In other words, if “DAC” appears on a wine label immediately after the name of the winegrowing region (e.g. Kamptal DAC), it means that the wine inside displays the unmistakeable characteristics of that winegrowing region. Only wines with this character are allowed to feature the name of that specific region on the label. This puts the emphasis on the wine’s origin and makes the wine all the more distinguishable.
The establishment of a DAC regulation
All specific winegrowing regions in Austria primarily market the wines that differentiate their particular region from others because these wines are particularly suited to local conditions and have a long-established importance. When a region is deciding what to grow, both viticultural and strategic marketing criteria need to be considered. For example, some grape varieties are less well-suited to the character of a particular region, for example Schilcher would not tend to be grown along the Danube, and Grüner Veltliner not in Steiermark. If a region decides to concentrate on wines that are typical for the area, and in doing so only allows wines of that type to use the region’s name on labels, then the process to acquire DAC status can begin.
The first step in the process is for the Regional Wine Committee – which is made up of local grape producers, winemakers, traders, etc. – to define the regional typicity and winegrowing policy. The typicity includes factors such as grape variety/varieties, harvesting methods, ageing and taste.
Once the committee reaches a consensus, a draft regulation is drawn up together with experts from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, the Chamber of Agriculture, the Federal Economic Chamber and the AWMB. The draft is then submitted to the National Wine Committee for approval.
The National Wine Committee then submits the final application to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture. If the application is approved and becomes law, wines can only be labelled with the name of the region and the DAC suffix (Districtus Austriae Controllatus) if they correspond to the defined typicity of that particular region. All other Qualitätswein must be labelled with the name of the generic winegrowing region (= the name of the federal state) in which the DAC region is located (e.g. “Steiermark” rather than “Südsteiermark”).
Points defined in a DAC regulation
A DAC regulation can define various factors relating to wine production. These points, which define the unique typicity of origin, can include grape variety and cultivation methods, as well as the earliest permitted opportunity to bring a wine to market.
Firstly, a winegrowing region determines their flagship grape variety/varieties. This is not an arbitrary decision; it results from wine-growing traditions in that region, as well as the region’s climatic conditions and soil characteristics. Some regions (e.g. Eisenberg and Traisental) have decided to focus on one or two grape varieties, while other regions (e.g. Steiermark and Wachau) use a wider range of grape varieties to produce the characteristic diversity of wines with their particular designation of origin.
Cultivation & harvesting
A region’s typicity may not be defined by the wine style alone, but also their particular cultivation practices. This is the case in the winegrowing region of Wien, where the Gemischter Satz field blend is so rooted in the region that the Wiener Gemischter Satz DAC was established to protect the traditional methodology of growing different grape varieties in the same vineyard and processing them together. Some regions also list how their grapes should be harvested in their DAC regulation. For example, for the DAC regions of Rust and Wachau as well as the ones in the state of Styria, harvesting by hand is compulsory.
Alcohol & residual sugar
Each region may define the required alcohol by volume or residual sugar content of their wines, whether these be light or robust, dry or sweet. Those factors can also be defined for every single tier or grape variety within the region’s system of origins.
Ageing & sensory characteristics
Grape varieties alone do not define the regional typicity; a wine’s ageing process, taste, aroma and colour can also play a critical role and be defined clearly in the regulation process. If a wine is to be marketed as a DAC, a tasting commission decides on what factors make the wine typical of the region.
Bringing to market
Alongside criteria relating to cultivation, processing and characteristics of the final product, DAC regulations also often include marketing criteria. These include, for example, the earliest date that the wine can be brought to market, to ensure that the wine can age for the length of time it typically requires. Regions are also welcome to create a common logo for marketing their regionally typical wines. DAC wines are usually also subject to certain labelling regulations.
Origin tiers and more specific designations of origin
Many regions divide their wines into different tiers according to their degree of ageing and/or more specific designations of origin. Firstly, use of the term “Reserve” is subject to regulation. It is forbidden to use the term “Reserve” for wines with typicity of origin (i.e. with DAC status), unless the relevant DAC regulation expresses otherwise. In this instance, DAC regulations generally define the earliest possible date that an application for an inspection number can be submitted, differing from the general wine labelling regulations.
The trend amongst many DAC wines is towards a clear profiling into three tiers of wine with more specific designations of origin: Gebietswein (regional wine), Ortswein (“villages” wine) and Riedenwein (single-vineyard wine). This underlines the exact typicity of a wine’s origin – whether this be a larger region, a specific village or community or even an individual vineyard.
Since 2003, 16 of the 18 specific winegrowing regions have defined their typical wines and now only market regionally typical wines using the name of their region (as at October 2020).
The narrow valley of the Danube between Melk and Krems is a World Heritage Site. Grüner Veltliner and Riesling are the main varieties planted here, across a total of 1,344 hectares of vineyards – many of which are found on steep terraces cut into the primary rock. The regionally typical Wachau DAC wines reflect the diversity of the region’s grapes in Gebietswein (regional wine) and Ortswein (“village” wine), while the flagship varieties, Grüner Veltliner and Riesling, come to the fore in Riedenwein (single-vineyard wine). The region is also known for its Steinfeder, Federspiel and Smaragd designations.
The 2,368 hectares of vineyards in this region are split into three separate zones: the historic city of Krems and the rocky Krems valley itself, the imposing eastern loess areas, and the small wine villages south of the Danube around Göttweig Abbey. Together, these areas comprise a DAC appellation focused on two of the best white wine grape varieties in the world: Grüner Veltliner and Riesling.
