Families are the sum of their individuals and their personal experiences
The original article was researched and complied by Peter Moser, editor-in-chief of the Austrian “Falstaff” magazine.
The F.X. Pichler family wine estate is now in its seventh generation. Lucas Franz Pichler (*1973) and his wife Johanna Elisabeth (*1982) currently manage the winery, with Lucas Franz in the role of managing director, wine grower and oenologist, and Johanna Elisabeth being in charge of sales, marketing and export.
Franz Xaver (*1941) and Rudolfine (*1951) Pichler are still actively involved in the family business and can be found working in the vineyards, which they cultivate with dedication and experience.
The family can look back on a long tradition of winemaking. During the middle of the 19th century, the winegrower Franz Pichler II moved his family from the wine-growing village of Rohrendorf near Krems to the Wachau Valley. His grandson Franz Pichler VI later acquired a property in Oberloiben, in commune of Dürnstein, in the year 1898. It was in this very wine cellar in Oberloiben No. 27, that global wine success was written right up until the 2008 vintage.
In the year 1906, Franz Xaver’s (F.X.) father was born into the winemaking family. As a vintner, he studied the quality of vineyards and diligently recorded his observations of the growth and quality of individual grapevines into his notebook. Thus, his selection massale (Massal Selection – the French term for the practice of replanting new vineyards with cuttings), enabled him to identify the most outstanding Grüner Veltliner vines from each vineyard and then propagated new vines from that budwood. He began in 1928 and continued until 1952.
Towards the end of the 1930s, he was also a founding member of the winegrowers’ cooperative (Winzergenossenschaft) in Loiben, which was established to ensure the economic survival of the numerous small winegrowers in the town.
His son Franz Xaver (F.X.) followed into his father’s footsteps as a quality-conscious winemaker from an early age. He graduated from the Krems viticulture college and attended internships and practicals in Germany and Alsace. As the head of the family winery, he began purchasing prime and prized vineyard sites early on, as he was always convinced of the huge potential of his homeland.
Back in the 1980s, F.X. Pichler began to develop his own winemaking style, which on the one hand aimed to draw on the characters of the individual vineyards, and on the other hand aimed for the highest possible physiological ripeness of the grapes. While many winemakers of the time created a more generic style of fresh and light-bodied white wines after the 1985 wine scandal, the F.X. Pichler winery was already bottling much richer and bolder styles of Riesling and Grüner Veltliner wines. It was precisely these expressive Smaragd wines that soon spearheaded the Austrian wine wonder, both at home and abroad. This marked the age of international acclaim for the Dürnsteiner Ried Kellerberg; initially for Riesling and later for the outstanding Grüner Veltliner.
Franz Xaver Pichler is a man of few words. He worked meticulously and rigorously to implement his project of producing the best white wines in the Wachau. The vineyards, which he himself selected and tended to over the years, have grown in number over the years. “When I came home from viticulture school in the 1950s, there were only 0.8 hectares (under 2 acres) of vineyards with the best vines selected by my father. We began to expand”, says F.X. Pichler today. “When I officially took over the wine estate, we had at least three hectares (over seven acres).”
Now in the seventh generation, Lucas Franz carries on with the family tradition as a winemaker and attended the Krems viticulture school between 1988 and 1992. He is grateful to his father, Franz Xaver, for passing down his colossal knowledge and decades of experience and dedication to exceptional wine quality.
Lucas Franz completed an internship at the Müller-Cartoir winery in the Pfalz wine region in autumn/winter 1994. Hans-Günter Schwarz, wine director at the time, became his mentor. This shaped him and brought out his passion for wine. Two years later, Lucas completed a second internship there.
In 1997, Lucas Franz gathered further professional experience from Manfred Tement (Tement family winery) in the Südsteiermark.
Lucas Franz now looks back on over two decades of winemaking at the family winery since the 1999 vintage. At that time, the F.X. Picher estate comprised of around 14 hectares (35 acres) under vine, and now Lucas Franz is responsible for 20 hectares (49 acres) of exceptionally great single-vineyard sites. These are situated within the immediate vicinity of the winery in Loiben and Dürnstein, with a 50/50 share between Grüner Veltliner and Riesling respectively. Small parcels of Gelber Muskateller (yellow muscat) are found on the Loibner Ried Loibenberg and there are also limited bottles of Sauvignon Blanc. Around 35 percent of the vines grow on steeply inclined, bedrock terraces with dry-stone walls, that can only be worked by hand labour. The latter is a Wachau cultural heritage, and its practice goes back many centuries.
Johanna Elisabeth Pichler was born into a family-winery in Rheinhessen, Germany and she learnt the winemaking profession from an early age. Johanna attended the viticulture school in Oppenheim in Rheinhessen between 1999–2002 and then completed her training as a viticulture economist at the Technical College in Bad Kreuznach an der Nahe. She met and fell in love with Lucas Franz Pichler in 2003. Shortly afterwards, Johanna uprooted herself from Rheinhessen to live in the Wachau, where she has been taking care of sales, marketing and export ever since. Johanna Elisabeth & Lucas Franz not only share their profession, they also share a great passion for wine.