse varieties an exact and fitting home. The winemaking couple have vines of above-average age, a factor that contributes significantly to the complexity of their wines. The family cultivates an area of 20 hectares in Poysdorf and in the neighbouring villages of Ketzelsdorf, Kleinhadersdorf and Wilhelmsdorf. A total of 38 vineyards are cultivated, with grapes from each parcel being vinified separately. Manfred Ebenauer relies on spontaneous fermentation and gives his wines plenty of time and rest. One hundred wooden barrels and 70 stainless steel tanks are at his disposal in the three-storey, 400-year-old winery. Here, there are no pumps or technical gadgets. His top quality grapes are all harvested by hand, and so the wines are given all the time they need to develop to their full potential.
From marketing to marriage
Originally, Manfred Ebenauer had not planned to become a winemaker and had no desire to take over his parents' business. When he graduated from high school, the young man was absolutely sure that he would never end up in the cellar. He studied marketing and, as a free spirit, wanted to enrich an advertising agency with his creativity. Things were to turn out differently. "Unfortunately, the university lectures were more and more about things I didn't really want to have anything to do with. During the lecture on Personnel, Leadership and Organisation I walked out and went home. There I explained to my parents that I wanted to take over the business and would stay at home from now on. They were surprised then and I think they still are today."
His father took over his training as a winemaker. "He was a good teacher and is a fantastic winemaker, his approach was never rational or efficient, but was always characterised by a love for the activity and the wine, there was no time for internships." For this, Manfred read every wine book he could get his hands on and made numerous wine trips to leading wineries in Bordeaux and Tuscany. He studied Wine Management in Krems for two years and soon only had eyes for a fellow student from Vienna. Fate set his course. At the age of 27, he and his wife Marion took over the winery, which would henceforth be called Ebner-Ebenauer. "It was probably the biggest surprise in my life that Marion gave up her steep career at Wein & Co. She came like a whirlwind over Poysdorf, the winery and me, and had, probably as she had so many times before, a concrete vision of how everything was going to be before I had the faintest idea."
Hooked on wine
Marion, who was born in Vienna, wanted to turn her passion for horses into a profession and attended the viticulture school in Gumpoldskirchen, because it also offered training as an equine trainer. After one year, however, she was so hooked on wine that she decided to switch to viticulture. At the tender age of 16, she began her twelve-month compulsory internship at the Wieninger winery in Stammersdorf. "This is where the fire for wine finally ignited and I knew I wanted to make wine myself one day. As a young person, I felt for the first time that I had found my place," Marion Ebner-Ebenauer says. She was not only inspired by winemaker Fritz Wieninger, but also his mother, who re-set Marion's pace in life with her motto, "Right is the gas!" which still influences her today. At the age of 19, she also tackled Wine Management in Krems and, in addition to learning all kinds of interesting things, it was here she met her future husband. But he had to wait for the time being, as Marion also worked as bar manager at the new Wein & Co flagship store on Stephansplatz. Meanwhile, she founded her own wine label and bottled her first wines as a négociant under the name 'Melusine'. In the following years, she bought basic wines from renowned producers and begins to blend, mature and distribute them herself. At the same time, she began training as a wine academic in Rust. At the age of 22, she went to Los Angeles for six months as a sommelier and worked for Wolfgang Puck at Spago in Beverly Hills. This was followed by a year as marketing manager at a winery in Burgenland, Austria. "I learned a lot there, especially how I never want to do it and never will!" She returned to Wein & Co to manage the gastronomy area. Now she had responsibility for five branches in three provinces and managed around 100 employees. At the age of 26 the wedding bells tolled and soon after Marion Ebner and Manfred Ebenauer took over his family business in Poysdorf, and the winery became Ebner-Ebenauer. Since then, they've extended their vineyard holdings from seven to their desired size of 20 hectares and in 2016 they converted to organic farming. Today, the winery produces around 80,000 bottles a year and exports 70% of its production to 22 countries worldwide.
Their range of wines is dominated by Grüner Veltliner, as it should be in the Weinviertel, which is vinified in numerous ways. From the Weinviertel DAC to the local wine of Poysdorf, there is a range of site wines from Hermanschachern, Ried Bürsting and Ried Sauberg to the Alte Reben (Old Vines) and the prestige line 'Black Edition' made from the best grapes of the top Poysdorf site Ried Maxendorf. In addition to Grüner they also make Riesling and Riesling Alte Reben, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc Alte Reben. There is also a 'Black Edition' Chardonnay.
The magic of old vines
Only when their vines have reached 30 years old are they designated as single-vineyard wines at the Ebner-Ebenauer winery. If it bears the additional designation Alte Reben (Old Vines), then the grapes comes from vineyards that are over 50 years old; the oldest of these gnarled vines are 70 years old. "Every single vine tells a story, and the most interesting ones are told by the old vines," Marion Ebner-Ebenauer declares.
The rosé wine Rosa Kalk and the red wines Pinot Noir and Pinot Noir 'Black Edition' as well as Zweigelt and St. Laurent, both made from old vines, round off the range. And because Poysdorf is considered the Austrian equivalent of Reims in Champagne, sparkling wine is not to be forgotten. Pressed from Chardonnay and matured on the lees for at least seven years, their Blanc de Blancs Zero Dosage has long been one of the leading lights in this sector within the wider Alpine area. Following the most famous French models, the base wine is aged for two years in wooden barrels before it is allowed to develop its silky mousseux in bottle. Unfortunately, demand for this jewel exceeds supply many times over; only about 2,000 bottles of the 2015 Great Reserve will be available (be quick, reserve now), and about 1,000 bottles of Blanc de Noirs will join them. "Actually, we created the Blanc de Blancs for ourselves," says the self-confessed Krug lover Marion Ebner-Ebenauer, "from the first vintage in 2006, we drank half of it ourselves, right away."
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