There are only 546 hectares in the Weststeiermark planted to the vine, but the winegrower families manage to produce a handsome diversity of products: finely-tuned white wines from numerous grape varieties, as well as racy Schilcher with its lively acidity. The latter is vinified from the locally prominent variety Blauer Wildbacher, and has long since acquired international recognition as a regional specialty.
Despite being the smallest winegrowing region in the Steiermark, there is evidence that the Weststeiermark was once home to viticulture as early as the ancient Illyrian Celts, and later by the Romans. The vineyards stretch up the steep inclines in a long and narrow tier, some vines growing at a height of 600 metres above sea level, from the foothills of the Koralpe and the Reinischkogel mountains to the border with Slovenia in the south.
The undulating shape of the terrain help to protect the vineyards against prevailing winds. The direct path between Ligist in the north, via St. Stefan ob Stainz and down towards Deutschlandsberg and Eibiswald in the south is depicted by deep valleys, steep inclines, and countless quaint and picturesque 'Kellerstöckeln', referring to the small cellar huts dotted in between the vineyards. A drive through the pretty wine-growing villages of Greisdorf, Gundersdorf, Wildbach and Wies offers great views and tasty wines. The geology in the Weststeiermark is also quite different from its neighbouring regions, and the rocks mainly consist of old gneiss and mica schists. The climate is described as illyric, with warm and humid Mediterranean and southeastern European influences, and relatively high rainfall.
The interplay of all these natural elements helps to shape the individualistic style of the local wines, a style that is omnipresent in the region. Most of the vineyard area is dedicated to the Blauer Wildbacher, an ancient red grape variety from which the rosy-hued Schilcher is vinified. Originally regarded as a rustic peasant wine with harsh and aggressive acidity, in the hands of ambitious growers the Schilcher has transformed itself through continual improvements in quality to become an internationally sought-after terroir wine.
The introduction of Weststeiermark DAC in 2018 gave very special recognition to the Schilcher: as the only dedicated region in Steiermark, along with the typical Styrian white wine varieties – in which Sauvignon Blanc a plays a very important role at the level of Ortswein – Weststeiermark has furnished the Schilcher with its own protected designation of origin.
And its rare red variants should by no means be underestimated, as well as sparkling and sweet wines vinified from Blauer Wildbacher, which also enrich Austrian wine country with their individualistic stylings. These, however, bear the designation of origin ‘Steiermark’ on the label.