Austria’s Wines Show Environmentally Conscious Winemaking at Its Best

Austria was the first country in the world to cultivate a farm according to organic principles. In the century since, the commitment to nature has only become stronger.

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Hummergraben Eisenberg Burgenland (Photo: Austrian Wine/WSNA)
Hummergraben Eisenberg Burgenland (Photo: Austrian Wine/WSNA)

One of the most striking features of Vienna is its many Baroque buildings, a testament to the architectural skill of the builders of the 17th and 18th centuries. As befits the centre of what was once an empire, there are ornate palaces, museums and art galleries ready to be explored.

There are also tree-filled parks and gardens in every direction — more than 1,800 of them. Vienna has more green space per person than any other major European city.

This is part of the reason that Vienna is recognised as one of the most ecologically-friendly cities in the world — it was named the most sustainable city in the world by the Global Green Economy Index in 2019.

The entire country is committed to sustainability, with efforts backed by the government, major bodies and Austria’s citizens. It’s a commitment that can be seen in Austria’s wine regions, some of the most environmentally friendly in the world.

Neusiedlersee (Photo: Austrian Wine/WSNA)
Neusiedlersee (Photo: Austrian Wine/WSNA)

An affinity with nature

The country’s hilly topography ensures that Austria’s wine growers get up close and personal with their land. Machines struggle to get up and down steep slopes, so there’s no option but to do most vineyard work by hand, meaning everybody has to touch and feel the plants and soil they’re working with.

Vineyards are also small; Austrian wine producers cultivate around four hectares on average, so they get to know every plant. Just as importantly, 95% of Austrian wineries are family-owned, giving them an understanding that the decisions made today may have consequences decades into the future. This forges a deep affinity with the vineyard that has resulted in soil health and increased biodiversity; Austria’s vineyards are home to a wide variety of species from flowering plants, herbs, and grasses, to insects, reptiles, and mammals like foxes, as well as finches and owls, among many other birds.

Austrian wine growers are also encouraged by the government to adopt sustainable practices, with subsidies and grants available for conversion to organic farming, and the use of integrated pest management and soil conservation measures. There is also help and encouragement available for those who want to convert to renewable energy systems like solar and wind.

The “Sustainable Austria” (“Nachhaltig Austria”) certification – a comprehensive, science-based programme with quantifiable results – was launched in 2015 with the aim of promoting sustainable farming in Austrian viticulture.

This is linked to a unique online tool that evaluates more than 360 measures in nine different areas of sustainability. A total of 20% of Austria’s area under vine is already farmed according to the requirements of the certification.

Organic production

In 1927, Austria became the first country in the world to have a farm that was cultivated using the principles now known as organic. In 1983, it became the first country to set regulations for organic production; 2005 saw the founding of Bio Austria, now Europe’s biggest organic farming association.

A spider diagram with a traffic light system shows the winery’s overall sustainability status.
A spider diagram with a traffic light system shows the winery’s overall sustainability status.
Biodynamic viticulture (Photo: Austrian Wine/Blickwerk Fotografie)
Biodynamic viticulture (Photo: Austrian Wine/Blickwerk Fotografie)
The farm as one living organism (Photo: Austrian Wine/Blickwerk Fotografie)
The farm as one living organism (Photo: Austrian Wine/Blickwerk Fotografie)

The birthplace of Rudolf Steiner

One of the most original thinkers of the late 19th century was the architect, artist, social reformer and mystic Rudolf Steiner, whose work has had a huge influence on education and the arts. Born in Niederösterreich, he studied in Vienna and later published a huge body of work on everything from literature to philosophy. More importantly, from a wine perspective, he gave a lecture on agriculture in 1924, which launched the biodynamic movement.

Biodynamic agriculture is a form of organic farming that treats the farm as one living organism, and which uses as little technology as possible.

Austria boasts one of the first biodynamic wineries in the world — Nikolaihof in the Wachau. A family-owned winery that had practised biodynamic farming since the 1950s, it has attracted widespread international attention, and inspired winegrowers elsewhere to adopt biodynamic methods.

Today, there are two key organisations within the Austrian wine industry that provide member wineries with codes of practice for biodynamic production: Demeter, the oldest organic association in the world, and respekt-BIODYN, which was launched in Austria in 2007, and which now has members throughout Austria, Italy, Hungary and Germany.

Austrian wine today and tomorrow

Whether it’s the widespread commitment to collecting rainwater for use in city parks, or the practice of planting cover crops between vines, there are few countries in the world as environmentally conscious as Austria. Local organisations, individuals and the government work together to ensure that the natural world is preserved for the future.

When it comes to wine the proof, as always, is in the drinking — and that’s also where Austria excels. But the only way to prove it is to open a bottle and pour a glass.

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Niederösterreich, or Lower Austria, is the largest wine region in Austria, and is famous for the variety and quality of its wines, made from unique varieties.

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