In Austria, viticulture has been practised since the time of the Celtic settlement almost 3,000 years ago. The Burgenland community of Zagersdorf and the Lower Austrian community of Stillfried in the Weinviertel are considered the oldest winegrowing communities in Austria. In both places grape seeds were found which date from 700 and 900 BC respectively and can be clearly assigned to the species Vitis vinifera. The lifting by Emperor Domitian (51-96) of the ban on planting vines outside Italy by Emperor Probus (232-282) had a positive effect on viticulture. This was the beginning of an orderly winegrowing culture in the Roman provinces of Noricum (Upper and Lower Austria) and Pannonia (Burgenland). In the almost 200 years of the turmoil of the migration of nations from the end of the 4th century onwards, viticulture came to a virtual standstill due to many devastations.
A revival only took place again from the 9th century onwards under the influence of Emperor Charlemagne (742-814). Special merits in viticulture are attributed to the orders of the Benedictines and Cistercians. In the Middle Ages, the monasteries of Göttweig Abbey (Kremstal), Klosterneuburg Abbey (Wagram), Melk Abbey (Wachau) and Heiligenkreuz Abbey (Thermenregion) were the main bearers of viticulture. The Dinstlgut (Wachau) also made an important contribution. The oldest Austrian viticulture regulation with regulations concerning working hours and fixed penalties for grape theft dates back to the Habsburg Duke Albrecht II. (1298-1358) from the year 1352. Already in the Middle Ages there was also a division into wine quality classes.
In the 16th century, viticulture in Austria reached its peak, the area under vines was at least three times larger than today (50,000 hectares), with about 150,000 to perhaps even 200,000 hectares. The Mönchsberg in Salzburg was planted with vines just like the slopes of the Semmering. There were vineyards near Linz(Upper Austria), near Salzburg and, to a large extent, in Carinthia and Tyrol. And the capital Vienna is literally built on vineyards. The wine book of the clergyman Johann Rasch (1540-1612) describes in detail the viticulture, the cellar techniques and the drinking culture of that time. However, the advent of beer, high taxes and the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) led to a decline in the 17th century. The tax, also known as "Ungeld", caused the most problems, as it was increased from 10% to 30% within only twelve years. This led to the fact that many vineyards were cleared and instead wheat or other products were cultivated. Now inferior grape varieties were preferred and cheap mass wine was made from them.
Under Maria Theresa (1717-1780) orders were issued for the exploitation of cheap wine. Many vinegar boiling plants, schnapps distilleries and mustard production from grape must were established. Under Emperor Joseph II. (1741-1790), a written decree on 17 August 1784 allowed the sale of fencing in his own house. He thus laid the foundation for the Heuriger. In the 19th century there were some catastrophes. An extreme cold spell, fungal diseases brought in from America and, as a negative climax, phylloxera devastated entire wine-growing regions. The pest probably reached Austria in 1867, when August-Wilhelm Freiherr von Babo (1827-1894), director of the Klosterneuburger Weinbauinstitut, founded in 1860, received American vines as a gift from Germany.
A milestone in Austrian wine history was set by Robert Schlumberger (1814-1879). In 1846 he presented his "Vöslauer white sparkling wine" produced according to the Méthode champenoise, which became a great success. After the Second World War the old structures were changed by rationalisation and mechanisation. The conversion to the new form of education of the so-called high culture by Lenz Moser III. (1905-1978) in Rohrendorf near Krems in Lower Austria enabled the use of the most modern equipment. The use of diethylene glycol led to a wine scandal in 1985. However, this led to the introduction of stricter laws and above all controls in Austria, which contributed decisively to the improvement of quality. In 1993, the project "Certification of vines" was started with the aim of increasing quality in the long term by analysing and selecting the healthiest possible vine material.
Austria is characterised by a continental-Pannonian climate. There are cold winters and hot, dry summers with long vegetation cycles. Warm, sunny summer days with often cool nights and mild autumn days are typical for most wine-growing regions. The average annual rainfall in the east is 400 millimetres, in Styria it can be as much as 800 millimetres and more. The Danube and its two tributaries Krems and Kamp as well as Lake Neusiedl in Burgenland have a very positive influence on the climate. On the shores of the second largest steppe lake in Europe, grapes of the Ausbruch, Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese (or Ausbruch) grades often ripen in late autumn. Due to the often very low temperatures from December to January, a considerable production of ice wine is also possible in the east.
