The history of Austria as a country and its winemaking tradition plays a vital role in understanding Rivendell's wine making process.
Heimo's great-grandparents owned vineyards in lower Styria before the First World War and operated a restaurant in Austria. His grandfather from his father's side was a copper smith and designed and manufactured distillers for the production of Grappa.
Viticulture and winemaking have a long history in Austria and the former crown lands of the monarchy.
- Before World War I, Austria cultured around 4,000 hectare of vineyards which decreased to 30,000 hectares in the 1930's, but grew again with the industrial recovery of Europe after World War II.
- In 2005 Austria had 51,213 hectares of vineyard, almost all in the east of the country.
- Of these, 31,425 hectares is situated in the state of Lower Austria and 15,386 hectares in Burgenland.
- Styria accounts for 3,749 hectares, Vienna for 621 hectares and there are 32 hectares in the rest of the country.
South Styria, near the Slovenian border is mainly Sauvignon Blanc country, the 1,950 hectares of vineyards however also include Welschriesling, Chardonnay, Muscat and Traminer.
Soil types include sandstone, shale, clay and shelly limestone. A combination of warm days and cool nights provide a long growing season, resulting in crisp, aromatic and full-bodied wines.
The warm humid climate and steep hills make this one of the toughest places in Austria to be a viticulturist.
Austria and Slovenia are small countries but the people are wine lovers (Slovenia had the sixth and Austria the eighth highest wine consumption per capita in the world).
Where is Austria, Slovenia and Styria?
Austria, like Slovenia, is a member of the European Union, borders with the Czech Republic and Germany in the North, Slovakia and Hungary in the East, Slovenia and Italy in the South and Switzerland and Liechtenstein in the West.
Styria is one of the 9 federated states of Austria in the South Eastern part of the country and shares its Southern border with Slovenia.
Slovenian Styria (Slovenska Štajerska) is a traditional region in northeastern Slovenia, comprising the southern third of the former Duchy of Styria. The population of Slovenian Styria in its historical boundaries amounts to around 705,000 inhabitants, or 34.5% of the population of Slovenia. The largest city is Maribor.
Note: The red sign marks the location of the vineyards owned by Heimo’s great grand-parents.
The capital of Styria is Graz, which is located 46km away from the Slovenian border (60km from Maribor), 75km from the Hungarian border and, 180 km from the Italian border.
Where it all began
In the current territory of Austria and Slovenia, the Celts were the first to begin producing wine, about 4000 years ago, in the region of Traisental.
In those days wine was kept in oak barrels, wrapped with iron strips. The winemaking methods of the Celts rapidly disappeared with the arrival of the Romans in the first century A.D. The Romans expanded wine production and had their own methods of archiving and maturing wine in pottery.
- Pagan ethnic groups of Slavs who conquered this area in the 6th century were not aware of the importance of wine and only with the Christianisation from the 9th century did it gain importance again.
- In the 19th century the Styrian Duchy, which existed as a distinct political-administrative entity from 1180 to 1918, used to be divided into three traditional regions: Upper Styria (German: Obersteiermark; Slovene: Zgornja Štajerska) and Central Styria (German: Mittelsteiermark; Slovene: Srednja Štajerska), as well as Lower Styria (German: Untersteiermark; Slovene: Spodnja Štajerska), stretching from the Mur River and the Slovene Hills in the north down to the Sava. The first two parts, predominantly German-speaking, form the Austrian state of Styria today (German: Steiermark; Slovene: Štajerska). The southern third, predominantly Slovene-speaking, forms part of Slovenia today.
- The 19th century saw the arrival of all sorts of biological invaders. First there was powdery mildew (Uncinula Necator) and downy mildew (Peronospora). One response to these fungal diseases from North America was the founding in 1860 of what became the Federal Institute for Viticulture and Pomology at Klosterneuburg. This is officially the oldest viticulture school in the world and many similar institutes emerged from this model throughout the Monarchy.
- Then the phylloxera root aphid arrived in 1872 and wiped out most of the vineyards of central Europe. Scientific methods, provided by the viticulture schools, were applied to reduce the damage by the mandatory use of phylloxera-tolerant root stocks, one of the first integrated plant-protection strategies, the grafting of European and American Vitis species providing effective control.
The Austrian antifreeze scandal
Some wine brokers had been adulterating their wines with di-ethylene glycol and almost destroyed the country’s wine market in 1985. The government was forced to introduce new and stronger laws for bulk wines. The viticulturists and wine makers accepted the challenge and decided to concentrate on high quality wines only.
High quality wines
Extremely good climate conditions, along with the dedication and efforts of wine makers led to Austrian wines reaching and remaining at the top worldwide a couple of decades ago.
The fact that family businesses deal with winemaking is certainly a Styrian peculiarity; naturally they have relatively small production.