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The Prager estate has risen in stature over the past 25 years to become a giant of Austria’s Wachau. And that rise has been in perfect parallel to the developing genius of winemaker Toni Bodenstein.
Since becoming director of Prager in the early 1990s, Bodenstein’s relentless search for pure terroir expression has placed this long-revered estate among the world’s greatest sources of dry Riesling, and arguably the greatest for Grüner.
At the time Toni took charge, Prager had been recognized for centuries as one of the Wachau’s elite domaines. This was enhanced by Franz Prager’s leadership in establishing Vinea Wachau in 1983, the organization dedicated to protecting the character and quality of the region’s wines.
Toni brought not only high intelligence and winemaking aspiration to Prager, but backgrounds in geology, biology and history as well. Bodenstein’s analyses of the effects of soil and exposure across the Wachau enabled him not only to make the most of the domaine’s historic vineyards, but also to acquire promising new sites.
The Prager estate was founded in 1715 at Weissenkirchen, in the heart of the Wachau’s dramatically steep, south-facing terraced slope, an area renowned for the striking minerality of its wines.
The estate’s holdings are clustered at the top of the slope above the village. They are planted exclusively to the Wachau’s two noble varieties, Riesling and Grüner Veltliner, fashioned only as Federspiel and Smaragd, the Wachau’s two highest quality classifications.
Here, the cooler temperatures and exposures, due to their high-altitude—ranging from 200-to-350 meters in height—produces wines of kaleidoscopic nuance and finely-structured elegance to match their concentration and richness.
Prager’s collection includes such storied sites as the crystalline Achleiten—already famous in the 12th century—and the extremely steep Klaus, with its metamorphic soil. Despite their adjacent locations, and equally ancient vines, the wines from them are strikingly different: Klaus’ rich, structured Riesling a contrast to the chiseled, stony Grüner and Riesling from Achleiten.
Steinriegl’s perfumed, elegantly-textured Rieslings, from limestone soil and a particularly cool microclimate provides yet another expression, completing the trifecta of great wines for which Prager has been historically revered.
For many growers, being the steward of these three great vineyards would be enough. But the perpetually curious, highly-educated Bodenstein’s interest in history and science prompted him to expand the Prager holdings, with a keen interest in preserving the Wachau’s legacy.
In 1997, this led Toni to replant an even higher-altitude terroir, previously thought only capable of ripening Müller-Thurgau, with a wide array of historic Riesling clones as a way of preserving the Wachau’s genetic diversity.
Yet, while this began as a nursery project, the site—named Riesling Wachstum Bodenstein—has proven to produce Riesling as profound as Prager’s historic vineyards, an ethereally elegant counterpart to their more structured characters.
And its sister vineyard—Grüner Veltliner Wachstum Bodenstein—is the result of Toni’s clearing and replanting an abandoned section of Achleiten with 120 different ancient Grüner clones. Bodenstein’s embrace of the past didn’t end there—he planted them in the ancient Stokkultur method, with the vine trained up a single post, as was traditional before the 1950s.
While also a genetic diversity experiment it has, like its Riesling counterpart, taken its place among Prager’s most sought-after wines. Bodenstein also began separately vinifying the fruit from his oldest Achleiten Grüner vines for his Stokkultur Smaragd bottling.
As in the similarly steep Côte Rôtie, this post-training of vines is the only way to do so on the uneven terraces of the Wachau’s most vertiginous sites. From vines planted in 1938 in a particularly rugged terroir, Achleiten Stokkultur is a marvel of powerful depth and complexity.
All of the wines are made in the same way—direct whole-cluster pressed to stainless steel tank, lengthy one-to-two month fermentations and up to nine months aging, also in tank—with the differences of terroir and clonal diversity expressed with stunning purity.
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