Grapevines have been in existence for more than sixty million years. During the last interglacial period (5–10 thousand years ago), vines spread north-west along the Danube River. The human race (Homo sapiens) discovered and cultivated these wild vines, which we recognise today as the forebearers of all modern-day European varieties.
Wine in Austria: The History
The long history of Austrian wine contains many facets: grape varieties, cultivation and enology, viticulture through the ages, and the evolution of Austrian winegrowing regions since the demarcation of the borders following the World War I. What role is played by the trade and taxation of Austrian wine? What is its ritualistic role in religion and traditional customs? This beautiful volume represents the first in-depth, scholarly look at the historical and cultural significance of wine, with its turbulent history, drinking culture, and depiction in literature. Read more
10th–9th centuries BCE
Preserved grape seeds dating from the Bronze Age, which have been found in the Traisental and in the village of Stillfried an der March in the Weinviertel, confirm the existence of a local wine-making tradition stretching back thousands of years. The grape seeds found at these sites have been unambiguously identified as the Vitis vinifera species, and therefore represent one of the oldest discoveries of their kind in central Europe.
The Celts (and most likely also the Illyrians) are already cultivating the native vines in a somewhat basic form of viticulture; evidence of this has been found in the wine-growing community of Zagersdorf in Burgenland, where grape seeds from a cultivated Vitis vinifera variety were discovered in a Celtic burial mound from the time of the Hallstatt Culture.
The Romans bring a more systematic form of viticulture to the region, testimony to which can be found in the Danube area (in today’s wine-growing region of Carnuntum), in the vicinity of Lake Neusiedl, in Southern Burgenland and in Flavia Solva (an ancient Roman municipium, near to modern-day Leibnitz, Styria).
The reigning Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius Probus rescinds a ban on wine-growing north of the Alps, which was previously decreed by Emperor Domitian. The Roman armies are employed in establishing new vineyards in the Pannonian region.
Roman historian Eugippius mentions in the biography of Saint Severin that, before his death, Severin had retired to a place “qui ad vineas vocabatur”, meaning “among the vineyards”. These vineyards are said by some to be on the right bank of the Danube across from Krems, while other sources place them in Heiligenstadt, or in Nussdorf in Vienna’s Döbling district.
The Romans finally relinquish sovereignty over their former province of Noricum. In the confusion of the following mass migration, most vineyards in Austria fall into a state of dilapidation.
Emperor Charlemagne issues his Capitulare de Villis (a text guiding administration of the royal estates), which offers detailed instructions about viticulture, wine-making and legal matters pertaining to wine, amongst other points. Over the course of Carolingian colonisation, viticulture is encouraged and promoted in the eastern reaches of Francia. Amongst other elements, a vineyard register was introduced, along with an evaluation and assessment of the many grape varieties.
Viticulture endures setbacks caused by incursions of the Magyars.
The Cistercian monks bring Burgundian wine culture to Austria via Heiligenkreuz Abbey and the nearby cloister Freigut Thallern, located in today’s Thermenregion. Along the Danube River, it was primarily the Bavarian bishoprics and abbeys that started to undertake the clearing and cultivation of river valleys, including establishing terracing in the Wachau. At this point, monasteries such as the Niedertaltaich, Herreiden, Tegernsee and Metten abbeys in Bavaria also cultivated vineyards, as well as the archbishoprics of Regensberg, Passau and Freising, and the Archbishop of Salzburg. To this day, they still own modest plots of vines.
When the ruling Babenbergs relocate the seat of their duchy to Vienna, viticulture in the new capital city enjoys a boom. Citizens of Vienna are now able to own vineyards, which at this time occupy wide swaths of the inner districts.
In Vienna, the Seitzerkeller – belonging to the charterhouse Mauerbach in the Dorotheergasse – is established. Following this, around sixty wine rooms or “Trinkstuben” open up, some of them in buildings with multiple floors, where proprietors serve wine of their own production.
Ruling Duke Rudolf IV of Austria declares a 10% tax on wine, known as “Ungeld” (a somewhat pejorative tag). In addition, many landlords are divested of their proprietary rights. States and provincial royalty levy a great number of tolls on the import and transit of wine.
The area under vine in Austria reaches its highest ever level. Vineyards line the Danube River all the way to the state of Upper Austria and all the way to Semmering in Styria; viticulture also becomes widespread in Salzburg, Carinthia, Tyrol and Vorarlberg. Altogether, this amounts to an area three times as large as the area under vine in Austria today.
