“Living with the vines” is the Austrian winegrowers’ maxim – because behind every bottle of wine lie months of work and countless manual interventions. Year in year out, winegrowers passionately devote themselves to this challenge – from pruning to harvest, from pressing the grapes to finally serving their wines in the Heurige or Buschenschank (wine taverns). The result of their labour is a unique product of high cultural value: wine from Austria.

Pruning the vines
January & February

While everything else in the vineyard is enjoying its winter sleep, the winegrowers get to work on pruning the vines, the annual cutting back of last year’s (and sometimes multiple years’) growth of wood. This winter pruning is the first vital step towards ensuring the quality of the grapes in the autumn. The fruiting arms are cut back to a specific length, i.e. with a specific number of buds from which the new shoots will grow. For this, the winegrowers consider each vine one by one, because no two vines are exactly the same. The vigour, age and health of the plant determines where the cut should be made – and what yield can be expected as a result. Pruning usually starts in January and continues over several weeks into February. Nowadays, modern electric vine pruning shears are very popular because they reduce the amount of force required and make pruning much easier.

A picture shows a winegrower pruning the vines.
A picture shows vine pruning shears at work.
A picture shows a freshly cut vine.

Working in the cellar
January & February

[Translate to English:] Ein Bild zeigt einen Winzer beim Abziehen von Wein aus dem Barrique-Fass.
[Translate to English:] © ÖWM / Robert Herbst

There is also work to be done in the cellar. In order to keep the barrels full to the brim, the winegrowers have to constantly top them up with wine, making up for what is lost to evaporation. Repeated tasting is a way of checking the quality and can, for example, also help determine the precise composition required for a cuvée blend. Certain wines are even drawn off the yeast at this early stage and prepared for bottling.

For English subtitles turn on the subtitles in the video.

Tending to the vineyard
March & April

Spring is the time for carrying out any necessary improvements or repairs to the wire trellises or posts.

This is also the time to plantnew vineyards or replaceany vines that have died.

The vegetation period of the vines begins at the end of March. Their roots become active, they take up water from the soil and they start to “bleed” – in other words, sap starts to seep from the cuts in the fruiting arms. Ideally, this is when the initial training is undertaken because when the sap is flowing, it is easier to bend the vines down and fix them to the wire without them breaking. Training ensures even budding and a good distribution of shoots.

A picture shows a “bleeding” vine.
A picture shows a vine fixed to the wire.
A picture shows hands holding seeds of a greening mixture.

Now is also time to start cultivating the soil, breaking it up, loosening it and perhaps sowing some greening mixes between the rows of vines. If necessary, fertiliser is applied. Greened rows are mulched, i.e. after mowing, the grasses and herbs are simply left where they fell, which both protects the soil and adds nutrients.

For English subtitles turn on the subtitles in the video.

Budding finally begins during April. The buds break open and the green tips of the shoots start to appear. Now is the time when every winegrower dreads late frosts, which could damage the young, sensitive leaves. They employ a variety of methods in an attemptto protect their vineyards against frost. If temperatures drop only slightly below zero, smoking – where winegrowers set fire to bales of straw in the vineyard – is one technique that can keep late frosts at bay. The smoke is supposed to prevent heat being lost overnight, as well as ensuring that the shoots warm up too quickly once the sun rises. Another way of keeping frost off the plants is sprinkling: the sensitive parts are covered with water, which then releases heat as it freezes. Using helicopters to stir up the cold and warmer air or lighting “frost candles” in order to increase the air temperature in the immediate vicinity are alternative measures that can also be used.

A picture shows smoking bales of straw in a vineyard to protect it from frost.
A picture shows sensitive young leaves.

Bottling the wine and nurturing relationships
March & April

[Translate to English:] Ein Bild zeigt einen Winzer wie er hinter seiner Abfüllanlage stehend den frisch abgefüllten Wein betrachtet.
[Translate to English:] © ÖWM / Robert Herbst

In the cellar, there is work to be done bottling the wine. The Klassik lines, Gebietsweine (regional wines) and other fresh, fruity wines are put into bottles, labelled and prepared for sale.

At this time of year, winegrowers nurture their business relationships, taking part in trade fairs and industry events.

For English subtitles turn on the subtitles in the video.

Managing the canopy
May & June

This is a period of growth in the vineyard, and this means intensive work on managing the canopy, which is a decisive factor in the subsequent quality of the grapes and the wine. Suckers (shoots) on the stem and superfluous young shoots, as well as duplicate and stunted shoots are removed. This process – referred to as Ausbrechen, or “breaking off” – optimises the number and distribution of shoots on the vine. The aim is to create a well-ventilated canopy, while also regulating the yield. This is followed by tying the vine shoots to the wire trellis.

Cultivating the soil beneath the vines is also necessary, as well as further measures to protect the plants – the latter depending on weather conditions and risk of fungal diseases.

For English subtitles turn on the subtitles in the video.

The picture shows the wine blossom on the vine.
© Austrian Wine / Point of View Foto

Blossom begins to appear on the vines towards the end of May – the precise timing depends upon the grape variety, location and the weather. The ideal conditions for this are warm, dry weather. The flowers are gone by the end of June. Unfavourable weather conditions during this phase can result in coulure or “shatter”: blossom or tiny berries that have already developed can drop off, resulting in a tangible loss of yield later on.

