Pfneisl’s Black Box

Award-winning Winery in an Architectural Event Offers a Taste of “Where the Magic Happens”

Winery in Klein Mutschen

This arresting design by Dietmar Gasser housing the winery in Klein Mutschen | Photo: A. Valjak

The villages near the Therme Lutzmannsburg in Burgenland were completely empty. I suppose it was because the summer sun was trying its best to impress, and the villagers were smart enough to stay inside their masonry houses.

Ana and I were on the road – like a concrete tongue that never ends, it stretched out across the countryside and through the middle of the villages. It took us one hour from Vienna to get to the new Pfneisl winery, a stark, modernist complex that had won this year’s Burgenland regional architectural award (Architektur Raumburgenland). Attracted by the sketches at an exhibition at the Museumsquartier, we wanted to see the complex for ourselves and test Pfneisl’s Pentagon wines that we knew were prized by wine lovers.

Finally we saw the sign for the village of Klein Mutschen, which was our destination. We turned left into a thick forest, following a winding road under an archway of tangled oak branches leading to the Pfneisl wine yard. It was a blessing to drive through a shadowed alley.

But it doesn’t last long, and we emerged into a clearing of perfectly trimmed vines coming down the hillside in perfectly arranged row on row, and already a dark green that augured a rich harvest. I could almost taste the wine on my tongue.

And suddenly, there it was, a black cube in between the luscious fields of vines. It was both the clear form language and the powerful atmospheric impact that convinced the Jury of the Architektur Raumburgenland, I remembered from the brochure it used very simple materials and conventional color schemes. It was easy to understand. The building is stunning, like a black bunker hiding a rich cache of some great treasure. And to the side of the entrance there is a large window from ground to roof, with the words “Born to make wine” in tall white letters on the glass. As we entered the building, Ana took a big breath.

“It is going to be really hot inside,” she worried. “The building is completely black.” But somehow it wasn’t. That’s good design.

Inside, owner Gerhard Pfneisl was expecting us and offered us a seat at a sleek dark wood table where we would sample the wine. A complete wine list sat in front of us, from the cheapest to most expensive – the incredible Hexenberg wine.

While he was opening the first bottle, I looked around: the space is unbroken, with no partitions except the black outside walls. At just one glance you can take in the entire vast interior, with storage for over 2,000 barrels. Was there a reason for the black cube?

“The core of the building is made out of concrete, but the outside is covered with the same black wood that we use for our barrels, were the magic happens,” said Pfneisl. “The idea was simple; it should just reflect what we are working with.”

The first wine was called White Pepper, a very sweet white wine from Semillon and Viognier grapes from the Barsac and Cadillac regions of France; it is sharpened with white pepper grown next to the vines. I took a careful sip of the wine, swirled it around on my tongue, feeling the pleasing bite of the pepper, and spit it out. Ana, I noticed, didn’t bother to spit any of it out. I could see that I would be driving home.

Pfneisl poured another wine into the glasses. This time we got one of our favorites: The Blaufränkisch Platinum, with a mature blackberry aroma, strong and concentrated. It feels very dense on the palate, fruity and with a seemingly endless silky tannin outflow. Pfneisl nods in acknowledgment of our appreciation, one he clearly shares as the third son to go into winemaking.

“We call ourselves the Shiraz brothers,” he joked. The vineyard has been in the hands of the Pfneisl family since the 19th century and each of the brothers has a different role in the business. Gerhard is responsible for the development of the cellar, Josef takes care of the marketing and Franz ensures the vineyard thrives and prospers.

Our host now brought the last and most exquisite wine on the list. The red cuvee “Hexenberg,” Witch Mountain, of grapes ripened in a loamy soil of the Hexenberg hill with its gravel overlay. This remarkable wine has a flavor of cold peppermint and strong tannin. The tangy suggestion of several fruits slide of the tongue and the final outflow is extraordinary, recommended with strong flavors like wild, beef or lamb because it’s a heavy and sweet wine.

After going through nine different wines, we decided it is time to leave this magical place, as we were already a bit tipsy, especially Ana who had swallowed all the samples rather than spitting them out into the cup as is customary – and essential if one is to survive one of these things.

And as we well knew, it would take another hour to get back home.

Of course we couldn’t leave without buying any wine and decided to take a box of wonderful red wine called Pentagon, sweet and thick. The top cuvee got its name because it contains five different types of grapes. It’s a mixture of a Blaufränkisch, Merlot, Shiraz and Pinot Noir and gives flavors of nougat and dried fruits. The carton – like the winery – was sleek and black, and this time where knew for sure what treasure it held inside. And as we headed back to Vienna, a last glance back at the dramatic building brought me once again to the motto “Born to make wine.”

Ana looked at me and gave me a nod. And a slightly crooked smile.

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