Regional Branding, Austrian Style
A recent tasting of the newly released Single Vineyard (Erste Lagen) wines from the Austrian Traditional Vintners (Österreichische Traditionsweingüter) shows how far the industry has come in profiling and branding Austria’s top sites.
The Association, which was formed in 1992 by several wineries from the Kremstal, Kamptal, Wagram and Traisental regions along the Donau and its tributaries, have a singular vision, to select and promote only the very best vineyards that produce consistently great wines. The following 20 years have seen the Association grow to include many of the profiled Weingüter of the region, and to develop a list of 62 vineyards which are eligible to display the Erste Lagen logo on their labels – akin to the Grand and Premiere Cru systems of France.
This is all self regulated, and until now, has not been not part of Austrian wine law, with the well-known DAC classification system that recognises particular regions and sub-regions as having identifiable qualities.
The newer Association recognises the DAC system as a starting point, restricting it to vineyards that produce only dry Grüner Veltliner or Riesling wines. With their intimate knowledge of the individual vineyards over years, the Association’s Erste Lagen logo is a sure sign of sites producing consistently great wines.
For the average wine consumer, this additional classification is potentially another purchasing criterion to navigate, and may all seem a little bit like overkill and market spin. But for those willing to embrace the subtleties of microclimate, soil variation and the many ‘unexplained’ phenomena that make the magic of a site’s ‘terroir’, it’s a whole new world!
At Schloss Grafenegg on a perfect late summer’s morning, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with a bevy of wide-eyed journalists, 120 wines were opened, representing all of the Erste Lagen vineyards. It was a challenge to the senses but also led to an enlightened appreciation of the differences within regions, sub-regions, individual sites, and yes, the stylistic influence of the wine maker.
There is indeed a special music in each wine. This DNA – the nucleus and building blocks for each wine from a single vineyard – resonates in the background like a violin in an orchestra of flavours and textures.
The classification is still a work in progress. In 2011 the Association invited other top wineries to lend their experience in further exploring potential for Erste Lagen vineyards. Ultimately, they hope to establish the classifications as part of Austria’s wine law, and secure its place among the world’s elite wines in the minds of the consumer.
To dive into the nuances of single vineyard wines, the Österreichische Traditionsweingüter have provided a sumptuous booklet, where each vineyard site is painstakingly presented, making a terrific reference point for the enthusiast.
For more casual tasters, the Erste Lagen logo represents a level of scrutiny and seasoned knowledge that has consistently produced the very best of wines from the associated regions along the Donau. And as you open the wines one by one, it will be absolutely clear why you have paid the premium.