Every year, about 300 hectoliters of wine are produced in the world. (The hectoliter metric unit of capacity or volume used in dry measure and equal to 100 liters or 2.8378 bushels.) Of this total, Austria’s share accounts for less than one percent.
As a small wine-producing country, Austria strives to produce only high quality wines. In order to do this, four components are necessary: soil, climatic conditions, the right selection of vines and the person producing the wine.
Soil leaves its imprint on wine. It helps determine the character and the quality. There are two main variations of soil: airy light-textured and heavy compacted textured.
A sandy, light soil, such as loess, becomes warm very quickly and – with proper irrigation – contributes to top-quality wine.
Heavy, clayey soils tend to hold water well, moisture is retained: a plentiful harvest is usually yielded, producing strong, full-bodied wines. The light and sandy soils (including primary rock) helps create lean, yet elegant and fruity wines.
Austrian vineyards have a wide variety of soils. Loess is predominant in the Weinviertel and in the Donautal. Around Kerms, Langenlois and in the Wachau, primary rock is most plentiful. Limestone strongly defines the Thermenregion. Types of soils found in Burgenland are varied, with everything from slate (in Leithagebirge), clay and marl to pure sand. Volcanic and brown soils (in the Kloch area) are distinctive for the Steiermark.
The vine growth cycle, from budbreak in the spring until the leaves fall in autumn, last approximately 200 days, depending on the variety. Warm, sunny summers and long, mild fall days are typical for most of Austria’s wine regions. Yearly rainfall in the east averages 400 milliliters; in the Steiermark, it can climb to more than 800 ml.
Two main influences on climatic conditions in the regions are the Danube river, which reflects warmth and acts as a temperature regulator, and the vast Neusiedlersee lake, whose shores, in the late fall, are filled with ripened grapes that will make the incomparable Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese wines.
Altitude is also a key factor. Most Austrian vineyards are planted 200 metres above sea level. However, in Niederosterreich, vineyards are cultivated at a height of up to 400m. The Steiermark boasts the highest wine villages, with Kitzeck and St. Andra in the Sausal area, where grapes are grown between 540-560m above sea level.
The wine growing regions are all found in terperate climate zones – at a latitude of approximately 47-48 degrees north. This is comparable to the province of Burgundy in France.
Austria has a plethora of varieties, each in harmony with their soil and climate conditions. Of significance are approximately 20 white and 10 red varieties. Austria’s vineyards comprise 77% white varieties; 23% are red – an increase in recent years. The most noble variety is riesling. The variety in fashion lately in the USA is grüner veltliner.
The winemaker, or, as they are sometimes called in Austria, the wine hewer, decides which types of grapes she will grow. A crucial criterion for achieving a high quality harvest is the low yield.
There are methods that can help attain this result, such as little fertilisation and thinning both after blossoming and before picking. For Qualitatswein, Austria’s wine law has set a maximum of 9,000 kg per hectare.
When it comes to processing the packed grapes, only one thing matters – good care, This means light application of pressure during pressing, and a concentrated influence on the whole vinification process.
Here is an extensive series on wine-growing in Austria.