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The Fall And Rise Of Austrian Wine

The Fall And Rise Of Austrian Wine

Austria produces one per cent of the world’s wine, but has over the past few decades built a reputation for some of the finest dry white wines a wine supplier can offer.

The primary reason for this is the Grüner Veltliner, a full-bodied white wine grape with the characteristic note of white pepper, and this grape has helped Austria carve out its reputation for high-quality dry wines.

Ironically enough, Austria was previously known for mass-producing particularly sweet white wines until a tremendous scandal forced the winemakers of Austria to take accountability and completely shift the way wine was produced in the country.

The Fake Late Harvest

Throughout most of the 20th Century, Austria was the third most prolific producer of wine in the world, primarily focused on mass-produced wine that would be exported in bulk and blended with other wines with the aim of being produced and sold at a low cost.

Specifically, the overwhelming majority of Austrian wine was exported to what was then West Germany, which had a preference for particularly sweet late-harvest superior quality “Prädikatswein”.

These inherently required late harvest grapes, which needed the grapes to ripen exponentially in order to retain the sweetness and body that German consumers wanted and Austrian exporters had agreed to supply.

After several poor harvests, exporters used a toxic adulterant known as diethylene glycol to artificially sweeten the bulk wine, which once discovered in 1985 led to a massive scandal and Austrian sweet wines to receive the nickname “antifreeze wine”.

In several countries, Austrian wines were banned entirely and exports fell from 45m litres per year to 4.4m, and for fifteen years the Austrian wine industry was left to pick up the pieces of its tattered reputation.

By the start of the new millennium, Austrian wine stood up again.

Return To The Opposite

Whilst devastating on a certain level, the Austrian wine scandal saved Austrian viticulture as it forced a radical shift in wine production, quality standards and an adaptation of more traditional methods of producing high-quality vintages.

Strict laws were rushed through the Austrian parliament in 1985 to try and salvage what was left of the reputation of the Austrian wine industry, and dozens of producers and dealers were arrested on various wine fraud charges.

With the new regulations restricting wine yields, vintners focused on quality, transferring their priorities to red wines and dry white wines instead of the sweet whites they had pursued.

In doing so, Australian wine caught the mood of the moment, as the 1990s and early 2000s were a time when dry white wines were particularly in vogue.

By 2001, export levels had reached 50m litres, finally eclipsing the numbers pre-scandal, and this wine developed an exemplary reputation and a unique identity of its own pushed forward by a grape primarily seen in Austria itself.

The producers that managed to weather the difficult period for Austrian wine found considerable success, but they took the long, hard road to get there, lifting the entire industry in the process.

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