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Everything you need to know about Austria’s wine industry

From a Heuriger to the famous Gemischter Satz, there is a lot to learn about Austrian wine. Here’s everything you need to know.

Vienna vineyard.
A vineyard on the edge of Vienna. Photo: Philipp Stelzel/Unsplash

Did you know that Austria lies on the same latitude as the Burgundy wine region in France?

That’s right, there is more to Austria than just classical music and winter sports – the Alpine Republic has a thriving wine industry as well.

So, whether you’re an established wine connoisseur or a newbie to the wine scene, here’s a useful guide to Austria’s wine industry.

Where are Austria’s wine regions?

Grapes for winemaking are grown in every federal state in Austria, but the east of the country is best known as Austria’s wine region.

Lower Austria, Vienna, Burgenland and Styria are the most prominent wine producing areas in Austria, and Vienna is one of the few capital cities in the world that can boast a wine industry. 

READ MORE: Mauer, a charming wine-hiking spot on Vienna’s outskirts

In these regions, the land is less mountainous than in the west of Austria and the climate is slightly warmer, especially in summer and autumn. This is important for growing grapes, although Austria is still considered as a “cold climate” country when it comes to winemaking.

Today, Vienna is considered as one of the world’s classic wine regions, and wine making is so embedded in the city that there is one wine producer for every 2,500 residents.

Which wines does Austria produce?

As a country, Austria is mostly known for white wine, such as Riesling, Grüner Veltliner and Chardonnay. 

Due to the climate, Austria is not known for big, bold red wines as in other wine growing countries like the USA and Australia, but Austria does produce a wide selection of light red wines, such as Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt. 

Additionally, Austrian winemakers produce some famous cuvée, such as Vienna’s Gemischter Satz (a blend of at least three grapes from the same vineyard).

What is the history of wine in Austria?

Traditional winemaking in Austria is believed to go back to the 9th and 10th century BC before it was further cultivated during the Roman times, especially along the banks of the Danube River.

Viticulture (the cultivation of grape vines) then continued to develop following the fall of the Roman Empire and into Medieval times, and there are reports of the first taxation on wine in Austria in 1359.

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However, it was during the 15th and 16th centuries that viticulture really expanded across the country, even in Tyrol, Vorarlberg and Salzburg. It was also during this time that the Viennese Heuriger (wine tavern) scene began.

Before the First World War, there were 48,000 hectares of vineyards in Austria, but the collapse of the Habsburg Empire led to a decrease in vine coverage. By the 1930s there were just 30,000 hectares left.

In 1985, the Austrian wine industry was damaged again when it was revealed several producers were using diethylene glycol, a toxic substance to make wine appear sweeter and more full-bodied. It became known as the “wine scandal” and resulted in global demand for Austrian wine to drop to almost non-existent levels for several years.

Then, in 1995, Austria joined the EU and adopted the bloc’s wine laws. This was followed by excellent results during a blind tasting of Austrian Grüner Veltliner and Chardonnay in London in 2002, which was the start of Austria’s return to the international wine scene.

Today, Austria has 15 DACs (Controlled District of Austria) – a classification of typical wine from a particular region – and 44,913 hectares of vines.

How much is Austria’s wine industry worth to the national economy?

During the pandemic year of 2020, a report by Austrian Wine revealed 61.8 million litres of Austrian wine was consumed in households across the country, which was an increase of 17 percent on 2019 figures. This equated to a revenue of €313.6 million.

International exports also increased in 2020 by 6.7 percent to 67.6 million litres, and revenue reached a new record of €187.3 million (an annual increase of 2.4 percent). The most popular markets for Austrian wine are Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

In the first half of 2021, the value of Austrian wine exports rose to €111 million, up by 25 percent on the same period in 2020.

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8 things to know if you’re visiting Austria in December

From Christmas markets to possible strike action and the start of the ski season, here’s what you need to know when visiting Austria in December.

8 things to know if you’re visiting Austria in December

December in Austria is exactly how you would imagine it – twinkling lights, wintry weather and wafts of Glühwein in the air.

And this year, the festive season is set to be even more enjoyable after many Christmas celebrations were put on hold for the past two years due to the pandemic.

So if you’re planning to travel to Austria this December, here’s what to expect.

