Wine Austria knows no crisis

In the run-up to ProWein 2010 there is a very thin line between joy and pain in the wine-producing country Austria. On the one hand there are outstanding products to be happy about. On the other, the harvest yield is low due to natural circumstances and influences. Nevertheless Austria is coming to Düsseldorf full of expectation and once again with more exhibitors

“Even at times of economic difficulties we acquit ourselves well”, says Willi Klinger, Head of Österreich Wein Marketing in Vienna, underlining this fact with figures for the 1st half of 2009 for exports to Germany. Although there was a small decline in bottled wine volume (- 4.5 percent), in terms of value there was an increase of 1.15 percent. Cask wine exports even rose by as much as 30 percent – because Austria, thanks to the plentiful 2008 vintage (3 million hectolitres), with almost one third of this accounted for by table wine, had a particularly large volume of good-value wine to offer in this sector (also for the German sparkling wine industry). All in all, for their most important trade partner Germany, that means an interim result of a 9-percent increase in volume coupled with a stable export value.

“With better-value wines we are reaching new, broader customer segments”, says Klinger assessing the situation. “In 2009 the export volume will clearly rise, the revenue will perhaps once again reach the record level of 2008 at 113 million Euro.” In terms of wine volume, that was almost 60 million litres, the lion’s share of which, over 43 million litres, went to Germany. Switzerland, Austria’s second most important trade partner, is far behind with around 2.5 million litres. Although Austria sold almost twice the previous amount to the Czech Republic, it was at a considerably lower price. In Switzerland revenue reached 13.7 million Euro, in the Czech Republic almost 4 million Euro.

For next year the indications are probably not of clear growth, because there are hardly any low-cost wines. Austria will be supplying lower wine volumes, but then in clearly better quality. There are several reasons for what is only a low volume at 2.2 million hectolitres (long-standing average 2.5 million. hl). In some cases the vine crop was low, as was the juice yield. And then hailstorms in several regions had mostly destroyed the ripening grapes.

But that had almost been forgotten by the time the juice was flowing from the wine presses. Soon after the 2009 harvest there was rejoicing. Ernest Grossauer, Head Oenologist at Lenz Moser, is radiant when he describes the “extremely diverse, high-quality wines.” Paul Rittsteuer from Neusiedl, Chairman of the Association of Renowned Burgenland Wine Estates (Vereinigung Renommierte Weingüter Burgenland - RWB) speaks of a “wonderful year for wine; with the quality of red wine playing a very significant role.” Even in the young phases of his white wines, Alois Gross from the South Styria (Südsteiermark) region already recognizes “very fine, incredibly clear aromas”. And Dr. Bertold Salomon, former head of Wein Marketing, but who has now been at home for several years at the Unhof family-run business in Krems-Stein, expects quite simply “Great Green Veltliners.”

Growing number of exhibitors from Austria

Such news will also play a key role at ProWein. An increasing number of wine growers in Austria are counting on the trade fair venue Düsseldorf. Around 270 producers (status end of November 2009) have registered, including more than 20 newcomers. The renowned stars from the regions along the banks of the Danube (Wachau, Kremstal, Kamptal) and the other Lower Austrian regions are also participating as are the top companies from the Burgenland, which are mainly offering exquisitely sweet wines and their red leading brand Blaufränkisch. The Styrians are also paying Düsseldorf a courtesy call with their classy white wines, the light red speciality Schilcher and the here still fresh “achievement”, red wine, which in recent years has clearly improved in quality. Eight top wine growers, the “Steirische Terroir- und Klassikweingüter“ (Styrian Terroir & Classic Wine Estates - STK), will be participating with white wines, which are based on the Grand Crus from Germany, but are known here as “Große STK-Lage” wines (Grand Cru STK Vineyards) and are not allowed to leave the cellar until they have matured for 18 months. Also participating in Düsseldorf are the Viennese, who despite suffering a bitter setback in the form of enormous hailstone damage to the 2009 vintage (almost half the harvest was affected) are carrying on their export business as normal at full speed and in doing so expecting a lot from ProWein.

