The Südsteiermark is synonymous with fresh, aromatic white wines, particularly Sauvignon Blanc. On 2,563 hectares of planted vineyards, there is plenty of room however, so a wealth of other varieties, from Welschriesling to Morillon (Chardonnay) and Gelber Muskateller to Traminer. The viticulture here is amongst Europe's finest, with its charming scenery, yet it also includes some of the hardest and most challenging terrain, because most of the vineyards are planted on extremely steep inclines.
The soil structures in the Südsteiermark are as diverse as the grape varieties, ranging from sandstone and slate, to marl and limestone. The warm and humid Mediterranean climate results in a long and drawn out growing period for the vines, with cool nights that help to encourage the development of fine aromatic elements in these distinct and delicately fresh wines. The varied styles of wines allow producers to demonstrate their versatility, and range from light-bodied, fruit-driven 'Junker' young wines, the first wine of the new vintage, to the aromatic 'Klassik' wines, that show true varietal character, and finally the very-ripe, rich and opulent 'Lagen' or reserve style of wines, that usually come from special allocations in single vineyard sites.
Sauvignon Blanc in particular, has achieved consistently high marks in recent years, and today, the Südsteiermark's signature variety enjoys critical acclaim through the world. The best producers want to keep it this way, and many are open-minded, exchanging knowledge and techniques, making a point of regularly visiting other international wine-growing regions, or taking work experience placements at wineries all over the world. The modern viticulture and oenology school in Silberberg strives to prepare learning winemakers for their chosen professions with all the right qualifications, from theory-based courses, practical skills and experience.
The Südsteiermark is worth a visit in all seasons, yet particularly during the autumn months, with a gentle drive on the signposted wine roads, either along the Styrian-Slovenian border, or up towards the Sausal region, west of the main town of Leibnitz. The traditional, idyllic towns of Ehrenhausen, Gamlitz, Leutschach and Kitzeck are worth a visit, as are the single-vineyard sites of some region's best wines, such as Czamillonberg, Grassnitzberg, Kittenberg, Nussberg, Obegg, Sernauberg, Kranachberg or Zieregg.
Some of these great wines may be found on international wine lists from top restaurants around the world, yet they are all available in the local restaurants. The Archduke Johann of Austria, who originally pioneered and actively promoted viticulture in the region, was well ahead of his time with his European, forward thinking vision, and he have would been certainly be proud of 'his' wine producers today.