01/09/2009

Austria’s wine exports continue their upsurge

A satisfying 2008 vintage / Organic enjoys increasing popularity / DAC raises its profile

Austria’s winemakers will have plenty to smile about at ProWein in Düsseldorf. Despite some close calls with the weather, 2008 was a good year for viticulture in Austria. Even so, just weeks before the autumn harvest, there were fears that the yield would be small and widespread rot would result in poor quality. But by the end of October when, with a few exceptions, the fruit had been picked, there was a general sigh of relief. Cool, windy weather helped to keep the rot in check. What’s more, the growers have become accustomed to taking a selective approach in the vineyards. Another lucky escape was that the hail recorded across 6,000 hectares (roughly 12 percent of the total area under vines) during the season failed to dent the yield significantly. Nature kept things nicely in order all on her own. At the end of the day, it’s estimated that over 2.8 million hectolitres were brought in. This is substantially more than last year – already a good vintage, which also topped the longstanding average yield of 2.5 million hectolitres. “Our wineries have ripe, healthy grapes in their cellars. The prolific output is paired with a robust acid structure and a pleasant but not too elevated alcohol content,” said a satisfied Willi Klinger, head of the Österreichische Weinmarketinggesellschaft (Austrian Wine Marketing Board – ÖWM), summing up the vintage. The good news for wholesalers, retailers and consumers is that, since there are no fears of shortages nor has 2008 been hailed the vintage of the century, prices should hold relatively steady.

Focus on quality
At ProWein 2009, the Austrian industry will be spotlighting wines currently high in the popularity stakes – medium-bodied, highly drinkable wines. The country’s major varietal Grüner Veltliner, which is also gaining in importance for export business, fits this brief perfectly. For its key market Germany, Austria continues to cast its spell. Although the last few years have seen no notable advances in quantity, there has been a distinct move in the direction of good to excellent quality. The former dominance of bulk wine is a thing of the past; the cheap litre bottles that did little for the country’s image on supermarket shelves are now a far rarer sight. Of the 40 million litres exported to Germany in 2007, only some 36 percent was of the simple, draught kind. Not so many years ago, these proportions were reversed. This trend continued in the first half of 2008. During this period, more than 22.2 million litres of Austrian wine crossed the border into Germany, equivalent to an increase of about 10 percent over the previous year. Willi Klinger of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board refers to this achievement as “impressively sustained dynamism” and is especially pleased with the rise in the average price to over two euros a bottle. “In terms of value, we have notched up a gain of 19.4 percent. Now we are waiting with bated breath to see whether we can continue this trend despite the upheaval in the global economy.”

All the top winemakers represented at ProWein
The number of exhibitor registrations for ProWein 2009 bears testimony to the Austrian wine industry’s optimism: More than 250 participants will represent their country in the halls at the Düsseldorf Trade Fair Center and the list reads like a who’s who of the industry. Virtually all the top winemakers will be stepping out, joined by a host of up-and-coming names which have risen to prominence in recent years. Filling out the ranks will be successful cooperatives such as Krems, Dürnstein (now trading as Domäne Wachau) and Horitschon. Among the newcomers will be the couple Eduard Tscheppe and Stephanie Tscheppe-Eselböck who, by thinking outside the box, have made their estate Gut Oggau in Burgenland into an extraordinary specimen of viticulture. Sporting names such as Theodora, Joschuari and Mechthild, their wines each have a story to tell. A former minister and now fledgling winemaker has also set his sights on the German market. Paul Rittsteuer of Neusiedl was for many years the representative for agriculture in the federal state of Burgenland and his political influence was instrumental in winning large EU subsidies that made the construction of many new Austrian wineries possible. Now retired but by no means tired, the 61-year-old has turned his hand to creating outstanding red and white wines.

Testifying to the Austrians’ penchant for forming regional cooperatives will be a series of joint presentations. Among them will be Pannobile from Gols and its regional counterpart Select Gols, the Renommierte Weingüter from Burgenland, Donnerskirchen’s Weinquartett, the pinot producers in the Thermen region, four wineries of Vienna-based WienWein, Tastes of Austria, Vinea Wachau with almost all its stars such as Hirtzberger and Knoll, the Traditionsweingüter Österreich (traditional wineries of Austria) whose members include, among others, top winemakers Loimer, Bründlmayer, Jurtschitsch, Malat and Nigl.

Organic enjoys growing popularity
Organic principles have a strong following in Austria – 2,400 hectares were certified as organic vineyards in 2007, equivalent to no less than five percent of the land under vines, and further growth is predicted. This conviction finds its natural outlet in a presentation by the Bioveritas group which has long been active in this area and whose activities are centered around Lower Austria. In the last two years, a number of respected winemakers have even gone a step further with biodynamic practices which entail the use of alternative preparations, focusing more strongly on keeping in step with natural cycles. These viticulturists belong to the Demeter Austria association. In addition, Fred Loimer from Langenlois has spearheaded the founding of the “respect” group, which aims to emphasise quality in biodynamic agriculture. Official certification is slated for 2010. “We will once again become agronomists and farmers,” laughs Loimer, who is particularly intent on promoting healthy soil and at the same time boosting his already high quality standards. His own evaluation of his first unofficial “respect” wines is: “Bolder in character, more intensely individualistic with a wilder style but more well rounded.” Some of the Bioveritas and Demeter proponents will also have an additional presence outside the Austrian hall at the stand of the wine magazine “Vinum” where guided tastings of their wines will be staged.

DAC raises its profile
The Styrians intend to show that their Sauvignon blanc can take on the international competition and that the rosé-hued west Styrian Schilcher has what it takes to become a cult wine. Winemakers of the Weinviertel region can tell many a tale about the six years since the introduction of the denomination of origin “DAC Weinviertel Grüner Veltliner” which takes its cue from the French (AOC), Italian (DOC) and Spanish (DO) system. It has sent many ripples through Austria’s largest winegrowing region with quality being given a boost, at least in the main grape varietal (a test by a wine magazine, however, revealed signs of sloppiness in other white varietals). Nevertheless, in areas further removed from the wine lands and abroad, the abbreviation for “Districtus Austria Controllatus” still remains far too unfamiliar. The fact that it signals a specially certified, highly typical variety of Grüner Veltliner is something only experts know. Other Austrian DAC organisations will also be showcased in Düsseldorf. Two years ago, the DAC Blaufränkisch was established in Mittelburgenland for the two categories Classic and Reserve. Both Kremstal and tiny Traisental between St. Pölten and Krems have inaugurated two further DAC organisations for Grüner Veltliner and Riesling. The next DAC likely to be called into being may be in the Wagram region in Lower Austria. So far, the well-known region of Wachau has objected to the DACs. To begin with, its general feeling is that it can continue to succeed without the DACs, and secondly, the preference for a specific variety has the disadvantage of excluding other wines of the area from being labelled with the denomination of origin. This means that a Riesling or Pinot Noir from Weinviertel as well as a Pinot blanc or Roter Veltliner from Kremstal can all only be specified as Lower Austrian wines while a red blend from Mittelburgenland can only trade as a Burgenland wine.