Some History

14th September 2018

Tags: Austria, Grape varieties, history

Grape varieties come and go, and are supplanted by others.  We know this.  Gemischter satz is left over from the days of irregular ripening and the need for a wine of some sort – not a specific place or variety.  Ask any wine lover today to name the important grape variety of Austria and they would instantly reply ‘gruner veltliner’.  But it wasn’t always.  When gemischter satz dominated in the Wachau valley, in the 1950s, muller thurgau, a reliable high-yielding variety, accounted for much of the vineyard area; now it has disappeared. 

So which is the most long-standing variety used in Austria?  Gruner?  Riesling maybe? Or perhaps welchriesling?  Andreas Wickhoff MW of Domaine Brundlmayr (who traces local vineyards back to at least the year 1240) has an interesting theory – at least for Lower Austria.  The Cistercian monks arrived in the 12th century from Burgundy.  They brought with them a new, austere spirituality and a strict rule.  And they also brought their grapes – specifically pinot noir.  So that – he claims – predates riesling and gruner in the region!  And both riesling and the French varieties work well on the poorer soils of the hills to the west of Vienna.  Gruner veltliner on the other hand, we were told, is like Austrians – it drinks a lot (and also needs to be planted on vineyards with good water retention and heavier soils).