Austrian wines have played a distant second to German wines in the world market, just as German wines have been decreasingly popular globally. Part of the quandary is that too often the wines of both countries have been regarded as too sweet for the contemporary palate, reminiscent of Blue Nun Liebfraumich. In fact, many of the finest German and Austrian wines are by design intensely sweet, like the great beerenauslesen and trockenbeerenauslesen Rieslings.
But the trend for decades in Austria has been to make fine dry wines, both white and red, that compare with their counterparts in Germany, France (especially Alsace) and Italy, which, geographically, Austria borders and has had a long viticultural history with.
To assay the current Austrian wine landscape, particularly with its commitment to going “green,” I spoke with Fred Loimer, owner of Weingut Fred Loimer, who Rudolf Steiner, the father of biodynamic agriculture, called this ideal “farm individuality.” He is also the head of Respeckt, a wine industry political organization. In 2002, he was named “Winemaker of the Year” by Austria’s Falstaff wine magazine.
What does “Green Austria” mean?*
I’m not familiar with the term “Green Austria” but I would like to mention that Austria is “a little darker green” compared to most of our neighbors. The structure of our farmed land is small and the farms are mostly family businesses. Since 20 years now, there is a big run to organic and biodynamic farming and in the last 5 years also to sustainable farming, which can be seen as a first step in the right direction. Austria at the moment is No.1 in the world, it has the highest percentage of organic certified farm land.
* Green Austria is a promotional term used for the country’s wines.
Tell me about “orange, natural raw wines.”
It started in Austria with the “first wave” changing to biodynamic. Styrian growers like Sepp Muster, Werlitsch, Tscheppe, etc. started natural winemaking and the biggest change, was fermentation of whites on the skins. This was in the early 2000s. We, at our estate, started in 2003 with skin fermentation, changed to biodynamic 2 years later and started getting our experience in natural winemaking in 2006 with the move to biodynamic. So “orange,” “natural” and “raw” in Austria are very much related to biodynamic or organic (at least) farming, and it’s a reaction to a very technical, technological-driven boring mainstream of today’s majority in winemaking. These wines get more and more audience and also more and more a clean and clear profile.
Give me some of the basics that distinguish integrated, organic and biodynamic viticulture.
Integrated. This is today more or less the basic law of farming in Austria, nothing special. This was new and there were some regulations like the need of green cover and herbicide use and insecticide regulations. This is today the basic for sustainable winegrowing which only measures the way of working, and if you reach a certain level you get certified “sustainable.”
Organic—Farming is very regulated. No artificial fertilizers (especially nitrogen), no herbicides, no synthetic and systemic fungicides are allowed in the field. Also regulations in the cellar (SO2 on lower levels), short list of fining products, no additives.
Biodynamic—Organic with a holistic approach. Farm individuality is the concept. That means, you have to use your own resources instead of buying need for production. Two examples: no fertilizer allowed, ONLY own compost. No yeast, enzymes, or bacteria allowed; you have to create your own microflora in your cellar. The basic law is European organic growing, biodynamic guidelines are coming from associations like Demeter, Respekt, Biodyvin, etc.
When was Austria Bio Garantie GmbH founded and how extensive is its inspections? Every vineyard? Each estate’s wines? How does it differ from Demeter: Respekt-BIODYN: and Sustainable Austria? These seem to be doing much the same work, so it’s very confusing.
ABG (Austria Bio Garantie) is like Lacon and others—a company which has permission to control farms. I have no idea when it was founded. It’s not a label or trade mark. ABG controls, like Lacon, organic certifications (EU BIO—the green flag), Bio Austria (organic), Demeter and Respekt (both biodynamic) and also Sustainable Austria, which is a trade mark run by the “Weinbauverband Austria,” a political association.
Organic and Biodynamic farms get controlled every year by appointment and one time in 5 years by dropping in. Sustainable Austria is a kind of “self control” and get certified and controlled every 3 years.
Sustainable and organic/biodynamic are by far not the same.
How do Austrian winemakers try to differentiate themselves from the Germans and Alsatians?
Is there still a lingering fall-out from the long-ago glycol scandal?
No! This is a history which was useful and happens in almost every wine country in their histories. I think this is related to winemaking since thousands of years. Jesus made water to wine
How available are Austrian wines in the global marketplace?
We are niche, but if you search you will find. We (Loimer) is available in 55 markets in the world. So, not that bad but we have a lot to do in the future.
How do they keep prices at a workable level?
With passion for winemaking. We love wine and were born as farmers. Marketing is something we are learning step by step.
How has global warming affected Austrian vineyards?
Harvest is almost a month earlier today compared to 40 years ago. But we are fine at the moment because Austria is after all a cool climate wine growing country. But the problem is serious and we take it seriously. It’s one of the reasons so many growers are changing to organic or biodynamic.
What will the industry be in 5 years?
Hopefully, successful. No kidding! I hope much greener and I do hope that between “story telling” and real quality is “Veritas!” – In Vino Veritas!