Like many glamorous-on-the-surface industries, the part of the wine business that makes people the most envious is also the most exhausting: traveling to beautiful places and tasting wine. And I’m very aware that complaining about the kind of, “let’s trot you around a beautiful wine region so you’ll buy more of our shit” trips you get to go on as a wine professional makes me sound like a total jerk. But by day 3 or 4 or so of long tastings in damp, cold barrel rooms and multi-course meals, most people are dying for a salad and an early bedtime.
So on day 4 of a recent trip to Austria that amounted to a Gruner-Veltliner-soaked adult field trip (complete with a bus!), when we pulled up to Paul Direder’s winery in Wagram, I thought to myself, Good Christ. It’s already dusk and we’ve just gotten here. Why am I not in my pajamas watching nail art tutorials on YouTube already?
My crankiness subsided when we were greeted by the whole family: Paul, his mom, his girlfriend Ramona, and their baby daughter. Paul and Ramona were in traditional dirndls and lederhosen, and they led us to what looked like a little family restaurant right next to the tank room in the winery, with its dark wood paneling and cozy vibe.
The wine started flowing immediately. Paul Direder specializes in liter bottles of fresh, delicious Austrian classics. There’s an utterly correct and crisp Gruner Veltliner and a lean and racy Riesling. The Zweigelt tastes of cranberries and just-ripe cherries, and the Zweigelt rosé has that sweet-tart tang that makes it a refreshing change from the super-pale Provencal roses that may as well come out of the faucets in most restaurants come May.
There’s also a fabulous lightly sparkling rosé of Zweigelt that’s just a touch sweet and way too easy to drink, and an aromatic and pineapple-y Muller-Thurgau that both come in regular 750s. I miss having that extra glass per bottle if I’m being honest.
Instead of the elaborate meals wineries often serve at these types of tastings, Paul’s family did the opposite, and it was a genius move. We were presented with a huge table full of charcuterie, pickles, cheeses, spreads, and baskets of bread (a traditional Austrial spread called brettljause), and that was dinner. When we were all a little buzzed off Gruner and Zweigelt, Ramona, Paul’s sweet-as-pie girlfriend, ripped open giant bags of Manner wafers and passed them around for dessert. It was perfect, and it fit perfectly with Paul’s wines. I ate approximately 458 Manner wafers and I can say they’re a surprisingly good pairing with juicy, young Zweigelt.
Paul Direder (with the help of his mom) leased his grandfather’s 86-acre farm (with just 10 acres devoted to vineyards) when he was just 16 years old, and has been running a farm that grows more traditional agricultural products in addition to making wine ever since, expanding it 5 times in the last 10 years. While he’s firmly in his twenties now, on his first trip to the US to promote his wines, he wasn’t even old enough to pour them legally!
Someone kept topping up my glass out of nowhere. More Zweigelt? Sure! For a winery that only markets a handful wines to the US (so, not a lot to taste through), we were all pretty toasted. That daydream of an early night was out the window and I couldn’t have been happier about it.
Wine culture, especially in the US, is really focused on status, whether that be in the form of expense-account Cabernets or unicorn wines that get reposted all over Instagram. Nothing is wrong with either of these kinds of wine (especially if someone else is paying!), but in all this hype, what I often find missing is appreciation for wines that are great at being good.
There’s just something really cool about a guy who wants to be a farmer and make some great, crushable, everyday wine. If he decides to delve into different styles or grape varieties, I’m sure they’ll be fantastic, but for now I’m thrilled to drink his fizzy Zweigelt and liter bottles of Riesling and Gruner Veltliner. Making affordable, well balanced everday wine isn’t as glamorous as making cult Cabernet or obscure grower Champagne, but it’s a noble pursuit, and one that makes our daily lives just a little bit better. Thanks to Paul Direder and his lovely family for the most fun wine tasting I’ve ever experienced, and for all the picnics, parties, and trips to the movies (you can sneak anything into the theater if your purse is big enough) his delicious wines have accompanied.