Austria proudly holds a position among the world’s leading wine-producing nations. The country’s vineyard area, spanning an impressive 57,000 hectares, is diligently cultivated by approximately 32,000 grape growers. A significant number of farms, around 6,500, bottle their own wine, while others sell their produce to grape growers cooperatives or wineries.
Historical Context of the Production Area
The cultivation of grapes in Austria is steeped in rich history. Archaeological findings reveal grape seeds dating back to 700 BC in a tomb in Burgenland, eastern Austria, suggesting that these seeds were the product of artificial cultivation. By the time of the Romans, grape planting had become widespread in Austria. The surviving wine bottles and wine glasses from that era bear testament to the Romans’ deep-rooted association with wine.
During the 18th century, under the enlightened reign of Empress Maria Theresa, her son Joseph II issued an exemption order in 1784, allowing wine growers to sell the new wine brewed that year at home. This led to the emergence of “new wine hotels” across Austria. This decree continues to this day, with the “New Wine Hotel” serving not only as a place for Austrians to enjoy wine but also as a must-visit destination for tourists.
Status of the Production Area
Over the past decade, Austrian wines have consistently ranked among the world’s finest. Austria has repeatedly clinched the championship in major global competitions, earning a reputation of high regard in the wine industry. Currently, Austria boasts a total of 16 grape-growing areas spanning a total area of 57,000 hectares, with an annual output of 2.5 million tons. This places Austria 18th in the world in terms of wine-growing areas. Although the world ranking of Austrian wine trails behind France, Italy, Spain, and California, the primary reason is the limited quantity of wine, resulting in a situation where export demand consistently outstrips supply.
Origin and Production Area
Austria’s grape growing is concentrated in the eastern federal states of Lower Austria (Nieder Osterreich), Burgenland (Burgenland), Steiermark (Steiermark), and Vienna (Wien), although the four areas defined by the wine law are very different. The grapes are grown in the following places:
- Grape Planting Origin Grape-growing area Austria (Weinland Osterreich) (Federal State Lower Austria Nieder Osterreich and Burgenland Burgenland): 44560 hectares
- Grape planting place Steirerland (Steirerland): 3290 hectares
- Grape Planting Origin Vienna (Wien): 680 hectares
- Grape-growing Mountain Austria (Nieder Osterreich) (Federal states Upper Austria Ober Osterreich, Salzburg, Karnten, Tirol and Vorarlberg): 20 hectares
There are 19 official wine-growing regions in Austria (Bergland Osterreich), Steirland (Steirerland), and Vienna (Wien), which are used as premium and premium grape-growing regions.
The soil structure in Austria varies greatly, shaping the character of Austrian wines. For instance, in the grape region (Weinviertel), loess dominates, and the same is true in the Danube Valley. In the vicinity of Krems and Langenlois and in Wachau, primitive rocky soils predominantly exist, and in the spa regions, clayey or calcareous soils are common. The soil types in Vienna, Carnuntum, and Burgenland are diverse, ranging from shale to clay, marl, loess, to pure sandy soil. Steiermark is mostly composed ofcinnamon, conglomerate, and volcanic soil.
Austria’s grape-growing areas are generally located in a mild climate zone, about between 47 and 48 degrees latitude, similar to the French grape-growing region Burgund (Burgund). The typical climate for most wine growing regions is warm, sunny summers and long, mild autumns with cool nights.
The annual rainfall in the east is 400 mm, and in Steiermark, it can reach 800 mm or more. The factors that affect the climate of the grape producing area are the Danube River, which plays the role of reflecting sunlight and balancing large temperature fluctuations. There is also the Great Neusiedlersee (Neusiedlersee), which is often used for berry selection and dried fruit selection in late autumn. Grape wine grapes are gradually ripening on the shore of the lake. Most of the vineyards are located at an altitude of 200 meters. In Lower Austria (Nieder Osterreich), grape growers also grow grapes at an altitude of 400 meters. The highest grape growing area is in Steiermark (Steiermark), at an altitude of about 560 meters.
