In an effort to develop a clearer image of Austrian wines abroad, the country's producers have begun phasing in a new appellation system, Districtus Austria Controllatus.
Austria's new DAC system, which is similar to the AOC in France and the DOC in Italy, will gradually replace its current, often confusing, wine classification, which is based on 34 officially recognized grape varieties and a maze of quality and style designations. The DAC labels place more emphasis on the name of the wine region than on the grape varieties.
"The DAC helps to establish a more focused identity for Austrian wines," said Michael Thurner, director of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board in Vienna. "This new system links a wine's denomination of origin with a particular profile of characteristics, such as flavor and character. This is a kind of 'indentifiable brand' concept, similar to that of, say, Chianti, Chablis and Rioja."
The front labels on all DAC wines will prominently feature the producer's name and the denomination of origin, followed by "DAC." Typically, each DAC will be affiliated with one grape variety, just as in Burgundy, where, for example, Meursault AOC wines are made from Chardonnay and Gevrey-Chambertin AOCs from Pinot Noir. For now, the varietal name will be featured on the front labels, but less conspicuously; eventually, it will likely be relegated to back labels.
Adoption of the new system is optional for Austria's 19 wine regions, each of which has established a Regional Wine Committee of vintners and others in the wine trade. If the committee votes to implement the DAC system, the members then determine the specific quality criteria that the local wines must meet in order to earn the classification. So far, the largest of Austria's wine regions, the Weinviertel, is the first to be classified with DAC status.
In the Weinviertel, Grüner Veltliner--a widely grown white variety viewed by local producers as the region's typical grape--will be the only variety used for production of Weinviertel DAC wines. All other varietals from this area cannot be classified as DAC wines, and may not have the word "Weinviertel" printed on their front label; only "Niederösterreich," or Lower Austria, (in which the Weinviertel is located), can be listed as the place of origin.
To earn DAC classification, the regional committee determined, Weinviertel wines must have a minimum of 12 percent alcohol, a clean, crisp, peppery-spice character and no discernable wood flavor.
Encouraged by the prospect of charging higher prices and increasing their exports, more than 400 small growers have bottled their first Weinviertel DAC wines; more than 80,000 cases from the 2002 vintage have been released since March 1.
"There is a new feeling among the growers here," said producer Roman Pfaffl, who heads Weinviertel's Regional Wine Committee. "Much of the wine produced in the area has always been mainly for bulk sale. But now, more and more vintners are making a stronger effort to produce a higher-quality wine--a DAC wine. Not only will this create a better image of the area and individual wineries, but it also will bring the vintners more pride, and hopefully more money."
Phillip Zull, another producer of top Weinviertel wines, said, "This is a chance for consumers abroad to become familiar with the Weinviertel and discover that there is very good wine being made here. Wine here once had a bad reputation; now, that is changing fast."
The next wine region slated to adopt the DAC system, with the 2003 vintage, is Mittelburgenland, in southeastern Austria, bordering Hungary. The red Blaufränkisch grape, which is abundant there, has been selected as the representative variety for the area's classification.
So far, the DAC system is being targeted mainly by Austrian wine regions that are little known abroad. "Now consumers will be able to identify these wines more easily by the label," said Thurner of the marketing board. "They will get to know what kind of wine to expect from Weinviertel DAC and Mittelburgenland DAC wines."
However, that may take some time. There will be no significant advertising activities to introduce the DAC system to foreign markets, according to Thurner. The label is the "biggest tool in promoting the DAC system to consumers," he said.
And the DAC system may not change things much for prominent areas, such as the Wachau or Kamptal, which already enjoy a reputation for producing excellent wines. "The famous name has an easy life," said renowned Kamptal winemaker Willi Bründlmayer. "So the DAC system helps mostly the small growers who are not well-known, who want to establish their own profiles."
Bründlmayer believes that consumers should still rely on the producer's name as an indication of the wine's quality, but that ultimately, the DAC classifications will give confidence to the average wine consumer. "The connoisseur does not need it," he said. "He already knows which wine to select from which producer."
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