Willi Opitz and his winemaking: a never-boring journey


Behind any good wine stands a good winemaker, and they say that behind any outstanding man stands an outstanding woman. We can see the proof of that in a charming story of Willi Opitz, an Austrian winemaker, the WTA nominee in the Visiting Card of the Country / Progressive approach category, and his wife Maria, the woman who inspired him to create his most outstanding wines.

Willi himself told this story in one of his interviews. He and Maria, his future-wife-to-be, have been dating since they were in their teenage years. Willi was trying his best to impress his lovely date. “The truth is, when I was a teenager, I gave a bunch of flowers to Maria when I started dating her. She was 16 years old and did not know what to do with a bunch of flowers, so I thought of something different for Valentine’s Day”. Willi’s idea was brilliant: “It was only logical to try and surprise her with a nice sip of pudding wine. She was then hooked, and we got married three years later”. This wonderful and romantic story, in fact, a family legend, has given a push to the creation of Willi Opitz’s unique wines. To produce them, Mr Opitz uses the “reed” method he developed in the 1990s.

Willi Opitz, a mechanical engineer by training, started to make his own wines in the early 1980s, growing grapes in a small vineyard of about 1.5 hectares near the large shallow Lake Neusiedl in Burgenland, Austria – which is a large wine-producing region at the country’s east. He then considered himself a ‘weekend winemaker’. At the initial stage Willi worked mostly with the Muskat Ottonel and Zweigelt varieties. 

In 1995, Mr Opitz was ready for a bold step. He left his career as a mechanical engineer at a nearby food company and dedicated himself fully to winemaking. Today, he cultivates around 17 hectares and produces about 30 wines. His cultivation and winemaking methods are focused on quality. In 1997, the Opitz family moved to their current winery, located in Illmitz. 

As mentioned above, Willi Opitz is famous for developing the method of the production of ”reed wines”. Briefly, the method is as follows: white grapes of two varieties — Muscat Ottonel and Welschriesling — and one red variety, Zweigelt, are left to air-dry on reed mats in a small field near the Opitz winery, guest house and restaurant, for at least three months, prior to fermentation. The yields of the grapes used for this type of wine are incredibly low (seven hectolitres per hectare). The grapes, with considerably reduced juice content, are then pressed and fermented in barrels. The winemaker often refers to the pre-fermentation pressing as “milking mice”. As a result, the winemaker gets so-called Schilfwein — aromatic, intense sweet red wine.

Weingut Willi Opitz offers wine lovers wonderful opportunities of spending a day or even a weekend there, enjoying the trips to Neusiedlersee Seewinkel National Park, bike tours or cruises on Lake Neusiedl with a BBQ, and with the wine of course! Willi also hosts wine and culinary tastings, combining his wines with local specialties. Suffice it to say, that the whole family — Willi, his wife Maria, daughter Angela and her husband Iain, are now engaged in managing the winery’s business.  

Mr Opitz is not only a talented winemaker, as well as the heart and soul of his winery. He also has an undoubted talent for marketing, which has resulted in some very interesting collaborations. Willi’s partnership with McLaren produced a range of Formula Wines, and there was also a Mr President wine enjoyed by Bill Clinton who met Willi once on his visit to Austria. One of the most interesting projects by Willi Opitz was ‘The Sound of Wine’, a CD the winemaker released in 1995. It contains 15 tracks of the sounds produced by his wines undergoing fermentation. When Willi was a boy his grandfather had told him that during fermentation wine tells the winemaker of everything it has experienced during its year in the vineyard. This metaphor which has impressed the young Willi deeply was, in fact, the idea which inspired him to record this album. Opitz One (Red Trockenbeerenauslese) is a hit track of the album!