Tag Archives: Austria

Winemaker Profile: Johann Donabaum

“Great wine is unique. It is as distinctive as the territory and the soil it is growing in and as inimitable as a signature.” Johann Donabaum


In 1961, Johann Donabaum’s parents decided to give up mixed agriculture and specialise exclusively on viticulture instead. Although it may have been perceived as a risk at the time, this turned out to be an inspired choice.

Viticulture and winemaking has been a constant throughout the majority of Johann Donabaum’s life. Growing up surrounded by family vineyards, he graduated from Krems School of Viticulture whilst still a teenager. Following his time studying, Johann completed a seven month apprenticeship with F X Pichler. This valuable experience gained him a great deal of new ideas and insight into the practices of a great wine producer, preparing him for his own successful winemaking career.

With his studying and training complete, Johann returned to the family vineyards. His father gave him the go ahead to take the helm and the young Johann was keen to implement his own ideas for the future. He had a clear vision of the direction he wanted his winemaking to take and he decided to focus on quality rather than quantity and champion terroir. This has led to his wines coming to be considered among the finest in Austria and attracting positive praise on the international stage.

Johann cultivates 7.5 hectares. For him, terroir is absolutely crucial. His knowledge of his vineyards is extremely detailed and this means he is able to cultivate the vineyards with exceptional care and attention. Understanding all the nuances of the different plots means they can be given individual attention and this enables Johann to truly express the terroir of his vineyards in the resulting wines.

Using the right grape varieties for the soil is key and many of Donabaum’s wines are on extremely steep terraces where the soil is rich in gneiss and slate. Johann, therefore, uses these plots primarily for growing Gruner Veltliner and Riesling. Johann’s aim with these wines is that they are forceful, dense, juicy, elegant and mineral.

Johann has a strong wine philosophy. He believes wines should be mirrors which reflect origin and terroir, and also the meticulousness and signature of the winemaker himself. For him, the vineyard is where the foundations are built for the quality of the wine and so getting the viticulture right is hugely important. Precise and careful cultivation is how Johann goes on to create wines of the highest standard.

WOTM: Weingut Johann Donabaum, Johann Grüner Veltliner Federspiel, Wachau 2015

In a nutshell:

A fabulous, restrained wine with apple and lime characters combined with white pepper and spicy minerality.

The Producer:

After only a few years, Johann is carving out a formidable reputation for concentrated, mineral laden white wines. His wines are always in high demand. The production from his five hectares of hillside vineyard in the Spitzer Valley is miniscule, but despite this his prices remain really competitive.

The Wine:

100% of the fermentation took place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks, with a minimal use of sulphur, in order to create a wine which ultimately expresses the terroir. A natural slight CO2 remained in the wine to lift and freshen the palate. ‘Federspiel’ denotes that the wine has been made in the classic style, fresh and mineral, with a maximum of four grams of residual sugar.

The Tasting Note:

A fabulous, restrained wine with apple and lime characters combined with white pepper, cardamom and spicy minerality. Balanced and refreshing.



Winemaker Profile: Johann Donabaum, Weingut Johann Donabaum

A rising star of the Wachau

Johann’s background:

Despite his youth, Johann has been winemaker of the family estate for a number of years. He already commands a wealth of knowledge and feeling for wine and vine growing, and is not even close to his full potential. Donabaum graduated from the Krems School of Viticulture while still in his teens. Upon returning home, his father gave him the go ahead to take the helm and the young Johann decided to focus solely on producing quality. A seven-month apprenticeship with F X Pichler gained him a great deal of new ideas and insights into the practices of a great wine producer.

Wine before Johann:

During the 1960’s Johann’s father began focusing on the production of wine at the Donabaum estate, where previously Johann’s great-grandfather had split his time between agricultural farming and winemaking. At the same time as producing, bottling and marketing the wine, Johann’s father also opened the Donabaum Heurigen (wine tavern), which closed its doors in 1996 to allow the family to concentrate on the sales and marketing side of the business – although the Heruigen is still open seasonally.

Johann’s philosophy:

Johann believes wines should be mirrors, reflecting origin and terroir, and the meticulousness and signature of the vintner himself. Each vineyard gives birth to the quality of the wine, and only with careful cultivation is it possible to create wines of the highest standard.

For example, each of the three quality designations of the Wachau — “Steinfeder”, “Federspiel” and “Smaragd” — should reflect its own potential and unique characteristics. Despite the difference in price, Steinfeder and Federspiel are not inferior in quality to Smaragd, just different. Johann is particularly taken with Grüner Veltliner, because of its extraordinary versatility, and makes many different styles.

Johann’s vision:

Johann believes traditional knowledge, combined with a modern way of thinking, is the key to the highest quality wine. Some of his ideas for the near future include:

  • Return to vinification of Smaragd in big wooden barrels.
  • Use yeast stems originating from his own vineyards to increase the complexity and shelf life of the wines
  • Increase cultivation of the Neuburger grape, by diligence and selection, to showcase its amazing, inherent potential
  • Expand his base by further lease and purchase of vineyards
  • Increase exports from 15% to 30%
  • Make Donabaum’s Neuburger the ultimate representative of this powerful grape varietal