Challenges Arise in Austria's Push for Vineyard Classification Reform

Austria is planning to introduce a vineyard classification model inspired by the Burgundy system. However, resistance is brewing within the country.

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The vineyard sites around Vienna were already the subject of a classification discussion in 2015. (Photo: ©Bundesverband ÖTW/
The vineyard sites around Vienna were already the subject of a classification discussion in 2015. (Photo: ©Bundesverband ÖTW/

Identifying themselves as 'Die glückliche Lage' [The Fortunate Cru], an anonymous group that exclusively communicates through a website without an imprint and a nondescript email address, these emerging wine disruptors in Austria pose a potential threat to the recently introduced national vineyard classification system. This challenge has been reported by the respected Austrian wine journal Vinaria and could manifest itself through a declaratory judgment action.

Is Austria’s vineyard classification undemocratic and hierarchical?

'Die glückliche Lage' opposes the new classification system, arguing that it contradicts the democratic principle of equal opportunities, employing strong rhetoric: "Nothing (and no one) is more valuable, solely because of its origin," as stated on their website.

The former managing director of the umbrella marketing organisation ÖWM, Willi Klinger, is also quoted. In 2015, he had already labelled the idea of vineyard sites as a "hierarchical relic". At that time, the members of the regional association WienWein had called for a vineyard classification modelled on the VDP. According to "Die glückliche Lage", the decision on the quality of a wine should be made by the consumer in a free market economy and "not by committees or ministries".

"Nothing (and no one) is more valuable, solely because of its origin."

The root of the frustration seems to be that the final decision on classifying top vineyards in an area is currently in the hands of the National Wine Committee. This body was recently criticized for a proposal that would have made the export of Austrian quality wine as bulk wine impossible. Again, there was industry discontent over a process perceived by some as undemocratic. There are now fears that "a few winemaker associations" could push through a classification of all vineyards through "intense lobbying."

According to the website of the anti-vineyard classification rebels, they are considering "legally reviewing the regulations concerning this new evaluation system." However, before taking the step out of anonymity, they wish to "gauge how the vintners and all other economically involved parties feel about this new vineyard system."

The group also brings climate change into the argument, noting that the terroir of a vineyard is heavily influenced by climatic conditions and that it is impossible to accurately predict how these will develop for any given location in the future.

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Austria has laid down a legal foundation for an official nationwide vineyard classification system.

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ÖTW and winegrowing policy take a relaxed view of the lawsuit

Michael Moosbrugger, the Federal Chairman of the Association of Austrian Traditional Wineries (ÖTW), expresses satisfaction with the timing of the initiative to Vinaria. He believes it's better for someone to seek legal review now rather than in a few years, once the new system is already established. Wine policy officials seem unconcerned about the new vineyard classification being threatened by potential legal review, stating that the framework is based on broad consensus and has been "meticulously developed."

In response to questions from our sister magazin WEINWIRTSCHAFT, Prof. Josef Glatt from the Austrian Winegrowers' Association explained that they are currently not intensively involved with the protest side, as it is still anonymous and therefore illegal. Moreover, the topic has been discussed intensively for many years and in the end "all responsible institutions have agreed to the legal framework for the classification of vineyard sites". According to Glatt, the practical - and as objective as possible - implementation in the individual regions will be difficult enough anyway. Of course, in a constitutional state, every stakeholder is free to take legal action against this. VM



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