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Top Wine Co-op in Austria Changes Management

At Freie Weingartner Wachau, the general manager and winemaker responsible for quality improvements resign.

Bruce Sanderson
Posted: June 11, 2003

In an apparent cost-cutting strategy, Freie Weingärtner Wachau, a successful wine cooperative in Austria, has changed its management team. The winemaker and the general manager who brought the wines to all-time peaks of quality and export sales have both resigned.

FWW consists of 750 independent growers controlling almost 1,500 acres of vineyards in the Wachau region, which totals nearly 3,500 acres. Winemaker Rainer Wess told Wine Spectator that during his tenure of almost three years, he began implementing changes to improve grape quality by offering the co-op members higher prices for ripe, healthy grapes and lower prices for unripe grapes and those affected by botrytis. But, Wess claimed, some growers were unhappy about his policies, and he was asked to leave.

"They chose the easy way out. They would rather change the management, making the harvest easier and vinification less expensive, than changing themselves and producing higher quality grapes," said Wess, who departed in April.

General manager Fritz Miesbauer's resignation soon followed because he felt he could not effectively handle the dual roles of winemaking and sales and marketing without a decline in quality. He agreed to stay on through the transition and will leave at the end of June.

FWW's management change comes after a period of growth and investment in quality, which began in 1995. According to Miesbauer, who made the wines from 1991 until 2000, then took over the sales and marketing, FWW invested more than 10 million euros to upgrade its facilities and improve quality. Sales increased from 192,000 cases in 1995 to 250,000 in 2002, and exports soared almost tenfold, from 8,500 cases to 81,700 cases during the same period.

In blind tastings at Wine Spectator since the 1995 vintage, one-third of FWW's wines have rated outstanding (90 to 94 points on Wine Spectator's 100-point scale) and another 58 percent have rated very good (85 to 89 points).

When asked via e-mail to comment on the firing of Wess, FWW president Franz Mang responded: "In times like this, the owners of the wine company had to decide the direction of the future. For us, it is typical that the democratic decision of our 'wine-shareholders' goes the 'way of quality' and consolidation for our 'social wine union.'"

Miesbauer will take over the management of Weingut Stadt Krems, a historic 62-acre estate owned by the city of Krems in the Kremstal region; the wine estate's earliest known records date back to 1457. Wess plans to start a winery in the Wachau, making a range of Grüner Veltliners and Rieslings, initially from purchased grapes.

The two are replaced at FWW by longtime cellar master Hannes Donabaum, who is assuming winemaking duties, and Roland Grossinger, who is taking over sales and marketing.

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Check our ratings of Freie Weingärtner Wachau wines.

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