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ÖTW celebrates achieving its historic goal of site classification in Austria

by Bettina Bäck
ÖTW Group

A historic signature by the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry paves the way for Austria to be the only country apart from France in which the classification of vineyards is written into law.  

From now onwards, it will be possible for all Austrian wine regions to classify their vineyard sites (in Austria the term 'Ried' is used for this). After nomination by a Regional Wine Committee (RWK) and confirmation by the National Wine Committee (NWK), the best vineyards can be designated as Erste Lage (Premier Cru) or Grosse Lage (Grand Cru) using a standardised classification process.  

Ried Seeberg of ÖTW
Austria is now the only country apart from France where a legal system is in place for vineyard site classification. ©Robert Herbst

ÖTW: 30 years spent getting the basics right  

This is a milestone for Austria’s premium winery group, Traditional Wine Estates of Austria (ÖTW), which was founded back in 1991 with the primary goal of classifying Austria's best single vineyard sites. “We are proud of our important contribution to the Austrian wine industry – despite it being an uphill battle at times,” says Michael Moosbrugger, the National Chair of the ÖTW.

Group picture of the Traditional Wine Estates of Austria
The members of the Traditional Wine Estates of Austria (ÖTW) are proud of the site classification milestone. ©Herbert Lehmann

The legislature's decision did not come out of the blue; it was preceded by a long discussion with the 77-member Traditional Wine Estates of Austria (ÖTW) group. At the heart of its work, is the long-held conviction that place of origin and its uniform communication is the best and most transparent way to market wine. On the one hand, it guarantees consumers trustworthy designations on labels and, on the other, it provides producers with a reliable platform for joint communication.  

However, appellations of origin can easily become unmanageable.  

  • There are 18 appellations or DAC regions in Austria - relatively easy to remember.  

  • At the village (or communal) level, the number rises to 900.  

  • If individual vineyards (Rieden) are used as designations of origin on labels, there are about 4,300 vineyard names that can be used in Austria alone! Even Austrian experts struggle to keep track of them all – let alone international wine professionals and consumers. 

This is where the importance of classifications becomes apparent: it helps both consumers and experts more easily understand the significance and composition of Austria’s vineyards and the wine produced from them. 

More than "just" good wine 

The process for a vineyard to be properly classified by the ÖTW is a complex and lengthy one. "We have spent 18 years observing nature, involving experts and scientists, tasting the development of wines from the best sites to lay the foundations for a classification," explains Moosbrugger. A top vineyard site must not only produce outstanding wine every year, but it must also have relevance, generate a corresponding added value, be historically documented and have also been available and visible on the market for years.  

Michael Moosbrugger während einer Rede

"For a robust classification, it is not just the winegrowers themselves who decide what a top vineyard site is, but rather a multifaceted approach to the importance of a site in the context of its area and its winegrowers."

Michael Moosbrugger, the National Chair of the ÖTW

International verdict 

Unique in the history of classifications and an essential aspect of the ÖTW process is the fact that both national and international experts have been involved in the journey to achieve a designation. To this end, the group invites journalists, sommeliers and other wine professionals to the ÖTW Single Vineyard Summit in Grafenegg, Lower Austria in the first week of September to taste, scrutinise and evaluate the wines from the ÖTW Erste Lagen. (The Single Vineyard Summit 2023 will be held September 4-9. Info here)  

The results of the work of this vintners' association are published annually in the catalogue of the ÖTW Erste Lagen. Ninety-five vineyards are currently classified ÖTW Erste Lagen from Traisental, Kremstal, Kamptal, Wagram, Vienna, Carnuntum and Thermenregion. The classification of Grosse Lagen (Grand Cru) sites has yet to be finalised. 

ÖTW Single Vineyard Summit tasting at Grafenegg
The annual ÖTW Single Vineyard Summit at Grafenegg castle. ©Anna Stöcher

Headwinds, then solidarity 

For decades, the classification of the ÖTW wineries was viewed critically by many Austrian wine policymakers and the industry, and in some cases even actively opposed. But the ÖTW however, always considered themselves pioneers in the mission to comprehensively assist wine consumers. "There were many wines in Austria with fantasy names, many descriptors, many labels. But there was no clear and stringent principle of origin labelling." For decades, sugar levels were used to officially evaluate wine quality.  

