New York University
19 W. 4th Street, 6FL
New York, NY 10012, U.S.A.
Tel: (212) 992-8083
Fax: (212) 995-4186
Wine is intensely national and regional. Winegrowers and others in the trade regu- larly interact with state and local actors, from those who enforce the national wine law to the members of the village cooperative. Wine scholars have normalized this dualism by treating wine as a national or regional subject (say, e.g., a study on Italian wine, or a book about the region of Champagne). While approaching wine through a national or regional lens is organizationally satisfactory, recent scholar- ship has called out the limitations of both approaches, suggesting instead that a global lens is best suited to portray a trade that is, if nothing else, international in nature. This globalist critique of the dualist status quo has been convincing, with the national lens most prone to insufficient generalizations.
Enter Wine in Austria: The History. The national paradigm, for all its faults, has found its redeemer. Before embarking on a review of the book, which includes some minor criticisms, I want to make clear upfront my opinion that this book is a mas- terpiece. In fact, in almost 20 years of reading academic wine publications, I would consider this herculean effort to be the most ambitious, courageous, and interesting that I have encountered. Its 500 pages (including notes) of text from more than 40 contributors are of the highest pedigree, while its color images, luxury binding, and producer-bio inserts (more on these later) make this book irresistibly unique.
The origins of the book date back to 2006 when Willi Klinger was preparing to take over as CEO of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board (AWMB). Almost 15 years in the making, Klinger’s brainchild finally saw the light of day at the AWMB’s 2019 “Wine Summit,” an annual press event for the Austrian wine trade. Klinger’s quality-oriented marketing strategy necessitated strong academic partners to undertake the research required for the book. Klinger found such partners in Karl and Michaela Vocelka. Karl Vocelka, now retired, had served as Chair of the Institute of History at the University of Vienna, where he developed into a leading expert on Habsburg and Austrian history. Michaela Vocelka worked as the Chief Archivist and Head of Academic Research at the Simon Wiesenthal Archive/Documentation Center in Austria.
The bulk of the book consists of short but thoroughly researched essays on a wide variety of topics. Although most essays are narrow enough in their focus to remain coherent, it is clear that the broad scope of topics presented a challenge to the book’s organization. The result is a semi-arbitrary breakdown of the almost 500 pages into 5 general chapters, each of which is further divided into subsections that contain the authored essays. Describing each essay would turn this review into a full-length book of its own, so I will take the liberty here of summarizing each of the five chapters while only selectively addressing certain essays. It is worth noting that the editors’ intention was not to make a sustained argument about Austrian wine but rather produce a comprehensive account of the history of Austrian wine that can serve as a catalyst for further studies (the book’s subtitle confidently declares that this is the history of Austrian wine, not a history).
Chapter 1, “Environment and Nature,” brings together academic scientists and viticultural practitioners to address soils, climate, vines, and wine geography. For economists and historians, this chapter may be the most foreign, yet also, perhaps, the most fascinating. Dozens of images of rock strata animate relatively dense (for the non-specialist) text about loess, intramontane basins, and stratigraphic super units. The authors use colorful Huglin Index maps to show the warming of Austrian wine regions and to support the argument that winegrowers will have to navigate this rapid warming by adapting cultivation techniques. Ferdinand Regner’s contribution on autochthonous grape varieties marries ampelographic images to historical and ancestral descriptions of Austria’s major wine grapes. Although the last few decades have overseen enormous growth in viticultural know-how, there are still uncertainties and unanswered questions about grape par- entage and origins. In a contribution to wine geography, the reader learns that the Austrian Wine Act of 1929 was the pivot point when formerly unregulated geograph- ical designations were formalized into national law. This final section includes a number of pyramidal “systems of origin” charts and definitions for important legal terms (e.g., “Ried” and “Weinbaugebiet”). The book’s drawn-out incubation period unwittingly allowed for explanations of recent legal changes to be included in this chapter, including the 2016 creation of the Austrian Sekt pyramid.
Chapter 2, “Winegrowing through the Ages,” offers cursory introductions to wine during prehistory, Roman times, and the Middle Ages, and much larger sections on
wine and viticulture in the “modern era.” Michaela and Karl Vocelka’s section on the Middle Ages lives up to the editors’ desire for this book to serve as a thought starter for future research, as the section manages to cast a wide net geographically, climatically, religiously, socially, and culturally. Similarly, Erich Landsteiner’s essay, Cultivation, Operation and Organization in Austrian Viticulture, provides a fantastic introduction to field techniques, land tenure regimes, labor structures, and even top- onymic curiosities. In another essay authored by the Vocelkas, we are steered toward thinking about the challenges posed by the shifting borders of the crumbling, multi- ethnic Habsburg Empire. One of the intriguing figures during this tumultuous time was Sándor Wolf, heir to wine wholesaler Leopold Wolf’s Söhne in Eisenstadt (Burgenland). Another of the book’s highlights is Daniel Deckers’s (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) originally researched essay on Friedrich Zweigelt, former Director of the School of Viticulture and Horticulture at Klosterneuburg and chief creator of his namesake grape varietal, a cross of St. Laurent and Blaufränkisch, now Austria’s most widespread in terms of total plantings. Deckers delves into Zweigelt’s ideological and practical ties to Nazism, simultaneously por- traying Zweigelt as a dyed-in-the-wool ideologue and an opportunistic and self- serving functionary. The chapter closes with a too-brief essay on the notorious 1980s Austrian wine scandal (six pages) and an even shorter essay on the conse- quences of accession to the European Union for Austrian viticulture (four pages).