The altitude is mostly about 200 meters, in Lower Austria up to 400 meters, the highest vineyards are in Styria up to 560 meters above sea level. The wine regions are mostly located in temperate climate zones without extremes, about 47th and 48th latitude; comparable to the French Burgundy. The soil types are quite different. In Lower Austria, loess predominates in the Weinviertel and Danube valley, primary rock in the Kremstal and Wachau valleys, and limestone in the thermal region. In Burgenland the soils consist mainly of slate, loam, marl, loess and sand, and in Styria of brown earth and volcanic soils.
Austria is divided into three wine-growing regions (until 2009 there were four, including Vienna). These are Weinland (with the generic wine-growing regions of Burgenland, Lower Austria and Vienna), Steirerland (Styria) and Bergland (remaining provinces). All nine Länder are generic wine regions, the largest four are divided into specific wine regions (e.g. specific WG Wachau in the generic WG NÖ). All wine-growing areas are located in European wine-growing zone B (Germany mostly in A). From the 2002 vintage onwards, the origin-specific DAC system was introduced. The following hectare values are from different years (2015 to 2017) for each wine-growing region; however, the farm figures are all from 2015:
Wine growing region
|WINELAND (Burgenland, Lower Austria, Vienna)||11.874||41.104||41.582|
|Eisenberg DAC (formerly Southern Burgenland)||708||515||499|
|Leithaberg DAC (formerly Neusiedlersee Hügelland)||924||3.097||3.576|
|Central Burgenland DAC||358||2.104||2.118|
|Lake Neusiedl DAC||1.339||6.675||7.649|
|Thermal spa region||693||2.182||2.196|
|Wachau DAC / Vinea Wachau Nobilis Districtus||502||1.344||1.350|
|Wagram (formerly Donauland)||926||2.720||2.452|
|without wine growing area||54||45||-|
|South Styria DAC||623||2.563||2.340|
|Vulkanland Steiermark DAC (formerly Southeast Styria)||1.199||1.524||1.401|
|Western Styria DAC||261||546||501|
|without wine growing area||2||0,3||-|
|BERGLAND (rest of Austria)
Carinthia, Upper Austria, Salzburg, Tyrol, Vorarlberg
The figures refer to surveys in 2017(BKI and ÖWMThe number of farms has fallen dramatically from 45,380 with an average farm size of 1.28 hectares (1987) to 20,181 with 2.26 hectares (2009) and finally to 14,133 with 3.2 hectares. The number of small farms (with sales volumes below 5,000 litres) has almost halved. Many small winegrowers with one hectare and less vineyard area farm size have sold their areas to larger farms or have abandoned farming. The number of efficient farms over 30,000 litres has increased from around 970 to 1,450. The number of producers bottling quality wine has fallen from just under 6,500 holdings to around 4,000. 2.486 million hectolitres of wine were produced, of which 1.649 white wine = 66% and 0.837 red wine = 34%. The long-term trend from white wine to red wine did not continue (see also under Wine production volumes).
In Austria, 26 white wine and 14 red wine varieties are defined as quality wine grape varieties which may be used for all quality types. The designations White Burgundy, Grey Burgundy, Blue Burgundy, Rhine Riesling and Blaufränkisch are not permitted for "wine with and without grape variety/ vintage" in order to exclude any confusion with supposedly indicated areas of origin (Burgundy, Rhine, Franconia). Instead, however, the designations Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Riesling are permitted for these wines. In addition, there are also permitted grape varieties for these wines.
The largest vineyard area was in 1980 with 59,432 hectares. From then on, the white wine areas were continuously reduced and the red wine areas expanded. This trend was recently stopped. Austria is a typical white wine country, special red wine areas are Central and Southern Burgenland, Western Styria and the Thermenregion. In 2017 the vineyards covered a total of 46,515 hectares of planted area (in 2009 there were 45,908). Of this, the red wine varieties account for 15,370 hectares = 33% (15,770 ha) and the white wine varieties for 31,145 hectares = 67% (30,138 ha). There were no major changes compared to 2009. The Grüner Veltliner is also the undisputed leader of all varieties with a 6.3% increase, accounting for almost a third of the total area and almost half of the white wine varieties. Among the red wine varieties, Zweigelt dominates, followed by the Blaufränkisch and Blauer Portugieser varieties. The top 5:
|Grape variety - austrian
|officially authorised in Austria
|Zweigelt||Blauer Zweigelt, Rotburger||red||6.426||13,8||6.476|
|White Riesling||Riesling, Rhine Riesling||white||1.986||4,3||1.863|
|White Burgundy||Pinot Blanc, Clever||white||1.971||4,2||1.995|
|Blanc sauvignon||Nutmeg Sylvaner||white||1.248||2,7||933|
|Muscatel||Yellow M., Red M. / Muscat Blanc||white||864||1,9||527|
|Gem. set white||-||white||671||1,4||807|
|Blue Burgundy||Pinot Noir, Blue Pinot Noir||red||616||1,3||649|
|Early Red Veltliner||Malmsey||white||367||0,8||424|
