Barren soils bring lustre to the wines
The place-name ‘Sausal’ enjoys a long tradition; in fact, the most venerable legacy in the Steiermark. The Sausal belonged to the archbishopric of Salzburg from the early 12th century, administered from Seggau Castle, at a time when viticulture had already developed. Numerous vineyards were documented by name as early as 1322. More detailed information about the sites’ dimensions and the individual sites were provided by the ‘seckauische Weihnzehentregister’, the 1406 tithe register for wine. Several vineyard designations – famous ones such as Brudersegg or Edelschuh – can be found in documents dating from these times. With the introduction of the new Austrian wine law at the end of the preceding century the Sausal was never mentioned when speaking of the wine region Südsteiermark. This has definitely changed within recent years. In the present day, when the diversity and peculiarities of individual areas of origin are promoted, the name ‘Sausal’ is often stressed once more. And nowadays the Sausal is registered as a Grosslage, a collective vineyard site.
Slate and Limestone
It is generally agreed that ‘terroir’ involves the interplay of soil, microclimate and the winegrower’s personal signature. The overwhelming significance of soils is undisputed. With slate, it is certain that its influence is more noticeable than with any other soil except perhaps limestone. Both types are found in the Sausal. Some 85% of the vines grow on slate, the rest on limestone around the Flamberg. Climatically the Sausal lies between the poles of cold Alpine influence to the north and the warm breezes from the south. Precipitation ranges between 900–1000 millimetres annually, 200–300 mm more than in Klöch, the warmest part of Vulkanland. Slate soils cope well with high amounts of rain, draining very quickly. There is no risk of saturation, as with clay soils. On the other hand, winegrowers face difficulties during extended dry phases. For this reason, many excellent and mineral-driven wines are bottled in years characterised by more precipitation.
When hearing the word ‘slate’, wine lovers immediately think of Wachau or Mosel. What these areas share is a steep topography to their vineyards, posing a great challenge to cultivation, and vineyards in the Sausal are among the steepest in the Steiermark. Thus another particularity has developed in the Sausal: terraced vineyards, which are not found anywhere else in the Steiermark. Thanks to these terraces, viticulture remains possible on the steep hillsides.
Beside the slate soils, the Sausal is also known for the highest-lying vineyards, rising to nearly 700 metres, with the Demmerkogl being the highest (671 m). Kitzeck, which lies in the southern part of the Sausal at 564 metres, is the highest winegrowing town in Europe.
It is generally cooler in the Sausal. This results in differences in the vegetation cycle of almost fourteen days, with a corresponding coolness in the wines, which take longer to unfold their flavours. With Sauvignon Blanc, for example, those growing on slate are higher in acidity, whereas those grown on Leitha limestone on the Flamberg are warmer and softer. Sauvignons growing on limestone usually have fewer grassy notes or bell pepper aromas – more often the scent of currants – whereas slate soils yield gooseberry aromas. Generally speaking, wines growing on slate soils unfold a greater minerality on the palate, and can frequently express themselves in a more refined way. This certainly corresponds to the current fashion, but has always delighted connoisseurs.
Because of the slate soils here it is no surprise that one variety has enjoyed a longstanding tradition in the Sausal: Riesling, rarely grown elsewhere in the Steiermark. But despite its perfect synergy with soil, Riesling does not figure among the most important varieties in the Sausal. These are Sauvignon Blanc, Welschriesling and Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc). Muskateller – quite popular elsewhere in the region – is not often found in the Sausal. Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) has been cultivated here for many years; it flourishes on both slate and limestone soils. Grauburgunder grown on higher-elevated sites in slate does not become as opulent as Grauburgunder from chalky soils, but rather shows more finesse. Naturally, potential sugar also plays a part, because the gradation decreases with an increase in elevation, although sugar ripeness should never be confused with physiologic maturity.
Close proximity to Graz provides a raison d‘être for the great number of Buschenschänken in the Sausal. Urban dwellers are naturally drawn to the countryside in their free time. With the wine region being practically at their doorstep, weekenders want to enjoy a good glass of something fine. Numerous winegrowers have become sensitive to their visitors’ wishes and pamper them at their Buschenschänken with local culinary delicacies and their house wines. The competition is intense, and the general quality of the fare has become correspondingly good.