The Soils Of Heiligenstein And Lamm, Kamptal

  • By Jamie Drummond
  • 15 Feb 2021
  • 5 MIN
  • Level 301
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View of Heiligenstein, Kamptal - Credit : AWMB Herbert Lehmann

Kamptal is an Austrian winegrowing region and appellation located in Niederösterreich or “Lower Austria” just one hour west of Vienna and a part of the five Danube appellations (Kremstal, Kamptal, Traisental, Wachau, and Wagram). Langenlois at its centre is the country’s largest wine producing town and arguably its most renowned. The word Kamptal means Kamp Valley after the 150km long river which flows north-to-south through the region.  

The south-facing wine growing area here includes rocks that on the basis of their geological characteristics are attributed to the Molasse Zone and Variscan mountain range.   

The appellation Kamptal differentiates three categories of wine: Regional wines, Village wines, and Single Vineyard Wines. The association of Österreichische Traditionsweingüter (ÖTW) has been working on a vineyard classification since 1992. Vineyards are classified into Erste Lage and Grosse Lage, equivalent to Premier and Grand Cru in the Cote d’Or, Burgundy.  

The Molasse Zone of the Alpine Foreland includes gravels, sands, and silty clay sediments formed in a basin directly in front of the Austroalpine nappes of the Alps. Most of these particular sediments were formed when this basin was filled with what is known as the Paratethys Sea during the Neogene Age, around 23 to 2.6 million years ago. The sea retreated around 10 million years ago, leaving behind a river landscape. This topography is characterized by gentle valleys and broad, flat ridges and hilltops, slowly shaped by the influences of four rivers, the Danube, Traisen, Krems, and Kamp.  

These sediments mainly came from the predominantly calcareous rocks of the Southern Alps, and partly from the mostly silicate rocks of the ancient Varsican Bohemian Massif mountain range, which also stretches over the central Czech Republic, eastern Germany, and southern Poland. This range is made up of both Moravian Superunit and Moldanubian Superunit rock dating back to the Palaeozoic Age.  

The Geological Curiosity That Is Heiligenstein  

Of particular note is the unique (for Europe) geological island, or wedge, an extrusion of desert sandstone with both carboniferous and volcanic conglomerates.   

The first records of Heiligenstein can be found in the 1280 register of the Zwettl Abbey, a Cistercian monastery located in Zwettl in the Diocese of St. Pölten, where it is referred to as “Hellenstein” (It is thought that “Hellen” refers to a sharp ridge that was used by ancient humans to hunt reindeer and mammut. With changes in the German language and the dominant role of monasteries throughout the 12th – 14th centuries, the name shifted from Hellenstein to Heiligenstein, which translates to “rock of the saints”).  

In this geologically fascinating tectonic rift valley (read: trench), one will find limestone-free soils with erosive remains of conglomerates, arkoses (red, feldspathic sandstones), and shale clays from the mountains that fell down into the foothills due to flash floods in the Paleozoic-era Zöbing Formation, around 320 to 250 million years ago, when the area was going through arid-hot climatic conditions.   

This erosion of some 300 - 1,000m also left behind stumps of primary rock made up of silicate, gneiss, granite, and amphibolites (rocks composed mainly of amphibole and plagioclase feldspar, with little or no quartz). Within the conglomerates of Heiligenstein one will also find rhyolite pebbles, an extrusive igneous rock, formed from magma rich in silica, indicating a history of volcanic activity.  

Around 250 million years ago, this mixture of erosion residues, volcanic material, and layer-upon-layer of vegetation residues was compressed, and over time changed into soft rock. This was then pushed up towards the surface once again through tectonic activity. Bring in the presence and eventual retreat of the aforementioned Paratethys Sea, followed by even further volcanic activity, which served to push the Permian material to the surface yet again, and we are left with what are known today as the Heiligenstein and Lamm vineyards.  

Centuries Of Viticulture Of This Unique Terroir   

This ancient geomorphic history coupled with centuries of viticulture (with its extensive studies of the soils, expositions, and altitudes of individual vineyards) has led to a complex mapping of the region’s colourful geological patchwork. Hence one can see precise application of grape varieties to particular plots, mainly Riesling and Grüner Veltliner, which make up 80% of the plantings within Kamptal.  

As the deep-rooting Riesling prefers to be on primary rock, one will find most plantings on the poorer soils of the cooler Heiligenstein, to the west. The steep terraces here are often on such an incline that there is nary a trace of the loess one finds throughout Lamm. It is theorized, but not yet proven, that primary rock brings a sense of minerality to wines, and perhaps this is why the often-austere Rieslings of Heiligenstein are almost always mineral-driven, express a defined finesse, and have the potential to be seriously long-lived as most are impenetrable in their youth.  

Towards the Danube, sitting on the lower slopes below Heiligenstein, the warmer east-facing slopes of Lamm are dominated by chalk-rich loess and loam over primary rock. This atmospheric dust was blown here during the Ice Age, when there was little vegetation present, and over time built up to become the rich soil that we know the region for today. Grüner Veltliner really thrives in these fertile soils, leading to baroque, rich, and robust (but never “fat”) wines.   

Heiligenstein Producers To Look Out For:  

  • Weingut Brundlmayer “Zobinger Heiligenstein Lyra Reserve” Riesling  
  • Weingut Hirsch “Ried Heiligenstein” Riesling 
  • Brandl “Ried Heiligenstein Reserve” Riesling 
  • Schloss Gobelsburg “Ried Heiligenstein” Riesling 
  • Weingut Jurtschitsch “Zobinger Heiligenstein” Riesling  

Lamm Producers To Look Out For:  

  • Schloss Gobelsburg “Lamm” Grüner Veltliner  
  • Weingut Brundlmayer “Lamm” Grüner Veltliner  
  • Steininger “Lamm Reserve” Grüner Veltliner  
  • Weingut Hirsch “Ried Lamm” Grüner Veltliner 
  • Birgit Eichinger “Ried Lamm Reserve” Grüner Veltliner  

View of Heiligenstein, Kamptal - Credit : AWMB Herbert Lehmann