The Austrian wine community is mourning the loss of two of its greatest winemakers, both pioneers in their respective regions and champions of Austria’s rise on the world wine stage.
Alois Kracher, the sweet-wine pioneer from Illmitz, Burgenland, died on December 5 at the age of 48 from complications due to cancer. His death came unexpectedly following a brief illness, yet characteristically he retained his jocular sense of humour to the end.
Just three days before, Eric Salomon, the proponent of dry white wines in Austria who perpetuated the vanguard work of his father Fritz Salomon at the venerable Salomon Undhof in Krems-Stein, died on December 2 at 64. Salomon had battled cancer for the previous five years, facing the last few months with admirable courage.
While their personalities were different, the two shared three unforgettable traits – a fine sense of humour, genuine modesty and a rare ability to make any person feel at home.
Alois Kracher or ‘Luis’ as he was known, was a true eccentric, in the vein of Spike Milligan, and rarely would a sentence come from him that was not loaded with innuendos of humour or satire. He always said, “People are far too serious”. Eric Salomon may have been relatively reserved compared to Alois Kracher however, that did not delimit his quick wit and ever-present jovial nature.
Neither would speak of their wines voluntarily. Even when on the campaign trail, they would first talk of Austria, then the accolades of their region and praise their winemaking colleagues, before modestly speaking of their own product. This only comes from success and they were both leaders.
Eric Salomon loved his vineyards more than anything and steered one of the most progressive and quality-driven wineries in Austria today, making Gruner Veltiners of stunning purity and elegance as well as perfumed, dry Rieslings that are sublimely expressive in mineral complexities with finely balanced acidity.
Alois Kracher redefined the boundaries of dessert wine not only in Austria, but throughout the winemaking world. His intense yet elegant Trockenbeerenaulese sweet wines are divided between ‘Zwischen den Seen’ which evolve in large casks and respect tradition and the barrique-fermented and aged ‘Nouvelle Vague’, a synthesis of everything Kracher had absorbed from the wine world.
Kracher worked with indigenous varieties such as Welschriesling, Muskat Ottonel and Scheurebe regardless of fashion, for both sweet and dry wines, creating his own the vogue with everything he touched.
The final trait goes beyond the realm of success and talent and embodies the greatest attribute a person can have, the natural, unqualified ability to make newcomers feel welcome within their sphere, instantly imparting a genuine sense of belonging and friendliness. For my part, I was lucky that the very first people I met in my initial visits to Austria during the late 1990s were Alois Kracher and Eric and Bertold Salomon. They welcomed me in to their extended family, subsequently representing their wine for many years in Australia.
I also discovered the cohesiveness within the Austrian wine industry, a strong sense of camaraderie and nationalism, propelled by the genuine hospitality and professionalism of The Austrian Wine Marketing Board and partisans such as Kracher and Salomon.
The eulogies are befittingly overflowing and I have noticed the citation “… irreplaceable visionary” several times. Yet in reality both these magnanimous men had already passed on their vision to the next generation, ensuring the perpetuity of what they had inherited and enhanced.
Alois Kracher’s son Gerhard, most definitely a chip off the old block, was already deeply involved in the winemaking. And not forgetting Kracher’s charming and adroit wife, Michaela, whom we all know is the mainstay – “behind every strong man…” Eric Salomon had already passed over the reins to his equally affable and accomplished younger brother Bertold and his wife Gertrud with their twin son and daughter already at Krems University studying winemaking and business, Eric is assured of his vision enduring.
Both will be greatly missed by the winemaking fraternity and devotees around the world and should be remembered by raising a glass of Salomon Undhof Kogl Riesling and Kracher Welschriesling TBA No 8.
In closing, I cannot help thinking that Luis Kracher would appreciate Spike Milligan’s request for his headstone, “I told you I was ill.”
For Eric Salomon, “The longer you live and the more you learn, the more clearly you will feel the difference between the few men who are truly great and the mere virtuosi” Gustav Mahler.
Curtis Marsh - Wine writer & friend