Stefan Behounek • Unterweger Brothers | First pine oil distillery

From the tranquil town of Assling in East Tyrol, the oils from Tyrol's first mountain pine oil distillery travel all over the world. As Quality Manager, Stefan Behounek not only knows what makes their special quality, but also that knowledge about the tradition of oil extraction is valuable.

The Unterweger company is Tyrol's first mountain pine oil distillery: Mr. Behounek, can you briefly outline how this came about?

Johann and Ignaz Unterweger founded the oil distillery in 1886. Today the company is run by the fourth generation here in Assling (East Tyrol). The Unterweger brothers were convinced from the start that something could be done with essential oils from Tyrol. That's why they went straight to the World Exhibition in 1888 and presented the oils to an international audience. This includes mountain pine oil, which is typical for our region. Because of its soothing, blood circulation-promoting effect, it is also called a “mountain blessing”.

Today your oils from Osttirol travel all over the world. What makes you different from other providers?

What sets us apart is that we deliver consistently high quality. We constantly check our oils using various chemical and physical parameters. And we have many years of know-how that we are very proud of. Odor control, for example, plays a major role. It takes years to get the right feel for it. 

How does the mountain pine get into the oil bottle?

It's basically very simple. Mountain pines grow up to the tree line in the wild. The harvesting points in the undergrowth are often difficult to reach, which makes this work very physically demanding. There, fresh needles and twig tips are cut off with an ax and bundled and taken down to the valley. In the distillery, the oil is obtained by steam distillation. 

Sounds like a real oil rarity...

Yeah right. The yield that ends up in the Florentine bottle is relatively low at 0.1 to 0.7%.

In general, you have many rare oils in your range. How do you put your product range together?

We operate in a niche market with our oils: we do not mass produce. Our focus is on special raw materials such as mountain pine, stone pine or hemp. We also like to follow trends on the cosmetics market and try to supply local products of the best quality. 

The Unterweger company maintains its own cultivation areas, for example in Moldova, Romania and Ukraine. what grows there

Among others, lavender, oreganum, clary sage and sage.

Your company is idyllically situated in the middle of the Tyrolean mountain landscape: what do you see from the office window?

At the moment I'm looking at mountain peaks that are still a little snowy. Directly in front of the building are the flower meadows of the Vitalpinum, our own nature experience area.

With the Vitalpinum adventure garden on the company premises, you have created a particularly beautiful destination. Obviously your company cares a lot about sharing knowledge about oil...

It's correct. We would like to make the effect of our products tangible. The Vitalpinum has been around since 2010. The feel-good garden consists of several zones. In the Vital and Active Zone, for example, visitors can walk barefoot through cool mountain spring water and rub their feet in the arnica fountain at the end. A fun detail is the transport lift that transports the shoes to their destination: in the past, the collected slippers were transported down to the valley in wooden boxes like this. There is also a stone pine power place, a feel-good garden and a show distillery that offers insights into the historical craft of distilling.

Do you have a favorite oil yourself?

My favorite oil is St. John's wort oil. I like to play tennis, but unfortunately I rarely get to do it. If I do do sports, the sore muscles can be relieved with a St. John's wort oil massage. 

Mr. Behounek, thank you very much for the interview!

Interview from June 2020

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