With a total of 3,907 hectares under vine, and a large number of top-rated estates, Kamptal is one of Austria’s most successful winegrowing regions. Loess and primary rock are the most common soil types here. Several vineyard sites, for example the famous Heiligenstein, also have volcanic soil. DAC status is granted to Grüner Veltliner and Riesling wines here.
With 815 hectares, this winegrowing region is small and exquisite. With their spicy, mineral characteristics, Traisental’s DAC varieties of Grüner Veltliner and Riesling have already gained an international following. The area’s romantic wine villages and welcoming wine taverns (known as Heurige) are genuine insider secrets for travelling wine fans.
Austria’s largest specific winegrowing region (13,858 hectares) is home to a wide range of varieties, but Grüner Veltliner clearly stands out. These wines have a strong regional character that includes a marked spicy, peppery nose. In 2003, Grüner Veltliner from the Weinviertel was the first Austrian wine to gain DAC status.
Vines were first planted in the historical Carnuntum winegrowing region by the Romans. This region, in which 906 hectares are under vine, is home to well-structured white wines and some of Austria’s finest red wines. Carnuntum DAC may be made from Grüner Veltliner, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Zweigelt or Blaufränkisch. The latter finds its ideal terroir on the calcareous soils of the Spitzerberg.
The Neusiedlersee winegrowing region to the east of Lake Neusiedl covers 6,675 hectares between the town of Neusiedl and the Hungarian border, spanning the hills around the wine-producing town of Gols, and the flat terrains of Heideboden and Seewinkel. Since 2012, Neusiedlersee DAC has represented fruity and harmonious red wines made from Zweigelt, and also a more full-bodied style with the “Reserve” label. Since 2020, the region’s sweet wines have also been allowed to carry the designation of origin “Neusiedlersee DAC”.
This DAC region on the western bank of Lake Neusiedl has been the first one in Austria to permit both white and red regionally typical wines. The limestone and slate soils of the 3,097-hectare Leithaberg DAC region produce great white wines (from Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Neuburger and Grüner Veltliner), as well as top-flight, mineral-driven Blaufränkisch wines.
Ruster Ausbruch DAC
The free city of Rust can look back on a century-long winegrowing tradition. The local speciality is the Ruster Ausbruch – a Trockenbeerenauslese exclusively produced from the city’s 412 hectares under vine. From 2020 onwards, these sweet wines are protected by the “Ruster Ausbruch DAC” designation of origin. Dry wines from Rust may be labelled with the “Burgenland” or – where applicable – “ Leithaberg DAC ” designation of origin.
The eastern slopes of the Rosalia mountain range are home to Burgenland’s smallest winegrowing region – with a mere 297 hectares. Here, Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch grapes are grown on the young deposits of a prehistoric ocean, which forms a foundation for the powerful and fruit-driven Rosalia DAC wines. Another regionally typical speciality is the fresh and spicy Rosalia DAC rosé made from one or more red Qualitätswein grape varieties.
Blaufränkisch is the dominant grape variety in Mittelburgenland’s 2,104 hectares of vineyards. Its unmistakeable aroma of black fruits of the forest and fine, spicy notes develop as a result of the warm, loamy soils, giving the Mittelburgenland DAC its regional typicity. The region’s “Reserve” wines have already proven their great ageing potential.
The winegrowing region in the south of Burgenland is characterised by peaceful, idyllic countryside that stretches along the Hungarian border. Excellent Blaufränkisch wines are grown across the 515 hectares of vineyards in this region, giving the local wines exceptional minerality and uniquely fresh notes. Since 2009, these wines have been bottled under the labels Eisenberg DAC or Eisenberg DAC Reserve.
Vulkanland Steiermark DAC
Giving this wine region its name, the extinct volcanoes here are home to many small vineyard islands that have been planted on the volcanoes’ flanks. With 1,524 hectares of vineyards, these volcanic soils produce DAC wines with a distinct, individual character: primarily Welschriesling, Pinot Blanc, Morillon (Chardonnay) and Sauvignon Blanc. Around Klöch, Traminer is a local speciality.
Dotted along the border with Slovenia, the breath-taking, steep slopes of Südsteiermark characterise one of the most charming winegrowing regions in the world. These 2,563 hectares are home to a large number of white grape varieties that serve as the base for the region’s DAC wines. The region’s undisputed standout wine, however, is the Sauvignon Blanc that is influenced by the area’s shell-limestone soils of the best single-vineyard sites. The slate soils in the Sausal hills are also a unique feature here.
The romantic Weststeiermark region is home to 546 hectares of vineyards. Around 70% of the area is planted with Blauer Wildbacher, which is used to produce a unique terroir wine called Schilcher. This rare, rosé wine with its lively acidity has already achieved international cult status. Alongside typically Styrian white wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, Welschriesling and Pinot Blanc, this regional speciality may also be marketed under the Weststeiermark DAC label.
Wiener Gemischter Satz DAC
“Gemischter Satz” is a term that refers to the cultivation of different white wine varieties in one vineyard, which are then harvested and vinified together to create a field blend wine. This traditional method used in the vineyard and winery produces great Viennese wines with regional typicity that are also allowed to be labelled as single-vineyard wines. Wiener Gemischter Satz wines include grape varieties such as Grüner Veltliner, Welschriesling, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Traminer and others.