Austrian wine industry fights the corona crisis

Chris Yorke (photo Anna Stöcher)
Andreas Grube
Published 23-October-2020
Interview / Austria

Growing demand for Austrian reds and aromatic whites, and a wine scene that is at the forefront internationally when it comes to organically cultivated vineyards. The Austrian wine industry has handled the corona crisis well, and the biggest challenge right now is – to bring the wine to the people.

”All major trade fairs have been cancelled, and we were also unable to offer our on-site events this year. We, therefore, sent countless wine packages all over the world and adapted our activities to fit an online format as quickly as possible,” says Chris Yorke, CEO at the Austrian Wine Marketing Board.

Even though 2020 has been a challenging year, to say the least, for everyone, numbers show that the Austrian wine industry has done relatively well and that exports in the first half of the year were better than expected.

”The export value of Austrian wines fell by only 1% in the first six months compared to the same period in the previous year. Export volume was even able to grow by 7.4%. In Austria, wine sales in retail grocery and online sales increased. However, none of this can make up for the sales losses that resulted from the closure of the catering trade in spring: around 23 million litres of wine,” says Chris Yorke.

”Luckily our vintners can offer fantastic wines from the 2019 vintage which proves to be one of the greatest vintages of the last decades. So even though it is still far too early for any form of relief, we feel that we do have an ace under our sleeves.”

How is the situation right now?
”The situation of Austria’s vintners currently depends heavily on which and how many channels they use for marketing their wines. Wineries that supply groceries or online retailers, for example, were less affected by the effects of the pandemic than businesses that sell a high proportion to the hospitality industry.”

Mittelburgenland in Austria, view towards Sopron, Hungary.

Can you identify any specific trends when it comes to style, grapes, regions on the rise, right now?
”The international flagship is the Grüner Veltliner, of course. In addition, it has long been known that world-class Rieslings also come from Austria. In recent years, however, a strong dynamic has developed in other varieties as well: aromatic white wines from Steiermark (Styria), for example, are internationally renowned and in demand like never before, above all Sauvignon Blanc.”

”Other than that, autochthonous treasures such as Roter Veltliner, Zierfandler or Wiener Gemischter Satz are very exciting discoveries, especially for developed markets. And the interest in Austria’s elegant, fresh and vibrant red wines is growing in particular: Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch or St. Laurent should no longer be missing on any good wine list!”

It is our declared goal to regain the positive dynamics that prevailed in the Austrian wine sector before corona as quickly as possible

Which are the most important export markets at the moment?
”In the first place, Germany continues with almost 50% of our export sales; even during corona, we were able to record growth there! Behind them, Switzerland, the USA and the Benelux countries have been developing positively for years. We have also seen a strong increase in demand in Scandinavia over the past few years - it certainly plays a role that consumers here tend to be more environmentally conscious.”

What are the biggest challenges for Austrian wine right now?
”To bring the wine to the people! And not only in terms of sales in all channels but also in terms of general contact between international wine lovers and Austrian wine. All major trade fairs have been cancelled, and we were also unable to offer our on-site events this year (except at the beginning of the year). We, therefore, sent countless wine packages all over the world and adapted our activities to fit an online format as quickly as possible.”

What will be the main focus for Austrian Wine as an organisation in the upcoming years?
”It is our declared goal to regain the positive dynamics that prevailed in the Austrian wine sector before corona as quickly as possible! More specifically, we want to keep the high market shares in the home market on the one hand, and on the other hand, we plan to work even more purposefully in our export markets and address individual market segments more precisely. A special international market analysis for the perception and positioning of Austrian wine in selected countries will help us.”

Matthias Pitra (left) and his MAST partner Steve Breitzke.

Matthias Pitra, Star Wine List’s ambassador in Austria, runs MAST Weinbistro in Vienna, a wine bar focusing on natural wine and a venue that has become a hot spot for sommeliers, winemakers, retailers and foodies.

He describes the mood among industry people in Vienna as worried – but future-focused.

”Of course, we have to be future-focused, but a lot of restaurants are worried about the future. Will we get a second lockdown and will we survive it as a company? A lot of waiters and chefs are still in short-time work, and they are missing a lot of money and also the tip as an extra income,” Matthias says.

During spring and summer, restaurants have changed their concepts to take away and” cook it yourself”-boxes. Also, many wine shops have gone online.

”A lot of wineshops changed concepts and have had big business because of their online shops. It felt like many Austrians cleaned up there cellars and re-stocked with wines, which was great for the wineshops.”

His own venue, MAST, is alive and kicking, though a lot of things have changed since the corona crisis hit.

”Sunday night was always the fun night for all our friends in gastronomy because it was their day off and weekend for them. Also, a lot of tourists used to join us on Sundays, that was our best night. Because of corona, this changed a lot, and we are missing the old times! We are still fully booked every day because of our regular guests, and we are thankful for all the new guests, but we are missing the tourists!”

In partnership with Austrian Wine

The Austrian Wine Marketing Board is based in Vienna, and is a national service body for the Austrian wine industry. The aim is to strategically support, coordinate and maintain quality and sales.

Read more about Austrian Wine

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