Another phase of intensive canopy management, carried out by hand, follows. The leaves are thinned out somewhat around the grapes, in order to create optimal light and air conditions for the fruit.

For English subtitles turn on the subtitles in the video.

Wine tourism starts again
May & June

Wines from the previous vintage that have been maturing longer in the cellar are often brought onto the market in May.

Ex-cellar sales, together with any touristic and culinary offers, makes the busy early summer period even busier. Traditional Heurige and Buschenschanken (wine taverns), the “vacation-at-the-vineyard” concept and a myriad of wine-tasting opportunities bear witness to the winegrowers’ hospitality.

For English subtitles turn on the subtitles in the video.

A picture shows a traditional Heurigen meal in a vineyard.
A picture shows a sticker “Auf zum Wein” (All aboard for wine!) in a window of a wine estate.
A picture shows a bike with a bottle of wine in the bottle holder.

Tipping & thinning out
July & August

A picture shows green grapes ready for being thinned out.
© Austrian Wine / Blickwerk Fotografie

The canopy still needs to be tended during the summer. In a step we call “tipping”, the long shoots are given a summer trim.

During thinning out, excess grapes are removed in order to improve the quality of the remaining fruit. The grapes that are removed are generally discarded on the ground. Removing leaves and suckers in the fruiting zone ensures good aeration. This enables the grapes to dry off quickly after rain and reduces the risk of fungal diseases. The key here, as always, is to maintain the right balance. If too many leaves are removed, the grapes are exposed to the harsh sun and could get burnt, which would affect the flavour of the wine – resulting in bitter notes, for example. Sometimes, harvesting the green grapes – removing what are now pea-sized berries – is left until August. Soon the grapes will begin to ripen, becoming soft and changing colour.

Preparing for the harvest
July & August

Before the harvest begins, Riedenweine (single-vineyard wines) from the previous vintage are often bottled.

Afterwards, preparations for the harvest begin in earnest – the press, harvesting baskets, destemmer, fermentation tanks etc. are got ready for use. In the vineyards, the winegrowers monitor how ripening is progressing, checking the must weight and pH value, and constantly tasting the berries in order to ascertain the ideal time to harvest. As the sugar content in the berries increases, acidity decreases. Achieving the perfect balance is critical for the subsequent quality of the wines, which are typically characterised by their freshness, but also by their density and intensity.

A picture shows a hand picking berries for tasting.
A picture shows a winegrower measuring the sugar content in the berries with a refractometer.

Harvesting
September & October

Harvest time has arrived! As we are seeing elsewhere, climate change means that the grape harvest is starting increasingly earlier in Austria. Some early varieties have already ripened fully by the middle of August, but the main harvest starts in September and usually takes several weeks. During this most tiring, but also most beautiful time of the year, winegrowers work almost around the clock. They hope for dry, stable weather so that the harvest can be brought in quickly and smoothly, without any problems. Grapes are either harvested by hand or by machine. Harvesting by hand means that an initial selection can be undertaken and any mouldy grapes separated out in the vineyard.

For English subtitles turn on the subtitles in the video.

A picture shows the harvest of a Gemischter Satz (field blend).
A picture shows a woman with a bucket full of grapes.
A picture shows a tractor with grapes on its trailer.

Pressing & fermenting
September & October

A picture shows grapes in a press.
© Austrian Wine / Anna Stöcher

Now processing gets under way in the cellar. White wine varieties are either pressed immediately (whole-bunch pressing) or are first separated from the stems (destemming) and then pressed. The alcoholic fermentation of the must starts, either triggered by selected yeasts or spontaneously thanks to natural yeasts, depending on the individual winegrower’s philosophy and preferred approach. Red wine grapes undergo mash fermentation on the skins. It is this that gives red wine its colour and tannins. During the fermentation of red wine, one important step that ensures better extraction of the colour and tannins is the daily punching down of the marc that rises to the surface as a result of the fermentation process.

Maturing the wines
November & December

In November, peace descends on the vineyards. The vines are preparing for their dormant winter period and are storing up nutrients ready for the next growing season. The winegrower’s work is entirely focused on maturing the wine in the cellar. A certain amount of time after fermentation is complete, the wines are drawn off – some after a shorter period of time, others after a longer wait – and transferred into barrels, tanks or other containers. The wines are now left to develop, with the winegrower intervening more or less frequently, depending on their own views regarding quality and methods.

A picture shows a wine cellar.
A picture shows various maturing containers for wine.

The Christmas season
November & December

A picture shows a young woman holding a box of wine.
© Austrian Wine / Robert Herbst

The Christmas season is just around the corner and the work at this time primarily revolves around selling and delivering wine.

Harvesting Eiswein
November & December

The wine year may well close with an Eiswein harvest – provided sufficiently cold weather sets in December. Often, however, temperatures do not drop low enough (–7°C and below) until January or February.

A picture shows frozen grapes for Eiswein.
A picture shows snow covered grapes.
A picture shows a snowy vineyard.

And then the year starts all over again...

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