|Traminer||Gewürztraminer, Red T., Yellow T.||white||284||0,6||321|
|Grey Burgundy||Pinot Gris, Ruländer||white||226||0,5||222|
|Gem. set red||-||red||156||0,3||51|
|Decorative Fandler||Late Red||white||78||0,2||85|
|and. white varieties||-||white||388||0,8||155|
|and. red varieties||-||red||155||0,3||9|
Wine categories / quality levels
The EU wine market regulation, which came into force in 2009, brought fundamental changes in quality levels. The new EU-compliant designations PGI (protected geographical indication) and PDO (protected origin) were banned in Austria in order to avoid confusing consumers and the old designations Landwein and Qualitätswein/Prädikatswein were retained. The three levels are (the first two are considered to be one)
Wine without variety and/or vintage information - Wine from Austria:
Wine with variety and/or vintage indication - wine from Austria
According to EU law also a quality wine, as officially only the three quality levels mentioned exist. However, traditional designations may still be used, which is also used by other countries such as Germany, Italy (DOC and DOCG) and Spain (DO and DOCa). According to Austrian wine law, a Prädikatswein is thus a higher level of quality wine. There are six types of Prädikat wines: Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese or Ausbruch, Strohwein and Eiswein. General provisions are:
Late HarvestAt least 19 °KMW; fully ripe grapes
SelectionAt least 21 °KMW; fully ripe, selected grapes
BeerenausleseAt least 25 °KMW; overripe and/or noble rotted grapes
AusbruchAt least 27 °KMW, exclusively noble rot, overripe and dried berries. The designation may only be used for the Ruster Ausbruch
TrockenbeerenausleseZum. 30 °KMW; noble rot, shrivelled grapes
Straw wineSince 2002, the name reed wine has also been permitted as an alternative. At least 25 °KMW must weight. Must be produced from fully ripe and sugar-rich berries that have been stored on straw, reeds or hung on strings for at least three months before pressing. According to an amendment to the law in 2002, the grapes can be pressed after two months if the must weight reaches at least 30 °KMW. If the must weight is not reached, the wine can (must) be marketed as quality wine
Ice wine: At least 25 °KMW. The grapes are crushed and pressed when frozen. If the must levels are not reached, the wine can (must) be marketed as quality wine.
There are a number of specific designations or types of wine with legal requirements for wine. These are Selection, Ausstich, Classic (Classic), Dreikönigswein, Spritzter, Leopoldiwein, Jubiläumswein, Jungfernwein (First Harvest), Martiniwein, Messwein, Nikolowein, Primus (First), Premium, Reserve (Great Reserve, Grande Reserve), Selection (Selection, Grande Selection), Stefaniwein, Tradition and Weihnachtswein. Other wine types are
Mountain wine: Permitted for country wine and quality wine if the grapes come from terraced or steeply sloping vineyards with a gradient of more than 26
Heuriger: Designation for wine, regardless of quality level, made from grapes harvested exclusively in Austria and produced in Austria. However, the wine may only be sold to resellers by 31 December of the year following the harvest and to consumers by 31 March of the following year. Heuriger is also the common Austrian term for Buschenschank
StormProtected designation for a partially fermented grape must. The actual alcoholic strength by volume must be at least 1.0% and may be up to 10%
Mixed setThis term is protected of origin within the EU and reserved exclusively for Austria. Wiener Gemischter Satz is a DAC wine
Organic wineThe production is at least subject to the guidelines of the EU organic regulation, as well as the often even stricter rules of organic associations. The Austrian umbrella organisation is Bio Austria (see also under Organic Viticulture)
Austrian sparkling wine: Starting with the 2015 vintage, a sparkling wine quality pyramid with the three levels "Classic", "Reserve" and "Large Reserve" was introduced. See sparkling wine.
The Austrian standard work on wine law is "Weingesetz" (Manz-Verlag), which was published in the 5th edition of 818 pages in 2012. It offers a presentation of the entire wine law including all regulations and EU provisions. In addition, there is the electronic database RIS (legal information system) with, among other things, contributions on wine law (see also Wine Law and EU Regulations).
Must weight: For each quality level there is a minimum must weight (see above)
YieldFor wine without grape variety/vine year, a maximum of three times the average yield per hectare of a farm; for all other quality levels, a maximum yield per hectare of kilograms of grapes or litres of wine applies. If the maximum quantity is exceeded, the entire harvest of a vintage must be marketed as wine without a vine variety or vintage designation. The yield quantities must be reported to the BKI (Federal Winery Inspectorate) by means of a harvest report, which also checks for compliance.