Only with the introduction of the appellations and DAC regulations from 2002 did a first approach to the marketing of origin also officially emerge in Austria, and slowly, an understanding of site differentiation also developed. 

In 2013, a working group was finally convened at the level of the National Wine Committee (NWK) to discuss the possibility of a site classification for all of Austria’s wine regions. The feasibility of different positions, philosophies and possibilities were examined. In the end, the ÖTW classification system prevailed. 

After this ten-year process, the classification ordinance has now been signed by the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Norbert Totschnig, putting the basis for a nationwide site classification in place. After an extensive assessment process modelled on the ÖTW classification system, the respective Regional Committees (RWK) can submit a classification proposal to the National Committee (NWK) and, after its confirmation and decree by the Minister, all wineries in an area can use the designation ’Erste Lage’ or ‘Grosse Lage’ for wines from these vineyards. 

This is the first nationwide legal site classification outside France - and the international wine world will be watching this process with particular attention and interest. 

Austrian vineyards
The fog has lifted and site classification now follows a unified, legal framework throughout Austria / In the image: Ried Berg, Traisental ©Robert Herbst

A big investment of time – and money 

The ÖTW experience and knowledge, which has now been incorporated into the development of the legal classification, has seen Traditional Wine Estates of Austria invest not only many years of work, but also a total of around €10 million. "We do not expect thanks for this investment,” says Michael Moosbrugger, "but our conviction is that as the country's leading wineries, we bear a responsibility for the positive development of our wine industry. That is why we will also monitor the progress and development of the legal classification and do our best to avoid mistakes and errors."  

The primary goal of the ÖTW has now been achieved after more than 30 years of intensive work, in that responsibility for vineyard classification will be handed over to the state. However, the Association will continue to engage in activities to improve and further develop the system and structures of origin marketing to promote a better understanding of the special features of Austrian viticulture.  

The current private classification by the ÖTW will continue until there is a statutory classification by the relevant Regional Wine Committee. Once that has occurred, the legal classification will be the only system used.


Cornerstones of the new site classification law in Austria 

  • Only appellations or DAC areas that have implemented a three-tiered origin structure, regional wine (Gebietswein), village wine (Ortswein), single vineyard wine (Riedenwein), can apply for a site classification. 

  • Comprehensive assessment of the significance of a site in the context of its region and its winemakers, and of the wines themselves based on strict criteria. 

  • Mandatory hand-harvesting of sites 

  • Each classified site can be no larger than 35ha 

  • Wines from classified sites can be sold no earlier than one year after harvest 

  • Regional Wine Committees (RWK) still have to define exact regulations regarding wines, vinification and vineyard management (maximum yield per hectare, etc) 

  • As with the ÖTW, only after a minimum of five years of classification as an Erste Lage, can a vineyard be classified as a Grosse Lage. 


All press photos
About the Austrian Single Vineyard Summit

Five wine producer organisations come together for this event: Österreichische Traditionsweingüter (ÖTW), covering the Danube regions of Kamptal, Kremstal, Thermenregion, Traisental, Wagram, Vienna and Carnuntum, who are renowned for being pioneers in the classification of Erste Lage wines in Austria. They are joined by winegrowers from Eisenberg and Leithaberg as well as the Styrian Terroir and Classic Wine Estates (STK). 2022 marked the inaugural appearance of Vinea Wachau (Vinea Wachau Nobilis Districtus), an association of Wachau winegrowers founded in 1983. The ÖTW Single Vineyard Summit therefore offers tastings from all of the key wine regions and sites in Austria, under one roof at Grafenegg castle.

Schloss Grafenegg - Austria
(approx. 50 minutes drive from Vienna)
From 4 September to 8 September 2023

SVS Schloss Grafenegg

Bettina Bäck von Wine+Partners
Bettina Bäck
Senior Project Manager

Bettina has been with Wine&Partners since 2002, with countless projects domestic and international under her belt. She currently manages sommelier world champion Marc Almert, the culinary think tank Koch.Campus, the Styrian wineries Weingut Muster.Gamlitz, Weingut Langmann and the STK wineries, the culinary concept store Kärntnerei and the Kozlović wine estate in Istria.