On the Austrian Wine website is a small heading, called ‘Vineyard Maps’. Click on it and something is revealed that wine experts and students around the world dream about: detailed, dynamic maps.
Clicking brings up maps of Austria, maps of different viticultural regions ― Burgenland, Niederösterreich, Vienna and Steiermark (coming soon) ― maps of vineyards. On the left-hand side of the screen, a box pops up explaining the size of the growing area, the elevations, and the percentage of red versus white grapes.
Then put a specific vineyard ― say, the famous Heiligenstein ― into the search bar, and up come all the different pieces of land that contain the name ‘Heiligenstein’, along with information about their elevation, angle, temperatures over the growing season, and more.
It’s an immense project that is mapping the wine country, vineyard by vineyard. In the world of wine, it’s unique.
Six years of work―and that’s just the start
Susanne Ertler-Staggl has led the project since 2017, and says it took five years of planning. At the time, the Austrian Winegrowers Association was redefining and registering their single vineyard list.
“They sat down in their villages and tried to find a way to define the single vineyards,” says Ertler-Staggl. “To think about their history and how old they were. They finally came to a decision on the names and the boundaries.”
Willi Klinger, the then head of Austrian Wine, approached Ertler-Staggl and told her it was time to update their own single vineyard map.
“Of course, I would love to do that,” says Ertler-Staggl. She “found the perfect partners in the University of Vienna, in the Department of Geography and Regional Research, and the GIS engineering company PLAN+LAND in Burgenland.”
"The biggest challenge was to create a simple and easy-to-use system which shows the massive diversity of the Austrian winegrowing regions."
Once discussions began, it became clear that what was needed was an online version that showed not only single vineyards, but also all of Austria’s designated origins.
“The biggest challenge was to create a simple and easy-to-use system which shows the massive diversity of the Austrian winegrowing regions,” she says.
The team needed a reliable source of knowledge, which they found in the EU’s Integrated Administration and Control System (IACS), which the EU uses to keep track of agricultural subsidies. Each May, European wineries must enter their information into the system and note any changes to their properties, in order to receive subsidies.
The team built on the work done by the Austrian Winegrowers Association, which had asked each village winegrower association for maps. Then they aggregated and harmonised all the information they had, without changing a thing. In the end, they were able to visualise the whole of Austria’s vineyard areas.
Evolving, dynamic and ongoing
“We got the whole project started in 2018 and launched in 2021,” says Ertler-Staggl. “We plan to update the data twice a year,” which will be done by university specialists.
The next step is to integrate information about soil and geology into the system, which she says is “a massive challenge”.
So far, this project is unique to Austria.
So far, this project is unique to Austria, though Ertler-Staggl acknowledges the great mapping work being done in Piedmont.
It turns out that the maps are not only useful for wine lovers, but for the growers themselves. “When they’re at a fair or having tastings, they can say, ‘here is the Heiligenstein, the orientation is this, the aspect is this’,” she says. It’s also useful for wine merchants and sommeliers.
Yet people who are most likely to benefit from this work are future historians, geographers and climatologists, who now have a dynamic picture of how wine and the landscape it interacts with will shift and change over time.
But for the moment, wine lovers and students everywhere can rejoice.
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