The maximum quantity per hectare is 9,000 kg of grapes or 6,750 litres per hectare of vineyard area entered in the vineyard register and planted with vines for the production of wine, agricultural, quality or predicate wine (1.33 kg of grapes yields 1 litre of wine). After conversion of the vineyard register to the content requirements of the integrated administration and control system, this maximum quantity per hectare is 10,000 kg of grapes or 7,500 l of wine. Until the conversion (probably in 2018), the Federal Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management may reduce or increase the maximum quantity per hectare for the harvest of a year by up to 20% by ordinance upon application of the National Wine Committee, if the climatic or wine-growing conditions for that year require it. This authorisation was used for the 2016 vintage and the maximum yield was increased from 9,000 to 10,800 kg/ha.
OriginFor wine (without grape variety/ vintage) only EU or Austria is allowed, for country wine the wine-growing region must be indicated, smaller units (wine-growing region, Großlage, municipality) are not allowed. From quality wine onwards, closer origins (wine-growing region, wine-growing area, Großlage, municipality, Ried in connection with the name of the municipality) may be used if the wine comes 100% from the specified area
Vintage yearOnly wine without grape variety/vine year is not allowed. For the other quality levels, the proportion must be at least 85% of the indicated vintage. Sweeteners, dosage do not count towards the 15%. For ice wine harvested the following year (January or later), the previous year must be indicated
Grape varietiesOnly wine (without grape variety/vine year) is not allowed. For the other quality levels, the proportion must be at least 85% of the indicated grape variety. In the case of two or more grape varieties, the names may be given in descending order according to their proportion in quantity, provided that they add up to 100%. The indication of pure variety is only permitted if the wine comes 100% from the indicated grape variety. For Spätlese and Auslese wines, the grape variety(ies) must be indicated
The mixing of grapes, mash, must or wine from red and white wine grapes is only permitted for wine without a vintage/variety declaration. However, these wines may then not be called red wine or white wine, but only "wine from Austria"
Sugar contentAustria has made use of its right to make the indication of the residual sugar content on the label compulsory. A wine with a maximum of 4 g/l (formerly the extra dry wine which is no longer allowed) or with a maximum of 9 g/l if the total acidity is not more than 2 g/l lower than the residual sugar is considered dry. With e.g. 8 g/l this requires at least 6 g/l total acidity. The other grades are semi-dry with 12 g/l or 18 g/l if the total acidity is not more than 10 g/l lower, sweet with a higher value than for semi-dry but maximum 45 g/l, and sweet with at least 45 g/l. Not relevant in terms of wine law are tart and Austrian dry
Sweetening (increase in residual sugar): Wine with and without grape variety/vine vintage may be sweetened by a maximum of 4% vol alcohol content; this is approx. 68 g/l residual sugar, which corresponds to approx. 5 °KMW. On the other hand, country wine and quality wine may be sweetened to a maximum of 15 g/l residual sugar. Country wine (this is new) and quality wine (the same) may be sweetened up to a maximum of 15 g/l unfermented sugar. This can be done by adding grape must, concentrated grape must or (which is rarely done) RTK (rectified grape must). Sucrose is prohibited as a sweetener. In principle, sweetening is not permitted for Kabinet and Prädikatswein
Enrich (increase in natural alcoholic strength by volume): May be carried out on all types of wine by a maximum of 2% vol. alcohol using the authorised means. After application, a maximum of 18 g/l residual sugar is permitted for country wine and quality wine (previously 15 g/l). The alcohol content may be reduced to a maximum of 12% vol. for white wine without and with grape variety/year for white wine, to a maximum of 12.5% vol. for red wine; to a maximum of 13.5% vol. for white country wine or quality wine; and to a maximum of 14.5% vol. for red country wine and quality wine. For Kabinett and Prädikatswein, enrichment is in principle not permitted.
Important institutions, committees, authorities and research institutes that carry out research, organising, controlling, publishing or training functions in connection with viticulture include the BKI (Bundeskellerei-Inspektion), Klosterneuburger Weinbauinstitut, ÖWM (Austria Wine Marketing), Silberberg (Viticulture Institute) and Austrian Wine Academy.
Influential wine authors or wine critics are Christa Hanten, Helmut O. Knall, Walter Kutscher, Peter Moser, Michael Prónay, Peter Schleimer, Viktor Siegl and Rudolf Steurer. They work in many wine magazines and wine guides such as A la Carte - Magazin für Trink- und Esskultur, Falstaff Wein Guide Österreich/Südtirol, Gault Millau, Kutschers Kostnotizen, Vinaria Weinguide and Wine-Guide-Austria / Wine-Times.