Women of Wine Series, Part 2: Austria’s Heidi Schrock

Heidi Shrock
The affable Heidi Schrock in her tasting room.

When my husband and I arrived in the small town of Rust on the western shore of Lake Neusiedl in sunny southeastern Austria, we felt we were stepping into the past. With ancient-looking but well-maintained family homes with large wooden “garage” doors that were once used to allow animal-drawn carts into interior courtyards, and the large storks’ nests atop most of the buildings, the town looks much like it must have looked 600 years ago, which is about how long winemaker Heidi Schrock’s family has lived here.

Schrock, who resides in her pristine ancestral village home, has converted parts of it into a winery. The room that once housed cattle now holds wine fermenting in stainless steel tanks. Her tasting room was once a grain room. And her cellar, which once had a working well and provided safety during less stable times, is now a wine cellar holding large oak casks of the wine she lovingly makes. The place, like Shrock herself, is eclectic and inviting.

Heidi Schrock and Theresa Nozick in vineyard
Schrock’s vineyards are on the hill overlooking Rust.

Schrock welcomed us into her home/winery this past July and quickly whisked us off in her broken-in van to the plots of vines that have been in her family for generations. Just outside the downtown of Rust, the vines are meticulously kept, and in July — even though there was a major heat wave in Europe — looked healthy and robust. We found out later that day that Rust is susceptible — in a good way — to impromptu cloud bursts that provide adequate water to the vines.

Heidi Schrock in tank room
Tanks now sit where cattle were once housed.

Schrock grows several varieties, many of which we don’t see much of in the US or know by different names. Whites include Welschriesling (no relation to Riesling), Weissburgunder (known as Pinot Blanc), Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris), Furmint, and Gelber Muskateller (Muscat Blanc); and reds Blaufrankish (Lemberger), St. Laurent, and Zweigelt (a cross of Blaufrankisch and St. Laurent). In the mix are two more recognizable international varieties, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. She makes wines ranging from bone dry to the sweetest possible (known as Ruster Ausbruch, more on this below).

Heidi Schrok and Theresa Nozick in barrel room
600-year-old barrel room

Shrock makes more Pinot Blanc, or Weissburgunder, than any other varietal, but refers to Welschriesling as “my dear friend,” as it has never disappointed her, even if the vintage is not great. She feels her Pinot Gris, or Grauburgunder, vintage 2009, was her most beautiful ever made, reminding her of Burgundy whites. Her “Biscaya” rose is made of eight different varieties, and was created by her Texas-born assistant and named for its lobster bisque-like color.

As of the end of 2014, Shrock has a new project, where she has special labels on her sweet wines indicating what they can be paired with. In the photo below, the “Beerenauslese” on the left is a pairing for fish, ham, and cheese, and the “Ruster Ausbruch” on the right (vintage 2002) pairs well with fruits such as bananas, as well as nuts and blue-veined cheeses. I brought these two gems home with me.

Schrock sweet wine bottles
Weingut Schrock sweet wines.

A bit about Ruster Ausbruch. Ausbruch is a sweet wine of Rust that is similar in style to the sweet wines of Hungary, known as Tokaji (more on them in my next post). Both areas use the Furmint grape, and to some degree “botrytized,” or noble-rotted, grapes that concentrate the sugars in a manner that is deliciously sweet but with enough acid to be refreshing. Schrock and many other winemakers in Rust formed the Ruster Ausbruch group in lieu of joining the DAC, or Districtus Austriae Controllatus, system, which determines the quality level of wines throughout the country (in Rust’s case, the Burgunland DAC). They believed, and rightly so, that their wines were distinct and reflective of the area of Rust where they were grown and produced and should therefore have their own quality system.

The kinship with Tokaj, Hungary, became apparent to us when Shrock asked us which vineyards we were planning to visit there, which was our next stop on the summer tour. When I mentioned one of the larger producers, she immediately called her friend Judit Bodo in Tokaj and arranged to have us meet with her the very next day. And we were so glad she did, as that turned out to be a memorable visit with another fabulous woman winemaker. And displaying the camaraderie that seems to exist in just about any winemaking community, Shrock had us deliver a bottle of her lovely sweet wine to Bodo. More on our visit to Hungary in my next post.

Until next time, Prost!

For more on Heidi Shrock visit www.heidi-schroeck.com/en_index.php. Some of Shrock’s wines are also available at The Wine House (www.winehouse.com) in West Los Angeles. You can also check www.wine-searcher.com for retail outlets near you.

Read Part 1 of my Women of Wine series.