Grapevines have been in existence for more than sixty million years. During the last interglacial warm period (from 5–10 thousand years ago), vines make their way northwest along the Danube River. The human race (Homo sapiens) discovers and cultivates the wild vine that we today recognise as the forebear of all noble 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 pips dating from the Bronze Age confirm the existence of a tradition of winemaking thousands of years old in the Traisental and in the village of Stillfried an der March in the Weinviertel. The grape seeds found there can be unambiguously assigned to the species of Vitis vinifera, and thus represent one of the oldest such discoveries in central Europe.
The Celts (and most likely also the Illyrians) are already farming the native vines in a somewhat simple form of viticulture; evidence for this exists in the form of grape pips of a cultivated Vitis vinifera variety in a Celtic burial mound from the Hallstatt Culture in the winegrowing community of Zagersdorf in Burgenland.
The Romans bring a systematic form of viticulture to our latitude: evidence of this exists in the Danube area (in the contemporary winegrowing region Carnuntum), in the vicinity of Lake Neusiedl, in Südburgenland and in the Steiermark (Styria) at Flavia Solva (in the neighbourhood of today’s Leibnitz).
Reigning Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius Probus rescinds the ban on winegrowing north of the Alps previously decreed by Emperor Domitian, and employs his armies in establishing new vineyards in the Pannonian region.
The Roman historian Eugippius mentions in the biography of Saint Severin that Severin had, before his death, retired to a place ‘qui ad vineas vocatabur ’– 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 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) in which among other precepts offers detailed instructions about cultivation of the vine, winemaking and legal matters pertaining to wine. Over the course of Carolingian colonisation, viticulture in the eastern reaches of the Frankisch empire is encouraged and promoted: among other elements, a vineyard cadastre was introduced, along with an evaluation and guide to betterment regarding the multiplicity of 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 in today’s Thermenregion. Along the Danube River, it was primarily the Bavarian dioceses and abbeys who got underway with the clearing and cultivation of river valleys – for example, the establishment of terracing culture in the Wachau. At this point, monasteries such as the Bavarian Niedertaltaich and Herreiden, Tegernsee and Metten, as well as the Archbishoprics of Regensberg, Passau and Freising, also cultivated vineyards, as did the Archbishop of Salzburg, who even to this day own modest tracts of vines.
When the ruling Babenbergs relocate the seat of their duchy to Vienna, viticulture in the new capital city enjoys an upswing. Citizens of Vienna can now own vineyards, which in these days occupy wide swaths of the inner districts.
In Vienna, the Seitzerkeller – belonging to the charterhouse Mauerbach in the Dorotheergasse – is established; following this, some sixty, occasionally multi-storey wine rooms called ‘Trinkstuben’ are opened, where the proprietors serve wine of their own production.
Ruling Duke Rudolf IV of Austria declares a ten per cent tax on wine, known as ‘Ungeld’ (a somewhat pejorative tag); in addition, many landlords are divested of their proprietary rights. A great number of tolls are levied by states and provincial royalty upon the import and transit of wine.
The area under vines in Austria reaches its greatest level of expansion: vineyards line the Danube River all the way to Oberösterreich (the state of Upper Austria) and all the way to Semmering in the Steiermark. Viticulture becomes widespread as well in Salzburg, Kärnten (Carinthia), Tirol and Vorarlberg – this all adds up to an area three times as great as that which is currently under vines in Austria.
Queen Maria of Hungary grants winegrowers from the town of Rust the privilege of branding their casks with a large letter ‘R’ – an early instance of origin-based marketing.
In Donnerskirchen (Burgenland) an officially documented topgrade dessert wine is produced for the first time, from the holdings of the noble Esterházy family – the so-called ‘Luther Wine’ (most likely a Trockenbeerenauslese). Ruling Prince Paul Esterházy buys a large cask of this wine in 1653, and the contents are to provide connoisseurs with pleasure for more than 300 years. The last drop of this wine is finally drunk in the year 1852.
Johann Rasch (1540–1612), Master of the Scottish Abbey in Vienna publishes his renowned work ‘Von Bau, Pfleg und Brauch des Weins’, concerning viticulture and the ways of wine.
Viticulture suffers appreciable setbacks because of religious wars, Turkish besiegements, exorbitant taxes and the increased popularity of beer.
Under the rule of Maria Theresia (1740–1780) and her son Joseph II (1780–1790) viticulture is vigorously promoted. This time period also sees the beginning of scientific reevaluation of viticultural practices in Austria.
Emperor Joseph II’s decree of 17 August 1784 (the ‘Josephinische Zirkularverordnung’) grants every individual the privilege of selling or serving ‘foodstuffs, wine and cider they have produced themselves at all times of the year, when and at whichever price they choose’. This is thus the predecessor of the famous ‘Buschenschankverordnung’, which makes possible the triumphal rise of the Heurigen and Buschenschänken – the wine taverns – in Austria.
Freiherr von Babo founds the first school and research centre for viticulture and oenology in Klosterneuburg, which passes to control of the state in 1874, and since 1902 has been known as the Höhere Lehranstalt für Wein- und Obstbau (Federal College of Viticulture, Oenology and Fruit Growing). Many other similar institutes based on this model are established throughout the monarchy. The ‘Höhere Bundeslehranstalt für Wein- and Obstbau’ in Klosterneuburg is today the oldest viticultural college in the world.
Oidium (powdery mildew) is seen for the first time in Austrian vineyards in 1850, and Peronospora (downy mildew) appears in 1878. The infiltration of the grapevine louse Phylloxera vastatrix in 1872 brings widespread devastation to Austria’s vineyards.