READ MORE: How to save money and still go skiing in Austria

No travel restrictions

There are currently no Covid-related travel restrictions for entering Austria.

Previously, people arriving in Austria had to show proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test (known as 3G), but those rules came to an end in May.

This year will be the first Christmas season in Austria without Covid travel restrictions since December 2019.

Christmas markets are on

Another welcome return this year in Austria is the Christmas markets. 

Last year, many markets around the country were cancelled after a snap lockdown in November, although some events still went ahead with strict rules in place.

But this year, the Christmas markets are back in full swing without restrictions, so make sure you visit one (or two) to really get into the Christmas spirit.

Austria’s most famous markets are in Vienna, like the Christkindmarkt in front of the Town Hall that runs from November 19 to December 26.

FOR MEMBERS: IN PICTURES: A guide to the main Christmas markets in Austria

Some Covid-19 rules still apply

The stressful days of pandemic lockdowns might be behind us (fingers crossed), but there are still a few rules in Austria to be aware of.

In Vienna, it is still mandatory to wear an FFP2 mask in pharmacies, on public transport and at stations. So if you arrive at Vienna International Airport and take public transport into the city centre, expect to be asked to put on a mask.

Nationwide, masks are also required at all health and care facilities, including hospitals and clinics.

Possible strike action 

Like in many countries in Europe right now, inflation is rising (see more on this below) and many workers unions are in the process of negotiating pay rises. 

This has already led to a strike by rail workers at ÖBB, Austria’s national rail operator, on Monday November 28, with the possibility of further strike action if a deal can’t be reached. 

Retail workers and beer brewers are also threatening to strike in early December for similar reasons. 

So if visiting Austria in December, prepare yourself for some possible upheaval. Although the latest rail strike caused minimal disruption.

READ MORE: Train strike: What are your rights in Austria if your trip is cancelled or delayed?

Everything is more expensive

Inflation in Austria is currently over 10 percent, which has led to price increases for everything from daily groceries to energy bills and dining out.

Even the Christmas markets are more expensive this year due to higher prices for the Glühwein mugs. This means some markets in Vienna are charging almost €5 for the Pfand (deposit) for that first glass of mulled wine.

The same applies to ski resorts with hotels, lift tickets and restaurants all costing more this year.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Is travelling to Austria this winter worth it?

Public holidays

Besides Christmas (December 25) and Stephan’s Day (December 26), December 8, when Catholics celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Mariä Empfängnis), is also a public holiday in Austria.

Of course, there are also several celebratory dates in December. For example, every Sunday until Christmas is an Advent Sunday, and Austrian families commemorate it in many ways, including lighting up candles.

On December 4, there is Barbaratag, while on December 5 Krampus pays his visit to Austrian villages and cities. On the next day, December 6, it’s time for St Nikolaus to bring chocolate and tangerines to children who were nice during the year.

Christmas Eve, Day, and St Stephen’s Day (December 24, 25 and 26) are important dates for Austrian traditions.

It’s also worth noting that Austrians celebrate Christmas on the evening of December 24, usually with a family meal.

READ ALSO: Is skiing still possible on Austria’s glaciers?

Start of ski season

In some parts of Austria, like on high-altitude glaciers in the Alps, the skiing season is already underway. 

Elsewhere, some resorts tentatively open in early to mid-December before the winter season officially starts at Christmas. So you can possibly save some money (and avoid the crowds) by going skiing earlier.

For example, in St. Johann in Tyrol, the adult day pass rate is €29 between December 8 to 23 – far below the €53 in peak season (from December 24). 

These off-peak rates don’t apply at all ski resorts but it’s worth checking before booking a trip to the mountains.

New Year celebrations

Expect lots of fireworks on New Year’s Eve (Silvester) in Austria – no matter where you are.

Most major cities have a large fireworks display planned for midnight on December 31 and hotels tend to book up quickly – especially in cities like Salzburg.

In Vienna, the bells ring out at St. Stephan’s Cathedral to welcome in the New Year, which is also broadcast on national television. This is followed by fireworks and some even take part in a communal waltz on Rathausplatz in front of the Town Hall.

But if you really want to celebrate New Year like an Austrian, then give a marzipan pig to your nearest and dearest. The little pigs represent a good luck charm and are handed out every year on New Year’s Eve.