Queen Maria of Hungary grants winegrowers from the town of Rust the privilege of branding their casks with a large letter “R” – an early example of origin-based marketing.
In Donnerskirchen (Burgenland) an officially documented top-grade dessert wine – “Luther Wine” (most likely a Trockenbeerenauslese) – is produced for the first time, made by the estate of the noble Esterházy family. Ruling Prince Paul Esterházy buys a large cask of this wine in 1653, and the contents go on to bring pleasure to connoisseurs for more than 300 years. The last drop of this wine is finally drunk in the year 1852.
Johann Rasch (1540–1612), school master at the Schottenstift Abbey in Vienna, publishes his renowned work Von Bau, Pfleg und Brauch des Weins, concerning viticulture and wine.
Viticulture suffers great setbacks because of religious wars, Turkish besiegement, exorbitant taxes and the increased popularity of beer.
Viticulture is vigorously promoted under the rule of Maria Theresia (1740–1780) and her son Joseph II (1780–1790). This time period also sees the beginning of the scientific re-evaluation of viticultural practices in Austria.
mperor Joseph II’s decree of 17 August 1784 (the Josephinische Zirkularverordnung) grants every individual the privilege of selling or serving “foodstuffs, wine and cider that they have produced themselves, at any time of the year, when and at whichever price they choose”. This is the predecessor of the famous Buschenschankverordnung, which enables the triumphal rise of Heurige and Buschenschank taverns in Austria.
Freiherr von Babo founds the first school and research centre for viticulture and oenology in Klosterneuburg. Control was passed to the state in 1874, and since 1902, it has been known as the Höhere Bundeslehranstalt für Wein- und Obstbau (Federal College for Viticulture, Oenology and Fruit Growing). Many other similar institutions based on this model are established throughout the monarchy. The Höhere Bundeslehranstalt für Wein- and Obstbau in Klosterneuburg is the oldest viticultural college in the world today.
Oidium (powdery mildew) is discovered for the first time in Austrian vineyards in 1850, and peronospora (downy mildew) appears in 1878. The infiltration of the grape vine louse Phylloxera vastatrix in 1872 brings widespread devastation to Austria’s vineyards.
Ludwig Hermann Goethe assumes the leadership of the Agricultural Association for the Protection of Austrian Viticulture and publishes a comprehensive history of viticulture in the region of Austria, documenting the most important places of origin and grape varieties at the time.
The first Austrian wine law comes into effect. It includes a list of permitted wine-making techniques and forbids the production of “artificial” wine.
Following the collapse of the Habsburg Monarchy, the area under vine in the small new nation of Austria decreases from 48,000 hectares before the First World War to around 30,000 hectares by the 1930s.
Professor Friedrich Zweigelt, later director of the Höheren Bundeslehr- und Bundesversuchsanstalt für Wein-, Obst- und Gartenbau in Klosterneuburg produces a cross between the grape varieties Sankt Laurent and Blaufränkisch. The new variety – known as Rotburger or (Blauer) Zweigelt – becomes today’s most important new Austrian cross cultivar.
A new federal law related to the regulation of viticulture prohibits any new vineyards being established and the planting of ungrafted vines. This law is a typical example of the stringently protectionist tendencies that characterise the agricultural policy of the First Republic.
Lenz Moser, a pioneer of viticulture from Rohrendorf, publishes his ground-breaking work Weinbau einmal anders, which declares war on the traditional viticulture processes that had been in use up until this time. With the introduction of Moser’s high vine training system during the 1950s, viticulture practices could be mechanised and streamlined, and this came with an appreciable increase in yields. This training system took a firm hold in Austria by the end of the decade. By the 1980s, this vine training technique was implemented in nearly 90% of the area under vine.
The cyclical decline in prices for bulk wine and the adulteration of wine with diethylene glycol leads to what is referred to as the “wine scandal”. This results in exports of Austrian wine dropping to almost zero. As a reaction to this, a new and stringent wine law is introduced, part of which demands testing at every single step in the wine production process.
The Austrian Wine Marketing Board (Austrian Wine) is established, with the goal of strengthening the image of Austrian wine and promoting sales in a focused manner.
The founding of the Austrian Wine Academy sees the opening of a training institute offering a large number of courses in both German and English. Today, the centre enjoys international acclaim. The Austrian Wine Academy has developed into the most expansive institute for wine education in the German-speaking world. Every year, it runs more than 750 seminars and welcomes more than 15,000 participants on its courses.
