VINEX Country Report - Austria
By Helen Arnold
Today few self-respecting top sommeliers would consider leaving an Austrian Grüner Veltliner off their list. But it was a very different story back in the 1980’s when the Austrian wine industry was left with its reputation in tatters and reeling from the anti-freeze scandal when some bulk wine producers were discovered to have been adding diethelyne glycol to their wines to enhance the product, making it seem sweeter and more full bodied.
When the scandal was unveiled, it had two major impacts on the Austrian wine business. Firstly, it led to a huge slump in production, with only the most committed wineries focused on rebuilding Austria’s reputation and heritage, which back in the 1920’s had seen the country being the world’s third largest producer. Secondly, the disaster initiated the most wide- ranging quality control measures being implemented to such an event could never happen again.
So the scandal that could have spelled the death knell of the sector actually reinvigorated it, with those remaining producers determined to prove to the world how good Austrian wine could be.
Production dominated by white wine varieties
Over two thirds (67%) of Austria’s total production from its 46,500 hectares of vineyards is comprised of white varietals, of which nearly a third (31%) is accounted for by Grüner Veltliner, Austria’s most significant white wine. It has also seen the biggest growth in production of any variety, up by 6.3% between 2009 and 2015 in terms of planted area. Grüner Veltliner, which accounts for nearly half (47.1%) of total white production is followed by Welschriesling (11%), Riesling (7%) and Weissburgunder (6%) in terms of the size of plantings.
A third of Austria’s total production is made up of red grape types, of which 14% is Zweigelt, and 6.5% Blaufrankisch. Zweigelt accounts for over half (42.3%) of total red production. Red varieties that rank behind Zweigelt in terms of area are primarily Blaufränkisch (19%), Blauer Portugieser (9%) and Blauburger (5%).
Exports have rocketed in value terms in the past 35 years, up from under 10m Euros in 1986 to 170m Euros in 2018. However, while the value of overseas sales has shot up, there has not been a comparable increase in the volumes shipped, with sales of around 30 m liters in 1985, reaching a peak of just under 80m litres in 2003 before settling at around 53m litres last year.
Austria’s biggest overseas market for its wine is, not surprisingly, its neighbour Germany, which accounts for nearly half (49.3%) of total exports, followed by Switzerland and Liechenstein the destinations for nearly 12% of Austria’s shipments. The US is the third largest export market, accounting for 8.5% of the total, while the Netherlands accounts for 6.4%.
The Austrian wine business is dominated by small-scale producers using artisan production methods with high labour intensity along with strict restrictions on yields, meaning the focus is never on mass production. As a wine producing country, Austria can only sell at entry-level prices in exceptional circumstances such as when there is a bumper harvest, sales or special promotions. While the average price per litre for Austria’s exported wine is 3.22 Euros, a 6.7% increase, the country’s bottled wine exports have outperformed the average and seen a price increase of 7.5% to 3.51 Euros. However, Austria’s bulk wine, which only accounts for under 5% of the country’s total wine exports, has seen its price slide by 8.2% to 1.16 Euros.
Austria’s top ten export countries, in terms of revenue.
|Rank||Country||Percentage Share (Revenue)|
|2||Switzerland & Liechenstein||11.9|
Wine consumption in Austria
In 2018, around 242 million litres of wine was consumed in Austria, which translates to 26.7 litres per person, a 0.75% dip compared to the previous year, the majority of this – 55.7%, being consumed in the on-trade or at events. A further 94.8 litres, (39%) was consumed by Austrian households. The majority of the volume – over 80% - consumed by households was bought in multiple grocers
Austria’s key producing regions
Most of Austria’s key winemaking regions are situated in the eastern part of the country, which enjoys more favourable climatic conditions. The federal states of Niederösterreich (28,145 ha), Burgenland (13,100 ha) and Steiermark (4,633 ha) are defined as distinct wine regions, and there are also 17 other wine regions, including Wien (637 ha) and the area Bergland with five winegrowing regions, (Kärnten, Oberösterreich, Salzburg, Tirol, Vorarlberg).
Austria’s vineyards occupy 45,574 hectares and can be considered a largely white wine growing country, with over 67% of all planted vineyards being used for white wine production. Since 1980 the white wine vineyard area has continuously decreased, while the red wine vineyard area has expanded. In 2015, however, the white wine vineyard area saw a slight increase of 682 ha, whereas the red wine vineyard area decreased by 776 ha.
And according to the Survey Under Vine 2015, white wine vineyard area actually increased by 2.3% to 30,502ha between 2009 and 2015 while the red wine area decreased by 4.9% to 14,937ha.
Lower Austria is the country’s biggest wine producing region, accounting for nearly 62% of the total area, with 28,145ha. This is followed by Burgenland accounting for 27% with 12,249ha, Styria with 4,324ha, (9.5%), and Vienna with 581 ha (1.3%). The other Austrian states recorded an increase in area from 57ha to 140 ha, a near 70% increase during 2009.
Vines aged between 10 – 29 years enjoyed the lion’s share of planted areas, accounting for over half - 51.7% - of the total, corresponding to 23,509 ha. Thesis followed by vines that are aged over 30 years, which occupy nearly a third (31.4%) or 14,280ha. Younger vineyards, between 3 – 9 years, represent 12.65 or 5,700 ha. Vines younger than three account for 4.3% of the total planted area, with 1950 ha under vine.
2019 vintage overview
After the earliest harvest in recorded history the previous year, the 2019 vintage reverted to more typical timings. Good weather in the run up to the harvest was a boon for producers, enabling them to pick the grapes according to plan, and without any undue pressure. According to Austrian Wine, the dry weather brought about “excellent ripeness” to the grape clusters, along with average volumes, while the cooler autumn nights helped to impart “excellent fruit” and “good acid backbone”.
The growing season
The first three months of 2019 were much milder than usual, as well as being very dry, with no outbreaks of extreme cold as was the case in 2018. Amongst the earlier ripening varieties, the buds began to ripe at the end o march, thanks to the clement conditions. During April, which saw variable but largely warm weather, at 1.5 degrees above the long term average, it was only the Steiermark that received sufficient rainfall, while the coldest May since 1991 held back the vines’ development. This delayed blossoming until around 10 days later than the previous year, though from a long-term perspective, this was simply back to normal. The warmest, sunniest and driest June ever recorded was followed by a very hot July and August, with the occasional severe thunderstorm and torrential downpour. Luckily, producers didn’t have to contend with any major hail damage this year. The ensuing harvest went according to plan, with no unpleasant surprises, with average yields, but “outstanding” grape quality.
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