The Revival of the Roter Veltliner Grape, and the Role of Slow Food

Austria might be better known for its symphonies than its sommeliers, but in the valleys of the Danube its grape varieties are undergoing a renaissance. 

After decades in the wilderness, the ancient Roter Veltliner is once again enticing wine-lovers worldwide. We caught up with Hans Czerny, founder of the Slow Food Community Roter Veltliner Donauterrassen, to find out how. 

Hans Czerny, founder of the Slow Food Community Roter Veltliner Donauterrassen
Hans Czerny, founder of the Slow Food Community Roter Veltliner Donauterrassen

Unearthing the History of the Roter Veltliner 

“Here in the region of Wagram, the Roter Veltliner has been cultivated for centuries. It was the forbear of the Malvasia as well as local varieties like the Neuburger, Zierfalnder and Rotgipfler,” he tells us.

But the 1980s brought with it a boom in monocultural production, and among this newfound trend the Roter Veltliner almost disappeared. Then, in 2008, a small group of organic producers decided to take action to reintroduce the Roter Veltliner as a unique regional grape variety,

“This ancient aromatic grape has always been a favorite among wine connoisseurs,” Hans tells us. “But outside this historic growing region, we couldn’t cultivate enough interest to sustain it. By the 1990s, our local wine was teetering on the edge of extinction, with only pockets of interest among locals and specialists”

In 2008, Hans and four of his fellow producers undertook the full-time cultivation and promotion of the Roter Veltliner in recognition of the unique, organic quality of this regional wine. With the help of Slow Food Waldviertel, they onboarded it onto the Ark of Taste and created a network with other local Slow Food chapters, allow them to share its rich history not only with consumers but with much of the global media. 

The Presidium Prospers

The group soon expanded to include several local stakeholders, all engaged in the struggle to preserve natural foods and wines and to give the region a more sustainable direction.

“Last year, we hosted journalists at our regional restaurants for a Schneckendiner, where they were treated to Slow Food dinners paired with our local wines. Then in September 2022, we attended Terra Madre in Turin, showcasing our wines alongside several other Austrian Presidia, including Waldstaude, Blondvieh and Waldschaf.”

Cultivating Tradition in Harvesting the Roter Veltliner

Hans is a strong believer in implementing Slow Food philosophy in his viticultural practices. 

Its production protocol follows all the regulations of organic cultivation, establishing the use of indigenous yeasts in the winemaking process and harvesting the grapes by hand. The producers also decided to set and adopt a single price, which most fundamentally is considered fair for both producers and consumers.

Slow Food Community Roter Veltliner Donauterrassen 1
Grapes from the Slow Food Community Roter Veltliner Donauterrassen

But Hans is also a believer in rooting the grape in its local territory, recognizing the importance of the local context in making his product unique. “While some wine-lovers outside our region recognize this little-known wine, we wanted to draw the focus on our local area—to blend the name of Roter Veltliner with the historical growing region. So in 2020 we founded our group of 10 producers and with it the Slow Food Presidium “Roter Veltliner Donauterrassen”. 

“We hosted a garden tasting “Schneckenpartie” with Slow Food dishes from neighboring regions and we invited 40 journalists for a big winetasting. This saved us during the Covid years, giving us the exposure we otherwise wouldn’t have had. Then, in 2022, we worked with three wineries to organize tasting for people traveling along the “Schneckenpfad” hiking trail.

Slow Food’s Impact

Hans tells us that the Roter Veltliner has seen an enormous surge in popularity over the last 20 years, and that the role of the Presidium can’t be underrated in this.

“Being able to proudly exhibit this special regional pearl means so much to us—whether it’s abroad at events like Terra Madre or here within Wagram and the Danube valley. And so is being able to network and make contacts for the members of our Presidium, connecting with others who believe in the movement’s vision of good, clean and fair.”

Challenges to the Cultivation of Roter Veltliner

Hans pauses for a moment when asked about the long-term prospects of the Roter Veltiner, “Even in our valley, we’re not isolated from the effects of climate change,” he admits. “But the Roter Veltliner doesn’t need too much water to grow well and healthy, and is resistant to strong sunlight because of its color.”

“This makes it a grape for the future, able to weather the coming challenges.”

“Heavy or wet soils would have risked damaging the grapes by accelerating their growth,” Hans tells us. “But this grape grows well balanced to the terraces of the Danube valley. That’s why it’s so important to protect local biodiversity; to cultivate crops, and varieties, where they grow most naturally, and not import monocultures that upset the natural order.”

So what about this year’s harvest?

“This year’s grapes are healthy,” Hans tells us, with a smile. “There aren’t many vintages, and the soil is well watered. We expect good acidity, and therefore a good yield, and can now enjoy a little time off between working the vineyards in June and July and harvesting the hay and grain in late September and October.”

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