Ludwig Hermann Goethe assumes the leadership of the Agricultural Association for Protection of Austrian Viticulture and publishes a comprehensive history of viticulture in Austrian latitudes, in which the contemporaneously most important places of origin and grape varieties are documented.
The first Austrian wine law goes into effect, which among other matters lists the techniques permitted in winemaking, and forbids the fabrication of artificial wines.
Following the collapse of the Habsburg Monarchy, the area under vines in the new small nation of Austria decreases from 48,000 hectares before the First World War to some 30,000 hectares by the 1930s.
Professor Friedrich Zweigelt, later the director of the ‘Höheren Bundeslehr- und Bundesversuchsanstalt (teaching and research institute) for Wein-, Obst- und Gartenbau’ in Klosterneuburg crosses the grape varieties Sankt Laurent and Blaufränkisch, and with this creates today’s most important new Austrian cultivar, the Rotburger – later known as Blauer Zweigelt.
A new federal law concerned with regulation of viticulture, which forbids any new establishment of vineyards and the planting of direct- producer hybrids, is a typical example of the stringently protectionist tendencies which characterise the agricultural policy of the First Republic.
Pioneer of viticulture from Rohrendorf Lenz Moser publishes his groundbreaking work ‘Weinbau einmal anders’ that declares war on the theretofore popular modes of winemaking. With the introduction of the so-called ‘high training system’ during the 1950s, the mechanisation (and rationalisation) of viticulture became possible, and with it an appreciable increase in the size of yields. This style of cultivating the vines took a firm hold in Austria by the end of the decade. By the 1980s, nearly ninety per cent of the area under vines is worked in this manner.
The cyclical decline in prices for bulk wine and the adulteration of wine with diethylene glycol (by a few scoundrels) leads to the socalled ‘wine scandal’. This results in the exports of Austrian wine dwindling to almost none at all. As a reaction to this, a new and stringent wine law is introduced, which among other aspects demands a seamless and rock-solid examination of wine inventories.
The Austrian Wine Marketing Board (AWMB) is established, with the stated goal of promoting the image and sales of Austrian wine in a focused manner.
With the founding of the Weinakademie Österreich, a training centre that now enjoys international acclaim is founded, offering a great many educational programmes in both German and English. With 750 seminars and more than 15,000 course participants, the Weinakademie has developed into the most expansive wine education institute in the German-language sphere.
With Austria’s entry in to the EU, the wine law of the European community is adopted.
Politically structured measures prescribed by the EU are introduced, which not only support wineproducing estates but are also concerned with the clearing and/or conversion of certain vineyard parcels.
Regional wine committees are established, composed of prominent representatives from the winegrowing community in individual regions. Their primary goal is improvement in the coordination of sales (for example through standardisation of contracts in contract management and qualification measures), plus working to establish idiomatic and regionally typical styles of wine in close collaboration with the Austrian Wine Marketing Board, to effect improved marketing and positioning of the region. Work of the regional wine committees falls under the oversight and coordination of the national wine committee.
An amendment to the wine law creates the possibility of establishing regionally typical wines defined by the wine committees with the supplementary designation DAC (Districtus Austriae Controllatus) appended to the name of the winegrowing region. Only these wines, examined for the federal control number and undergoing a further inspection for typicity are permitted to display the origin of the specified growing region (for example, Weinviertel) on the label. All other wines must be marketed under the name of the generic winegrowing region (for example, Niederösterreich).
‘The London Tasting’ – at a historic tasting of Grüner Veltliner and Chardonnay in London, organised by Jancis Robinson MW and Tim Atkin MW, the first four places are won by Austrian Grüner Veltliner and Chardonnay, while the top ten includes four additional Austrian wines. Elite wines tasted from other nations include, for example, estates such as Ramonet, Louis Latour and Jadot (Burgundy), Gaja (Piedmont), Mondavi (Napa Valley) and Penfolds (South Australia). Subsequent tastings in Vienna, Tokyo and Singapore yield similar results.
With the launch of the Weinviertel DAC (initially with the 2002 vintage) the first regionally typical wine with designation of origin is released to the market in the form of a dry and Weinviertel-typical Grüner Veltliner.
Austria’s first red wine of designated origin (vintage 2005) with a regionally typical flavour profile is released from Mittelburgenland. For the first time, DAC wines are arranged in two categories – Klassik and Reserve.
The release of the 2006 vintage presents two further wines of origin, Riesling and Grüner Veltliner Traisental DAC . Likewise for Kremstal DAC from the 2007 vintage, and Kamptal DAC from 2008, both varieties are available in classic and reserve categories. Weinviertel DAC Reserve is available from the 2009 vintage.
Beginning on the first of September two additional wines of protected origin from Burgenland may be sold: Leithaberg DAC (white with the 2009 vintage, red from 2008) and Eisenberg DAC (Blaufränkisch, Klassik as of the 2009 vintage and Reserve from 2008).
Regulations governing the Neusiedlersee DAC were implemented in March 2012. They apply to the regionally typical Zweigelt from the district, while the Reserve wines are composed as Zweigelt-based cuvées. These regulations govern all wines, effective with the 2011 vintage.
The 1995 Riesling ‘Vinothek’ from the Nikolaihof is the first Austrian wine to be awarded 100 Parker points.
Introduction of the three-tier ‘quality pyramid’, for Österreichischer Sekt g.U. (Austrian Sekt with protected designation of origin), on three levels: Klassik, Reserve and Grosse Reserve (Grande Reserve).