One of Austria’s most famous regions is now a DAC. Long content with its own classification system and being outside of the formal Districtus Austriae Controllatus (“DAC”) wine-growing system, the Wachau has changed course and become Austria’s fifteenth so designated region. With boundaries that stretch a little over nine miles along the Danube between the towns of Melk and Krems, the Wachau is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the source of some of Austria’s most renowned wines.
Although the region remained outside of the formal DAC system for many years, the Wachau has a long history of providing quality designations for its wines. In the early 1980s (established even before the DAC system), a group of producers created the regional protection association, Vinea Wachau Nobilis Distructus. The association was responsible for providing a code of quality standards for the region’s producers. Part of that code entailed the establishment of three categories of wines – the light-bodied and delicate Steinfeder with alcohol levels up to 11.5 percent, the medium alcohol Federspiel with alcohol levels between 11.5 to 12.5 percent, and the highest quality, most complex Smaragd with alcohol levels of at least 12.5 percent. Consumers outside of Austria are more likely to encounter the higher-quality Federspiel and Smaragd categories of wine. Even with its new DAC status, Wachau will retain its well-ingrained classification system.
Like other DACs, Wachau wines will now be classified on three levels: Gebietswein (regional wine), Ortswein (village wine) and Riedenwein (single-vineyard wine).
All classifications require hand harvesting with varying rules on the use of oak and permitted varieties. Gebietswein can be made from the seventeen traditionally permitted grape varieties from anywhere in the Wachau. The use of oak is allowed in these wines. Ortswein must be made with significantly fewer varieties, with only nine being permitted. Additionally, the wines must be made without any perceptible oak influence. Single-vineyard Riedenwein must only be made with the region’s signature varieties, Grüner Veltliner and Riesling and come from one of 157 designated vineyard sites. No chaptalization is permitted, and like Ortswein, the wines must not exhibit any perceptible oak.
With its long-standing traditions and commitment to terroir and quality, it was not certain when, or if the Wachau would become a DAC. But with several regions gaining DAC status in the last three years alone, the momentum certainly seemed to be building. “With the Wachau, we can now welcome another important member to Austria’s DAC family”, says Chris Yorke, Managing Director of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board (AWMB). “In doing this, Austria’s wine industry has taken a further step on the path of origin-based marketing. This has proven itself effective for seventeen years now, and has also become recognized internationally.”
And just as this is a win for Austrian wine, it is also a win for consumers. Consistency within the Austrian wine system, greater transparency, and emphasis of origin allows consumers to purchase with confidence. Anton Bodenstein, chairman of the Wachau Regional Wine Committee comments: “This brings origins to the forefront. Wachau DAC provides geographical protection of origin down to the most detailed entity: the individual vineyard.”