Chapter 3, “Production and Consumption,” is subdivided into three themes—pro- duction, sales/marketing, and consumption, each of which is supported by multiple essays. Roman Sandgruber kicks off the chapter with an interesting if somewhat unwieldy essay that traces wine production and consumption patterns over time. We learn of wine’s relative decline throughout the 18th and 19th centuries vis-à- vis beer’s upturn in the same period. Sandgruber posits several reasons for this, including the high cost of production, the decline of export markets, and the intellec- tual class’s gravitation towards beer in the 19th century. Informative essays by Peter Moser and Michael Moosbrugger introduce the reader to transformations in the field and cellar, respectively, including Lens Moser’s high training system for vine plantings and the various treatments and measures taken between fermentation and bottling (known as “schooling”). The current Zeitgeist for “non-intervention” is a far cry from the heavy-handed cellar approaches of the mid-20th century. The “Production” subsection of Chapter 3 also includes essays on organic, biodynamic, and sustainable winegrowing. Here we learn about Rudolf Steiner, the controversial pioneer of biodynamic agriculture.
Austria has had an out-sized impact on contemporary global wine culture, from the GrüVe marketing campaign of the 1980s and 1990s to the Tyrolean-born “super- star” sommelier Aldo Sohm. A series of essays on sales and marketing provides a fascinating glimpse into a notoriously difficult task—selling Austrian wine. Reproductions of advertisements add color and a visual component and make this one of the more fun sections of the book. Of course, one can argue that alcohol advertising has deleterious effects on consumers prone to addiction. Thus, I
commend the authors for including a section on problematic consumption and dependency and for allocating space to a description of the Anton Proksch Institute, one of Europe’s premier addiction treatment centers.
Chapter 4, “People and Wine,” brings the reader into the world of wine culture, including religious practices, folk customs, and architecture. Hannes Etzlstorfer’s essay on ancient and liturgical wine culture and another essay on the Jewish contri- bution to Austrian wine remind us how scholars use wine to examine or magnify larger social developments, including the cycle of privileges and bans levied on Austria’s Jewish population. Wine villages were also sites of “invented traditions.” Whether barrel sliding in Klosterneuburg, “grape cures” in Baden bei Wien, the swearing-in of “Hiata,” or grape-protectors before harvest, there was no shortage of such customs in the Austrian wine territories. Peter Rauscher and Barbara Thuswaldner’s essay on wine architecture is one of the more unique in the book. Although wine architecture is not uniform, the requirements of wine production necessitate certain features that architects try to creatively blend into a given land- scape. The Middle-Age farm and cobbled cellar lanes now split duty with modern aesthetic achievements, including Steven Holl’s “Loisium” in Langenlois, a hotel- spa-resort wine experience, and the F.X. Pichler Winery in Dürnstein, with its ambi- tious, wave-like aluminum facade.
Chapter 5, “Research, Teaching, Sommellerie,” also sheds light on today’s wine experience by delving into—in too short form—the effect of globalization on Austrian wine education and the growth of sommellerie, driven in part by AWMB’s commitment to popularizing Austrian wine.
Wine in Austria: The History, although decidedly national in its approach, embod- ies its own dualism; it is academic and accessible, beautiful and functional, compel- ling and a great work of reference. While it is certainly a book for academics who love Austrian wine, it is a treat for anybody interested in wine, academically or casually. Of particular interest are the two dozen or so half-page inserts that punctuate the book, each of which features an image and brief historical description of an Austrian wine estate or grower. Featured estates include Stift Klosterneuburg, Nikolaihof, Hirtzberger, Schloss Gobelsburg, Esterházy, and several others that wine consumers would be happy to encounter on store shelves.
Willi Klinger’s effort, along with that of his co-editors Karl and Michaela Vocelka, is a Gesamtkunstwerk in the truest sense of the word. Rigorous scholarship, zealous attention to editorial detail, an opulent aesthetic appeal, and eminent read- ability all factor into the total feel of the book, making it among the best wine books that I have ever read.
Kevin D. Goldberg
Savannah Country Day School
New York University
19 W. 4th Street, 6FL
New York, NY 10012, U.S.A.
Tel: (212) 992-8083
Fax: (212) 995-4186