The hills are alive ...

27 June, 2008

... with the sound of viticulture. And Austrian wines are now gaining a foothold with the casual wine drinker. Christine Boggis meets some of the personalities behind the vineyards

Aquiet revolution is happening in Austrian wine: exports are shooting up across the board, and those to the UK - its sixth-biggest export market - grew 27.5% to E2.5 million in 2007. In the year to Nov 3 , Austrian wine was worth £481,216 in the UK off-trade, according to Nielsen, with an average bottle price of £7.14 - second only to Lebanon.

So far the country has been hampered by a lack of consumer awareness, and even now familiar Riesling is more likely to get a look-in than indigenous speciality Grüner Veltliner. But Grüner's popularity is growing - so much so that vines have found their way to New Zealand and Australia.

Many producers feel their wines need hand-selling and are targeting restaurants - partly to show off the wines with food and partly because, on a tight budget, it's easier to win over a few ­knowledgeable sommeliers than the general wine-drinking public.

But they can do well in the off-trade too. Waitrose buyer Ken Mackay MW says sales are "solid". "Grüner is obviously the key point of difference, but perhaps the powerful, mineral-laced Rieslings are under-appreciated and can reach even greater heights," he says.

Sainsbury's buyer Daniel Bracegirdle says Austrian wine's high bottle prices mean it appeals mainly to foodies and the affluent middle classes. He thinks the country could grow UK sales by using more international grape varieties.

With high costs and often tiny production areas - the average size of a wine estate is just 2.2ha - Austria is unlikely to hit the mainstream any time soon. But its high quality levels, unusual grape varieties and winemaking focusing on its unique terroirs have carved it an important niche in the market.

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