With Austria’s entry into the EU, wine law from the European community is adopted.
Structural policies prescribed by the EU are introduced, which not only support wine-producing estates but also involve the clearing and/or conversion of certain areas under vine.
Regional wine committees are established, bringing together key representatives from the wine-growing industry in each region. Their primary goal is to improve sales coordination (for example, by introducing standardised contracts, qualification measures, etc.) and establish regionally typical wine styles in close collaboration with the Austrian Wine Marketing Board (Austrian Wine), with the aim of improving the marketing and positioning of each region. The national wine committee coordinates and oversees the work of the regional wine committees.
An amendment to the wine law creates the opportunity of establishing regionally typical wines as defined by the regional wine committees, with the supplementary designation DAC (Districtus Austriae Controllatus) appended to the name of the wine-growing region. Only these wines, controlled with a federal inspection number and inspected for their typicity, are permitted to print their origin in terms of the specific wine-growing region (e.g. Weinviertel) on their label. All other wines must be marketed under the name of the respective generic wine-growing region (e.g. Niederösterreich).
‘The London Tasting’ – At a historic blind tasting of Grüner Veltliner and Chardonnay in London, organised by Jancis Robinson MW and Tim Atkin MW, the top four prizes are won by Austrian Grüner Veltliner and Chardonnay wines, while four other Austrian wines also feature among the top ten. The event includes premium wines from other nations, such as those from Ramonet, Louis Latour and Jadot (Burgundy), Gaja (Italy), Mondavi (California) and Penfolds (Australia). Subsequent tasting events in Vienna, Tokyo and Singapore yield similar results.
Since the establishment of the Weinviertel DAC (from the 2002 vintage onwards), the first regionally typical wine with designation of origin is released to the market: a dry Grüner Veltliner that displays the typicity of the Weinviertel growing region.
Austria’s first red wine with a designation of origin and regional typicity (2005 vintage) is released, produced in Mittelburgenland. For the first time, DAC wines are classified into two categories: Klassik and Reserve.
The 2006 vintage sees the second white wine with a designation of origin released to the market: the Traisental DAC . Kremstal DAC follows suit with the 2007 vintage, as does Kamptal DAC with the 2008 vintage – both Grüner Veltliner and Riesling are available in a Klassik and Reserve style. Reserve wines from the Weinviertel DAC are available from the 2009 vintage onwards.
As of 1 September 2010, two additional designations of origin for Burgenland wines appear on the market: Leithaberg DAC (white from the 2009 vintage onwards, red from 2008) and Eisenberg DAC (Blaufränkisch, Klassik from the 2009 vintage onwards,
Reserve from 2008).
Regulations governing the Neusiedlersee DAC are implemented in March 2012. They apply to regionally typical Zweigelt from this region, while Reserve wines from this region are Zweigelt cuvée blends. These regulations govern all wines from the 2011 vintage onwards.
The 1995 “Vinothek” Riesling from Nikolaihof is the first Austrian wine to be awarded 100 Parker points.
The former Großlage (large collective vineyard site) Rosalia becomes an Austrian DAC region. The Styrian designations of origin Weststeiermark DAC, Südsteiermark DAC and Vulkanland Steiermark DAC are introduced.
The new Wachau DAC designation of origin is introduced. The traditional array of grape varieties at the Gebietswein (regional wine) level is refined to focus on the region’s Riedenwein (single-vineyard wines) flagship varieties – namely Grüner Veltliner and Riesling. With the introduction of Ruster Ausbruch DAC, the free city of Rust becomes the first designated origin in Austria to be protected exclusively for sweet wine. From this point onwards, dry wines from the city of Rust are allowed to be marketed with the designation of origin Leithaberg DAC . Other developments include the addition of sweet wines to the designation of origin Neusiedlersee DAC (both nobly sweet and fruity sweet wines).
The Wagram wine-growing region begins to protect its regionally typical wines with DAC status. The criteria for Wagram DAC follow the same origin pyramid used in other regions, using the tiers of Gebietswein (regional wine), Ortswein (“villages” wine) and Riedenwein (single-vineyard wine). Grüner Veltliner, Roter Veltliner and Riesling are the preeminent grape varieties. From now on, Austria's sparkling wines with a protected designation of origin will be sold under the name "Sekt Austria" in three categories: Sekt Austria, Sekt Austria Reserve and Sekt Austria Große Reserve.