In Austria, there are 40 grape varieties – 26 white and 14 red – that are officially approved for the production of Qualitätswein, Prädikatswein (Qualitätswein produced from grapes that are harvested using special techniques once they have reached a specific degree of ripeness) and Landwein. The proportion of red wine grapes has doubled over the past two decades, and now represents one third of Austria’s area under vine, totalling 44,537 hectares.
Austria offers excellent vineyards for growing internationally recognised varieties such as Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Muskateller, Traminer, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Even more important, however, is the portfolio of indigenous grape varieties, with Grüner Veltliner at the top of the list. This white variety alone accounts for almost one third of Austria’s area under vine. Other white varieties such as Neuburger, Rotgipfler, Zierfandler and Roter Veltliner – as well as the red varieties Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch, Sankt Laurent and Blauer Wildbacher – have regained particular popularity today.
In terms of their genetics, many of these grape varieties descend from Traminer and Heunisch. Traminer, one of the oldest European varieties, was supposedly selected from wild vines that grew during antiquity. Heunisch is the name of a family of grape varieties that the Magyars may have brought with them from Hungary to Austria, where these grapes spread quickly. At least 75 of varieties known today have Heunisch in their parentage, Chardonnay and Riesling being two examples.
Viticultural knowledge and the cross-cultivation of vines has a very long past in Austria. This tradition is supported by the research centre at the Höhere Bundeslehranstalt für Wein- und Obstbau (Federal College for Viticulture, Oenology and Fruit Growing) in Klosterneuburg, which celebrated its 150th birthday in October 2010 – making it the oldest viticultural school in the world. The Department of Vine Breeding is headed up by Dr Ferdinand Regner, an internationally recognised expert in the field. His significant research on the identification of grape varieties with the help of DNA analysis attracted recognition worldwide.
Overview of White Wine Varieties
There are 26 white wine grape varieties classified for the production of quality wine in Austria. This also includes many indigenous varieties, such as Grüner Veltliner, Zierfandler and Rotgipfler, that are virtually only found in Austria. Approximately two-thirds of Austrian vineyard area is planted with white wine varieties.
Overview of Red Wine Varieties
There are 14 red wine grape varieties classified for the production of quality wine in Austria, and approximately one-third of Austrian vineyard area is planted with red wine varieties. By far the most successful red wine variety is the Blauer Zweigelt, an Austrian crossing, of which there are many planted in regional vineyards.
“Autochthonous” in the context of vines refers to grape varieties that are almost exclusively the result of natural cross-breeding or mutation in a particular region, in which they then become well-established. Over time, they adjust well to local conditions and, in most cases, are only able to deliver the best quality of grapes under these very conditions. Today, the different regions consider autochthonous grape varieties as their precious resources, which are used for producing wines that reflect their unique terroir.
Autochthonous varieties permitted for the production of Qualitätswein
A “new cultivar” results from the intentional crossing of two or more grape varieties (single or multiple crossings). The aim is to create a new variety that displays all the positive characteristics of the parent varieties while the negative characteristics are suppressed. Despite intense efforts, however, these processes have only achieved partial success. Cross-cultivating vines is both time-consuming and cost-intensive. In Austria, new cultivars are bred at the research centre of the Höhere Bundeslehranstalt für Wein- und Obstbau (Federal College for Viticulture, Oenology and Fruit Growing) in Klosterneuburg.
New cultivars permitted for the production of Qualitätswein
- White wine varieties: Müller-Thurgau, Muskat-Ottonel, Scheurebe, Jubiläumsrebe, Goldburger, Blütenmuskateller, Muscaris, Souvignier gris
- Red wine varieties: Blauburger, Zweigelt, Rathay, Roesler
Today, breeding focuses on improving varietal resistance to fungal diseases. These new cultivars are called PIWI (fungal-resistant) varieties. Resistance against one or more fungal diseases is only ever partial. Today, a series of partially resistant varieties exist, which need fewer crop protection treatments against fungal disease.
- White wine varieties: Blütenmuskateller, Muscaris, Souvignier Gris
- Red wine varieties: Rathay, Roesler
The following partially-resistant grape varieties are allowed to be planted for the production of wine without a protected designation of origin or geographical indication, but with the designation of grape variety or vintage (varietal wine):