Grape Growing Area
The federal states defined as grape-growing regions are Lower Austria (Niederosterreiqch, 30,000 hectares), Burgenland (14,560 hectares), and Steiermark (3,290 hectares). There are also 16 grape-growing areas:
- Kremstal (2175 ha)
- Kamptal (3868 hectares)
- Wachau (1390 hectares)
- Traisental (682 hectares)
- Thermenregion (2332 hectares)
- West Steiermark Weststeiermark (432 hectares)
- Sudsteiermark ((1741 hectares)
- Sud-Oststeiermark (1119 hectares)
- Sudburgenland (448 hectares)
- Donauland (2732 hectares)
- Weinviertel (15892 hectares)
- Carnuntum Carnuntum (891 hectares)
- Vienna Wien (678 hectares)
- Neusiedlersee (8326 hectares)
- Neusiedlersee —Hugelland (3911 hectares)
- Central Burgenland Mittelburgenland (1877 hectares)
Austrian wine law is based on European wine law. Its main contents are production area supervision, yield limit per hectare, quality level, and national quality supervision. Austria generally stipulates a maximum yield of 9,000 kilograms per hectare and 6,750 liters of wine for the production of local wine, high-quality wine, and premium wine. Austrian premium wines and premium wines are subject to double state inspection. The national inspection number and red, white and red seals on the label indicate this strict supervision and quality assurance process. Wine is usually divided into table wine, high-quality wine, and premium wine. Which category is included depends on the sugar content in the grape juice, and the relevant unit is indicated by the Klosterneuburger Mostwaage (KMW for short).
DAC Premium Wine Region
According to the existing Austrian high-quality wine legislation, DAC refers to high-quality wines from special origins, which is the abbreviation of this legal term and represents high-quality wines from high-quality production areas. If the word DAC is marked behind the production area on the wine label (for example: Camp Valley DAC), it is a bottle of high-quality wine from a high-quality production area. DAC-level wines clearly reflect the characteristics of their wine-producing regions, especially in terms of taste.
Currently (based on March 2014 data) 9 of Austria’s 16 production areas have met the standards of the Ministry of Agriculture and have been promoted to DAC-level premiumwines. These include Gruner Veltliner; Blaufrankisch; Tréssen, Krems and Kamp (Gruner Veltliner, Riesling); Rydberg (white: Gruner Veltliner, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and/or Neuburger; red: Blaufrankisch), Iceberg (Blaufrankisch) and Neuziedler (Zweigelt) and Vienna (Gemischte Satz/mixed planting).
Geographic Origin and Quality
Ordinary table wines are only marked as produced in Austria. Regional wines are indicated as one of the following four grape-growing regions: Austria (Weinland Osterreich, including Nieder Osterreich in Lower Austria and Burgenland in Burgenland), Steirerland, Vienna, or Mountains (Bergland). High-quality and premium wines need to indicate their grape-growing regions.
Quality Level Details
The quality levels of Austrian wines are determined by the Klosterneuburger Mostwaage (KMW) degree, a measure of the sugar content in the grape juice. The levels are as follows:
- Table wine (Tafelwein): at least 10.6 degrees KMW.
- Regional wines (Landwein): at least 14 degrees KMW.
- Quality wine (Qualitatswein): at least 15% KMW.
- Premium Premium Wine (Kabinett): At least 17% KMW.
- Premium wine (Pradikatsweine): (including late-harvest wine, dried fruit wine (TBA), ice wine, and straw wine)
- Late-harvest wine (Spatlese): at least 19 degrees KMW.
- Selection of string wine (Auslese): at least 21 degrees KMW.
- Berry special wine (Beerenauslese, referred to as BA): at least 25% KMW.
- Ice wine (Eiswein): at least 25 degrees KMW; the grapes must be frozen when harvested and pressed.
- Straw wine (Strohwein): at least 25 degrees KMW; the grapes used for brewing must be laid on straw piles or reeds or hung on ropes to dry for at least three months.
- Advanced sweet wine (Ausbruch): at least 27 degrees KMW.
- Trockenbeerenlese (TBA for short): at least 30% KMW.
The taste of the wine, determined by the residual sugar content (referred to as RZ), is categorized as follows:
- Dry (trocken): When the difference between the total acid content and the residual sugar content exceeds 2 g/L, the residual sugar content shall not exceed 9 g RZ/L.
- Semi-dry (halbtrocken): The maximum residual sugar content is 12 g/L.
- Sweet (lieblich): The highest residual sugar content is 45 g/L.
- Sweet (süB): the residual sugar content is higher than 45 g/L.