The trends from Austria

One trend is Rosé wine, which until a few years ago in Austria either did not feature in the collections at all or only played a minor role. For a long time now the major Genossenschaft Winzer Krems (Krems Winegrowers’ Co-operative), which has been enjoying double-figure percent growth on the German market for years, has had a Rosé from Zweigelt in its range. The large wine producer Lenz Moser (with head offices in Rohrendorf near Krems) launched operations in summer 2009 with its juicy, tasty Fête Rosé from Lower Austria’s Zweigelt, which, according to Marketing Director Friedrich Wimmer, “they had been working on for two years”. The result has been “sensationally well received” - and tastes a lot better than the retail price of around three Euros would suggest. With their new product, Brut Rosé, brothers Erich and Walter Polz from Southern Styria are offering a sparkling light red complement to the popular Schilcher sparkling wine from the neighbouring region of Western Styria (Weststeiermark).

A key theme, where the Austrians play a leading role in terms of price-benefit ratio, is sweet wines. Here, the wine growers from Kamptal and Kremstal are able to constantly impress. But the larger volumes and best wines are as a rule produced on both sides of the Neusiedlersee. The flagship communities are Rust on the western side producing incredibly strong, highly durable “Ausbruch” wines (a special category in between “Beerenauslese”, vintage wine made of selected grapes, and “Trockenbeerenauslese”, the highest category of choice wine made from grapes left to dry on the vine) along with Illmitz on the eastern bank, where they specifically produce straw wines (the grapes are spread out for several weeks on straw mats and left for raisining (drying) thus concentrating the ingredients) and also a large number of “Trockenbeerenauslesen”, which are often of world-class format.

What Austrian exhibitors had to say about ProWein

“The fair is very professional and efficient, it is worth every cent of effort”, said Günter Triebaumer from Rust (exhibitor since 2005).

Karl Jurtschitsch from Langenlois (represented in Düsseldorf since 1995) describes ProWein as “the most important trade fair of all, because here you can meet regular and new customers from all over Europe”. In 2010 he is planning to present the first organically-grown wines (also making broad inroads in Austria).

Leopold Blauensteiner from GösingFranz Leth from Fels in the Wagram Region (which has been an independent wine-growing area since 2008). “At ProWein we reach almost the entire European market”, says the committed winegrower expressing his delight. For him the trend is towards streamlining the range and concentrating on the home-grown classics. “We prefer to showcase Grüner Veltliner and Roter Veltliner along with Zweigelt rather than Chardonnay and Cabernet.”

The Freien Weingärtner (Independent Winegrowers) from Dürnstein (Wachau), who have also been permanent exhibitors at ProWein, are seeking to focus attention on their Burggarten vineyard selection with Riesling and the Grüner Veltliner quality category trio (Steinfeder, Federspiel, Smaragd - the “grass”, “falcon” and “emerald lizard” classifications corresponding to light, medium and full-bodied wines). The discussions with international trade partners are already being concluded in the run-up to the event, we are told by Managing Director Roman Horvath. Also looking beyond the German market is Elisabeth Kamper from Weingut (wine estate) Esterházy in Eisenstadt. One target group is that of “dealers and caterers from Scandinavia, Belgium and Switzerland, who already showed great interest last year.” For the first time in Germany Esterházy will be presenting Reserve red wines produced at individual vineyards.

A similar approach is being taken by regular exhibitor Roman Pfaffl from Stetten in the “Weinviertel” (wine-growing quarter). “In Düsseldorf we not only meet our German partners, but also trade partners from numerous countries and can also acquire new customers here.” For the first time Pfaffl will be presenting a Grüner Veltliner Weinviertel DAC (Districtus Austriae Controllatus) Reserve, a new category in the DAC concept, which stands for a more vibrant, higher quality Veltliner and thus complements the previously successful Weinviertel DAC line with somewhat lighter, juicy-palatable wines from the “Grüne” (green) side.

“Today it would be impossible to envisage the industry without this concept as a success factor, while for many wine growers it is also a significant basis of their livelihood”, says Austria's Minister of Agriculture Niki Berlakovich referring to the other DAC winegrowing regions of Kremstal, Kamptal, Mittelburgenland and Traisental along with – new addition – Leithaberg (a region in the Burgenland near Eisenstadt with a great deal of primary rock in the ground).

Author: Rudolf Knoll*

*The author is editor of the European wine magazine VINUM and in this connection one of his fields is Austria. He has already written several books on this wine-producing country (including the standard work “Grüner Veltliner – eine Karriere”) and won various awards such as the Bacchus Prize and Steinfeder Prize for wine journalism.