Since taking office in January, one of the biggest proponents of Austrian wine is also the Alpine nation's most powerful politician and wine lover. Alfred Gusenbauer, Chancellor of Austria, is a common sight at Austrian wine fairs, charity tastings and culinary events. Known to many of Austria's vintners as "Gusi," Gusenbauer, 47, was born and raised in the city of Sankt Pölten in lower Austria, near the prime winegrowing districts of the Wachau. Gusenbauer has spent all of his professional life in politics, and has headed the Social Democratic Party of Austria since 2000. He was first elected to the Bundesrat, the upper house of the Austrian parliament, in 1991 and today governs Austria in coalition with the conservative Austrian People's Party.
WS: When did you become interested in wine?
AG: In my youth I was strongly influenced by humanistic traditions, in particular by the discourses of the old Roman writers. [They were] dominated by three elements: bread, olive oil and wine. That is why, contrary to most of my friends at that time, I was more interested in wine than in other drinks like beer. In addition, my ancestors were winemakers in the Wachau, so I was in touch with the topic already at a rather early stage.
WS: Did growing up near the wine regions shape your knowledge?
AG: Yes, of course, I was strongly influenced by that fact. As a child I used to walk about the vineyards together with my grandmother and learned a lot about grapes, vines and wine in general.
WS: What is the most memorable wine you've ever had?
AG: I could give you the classic answer what the best wine was I've ever drank, but that would be too easy. The wine that surprised me and some of my friends most was a 1978 Montchenot from Argentina, which we tasted during a blind tasting and clearly outclassed all other comparable Bordeaux there, while costing only about 20 euros.
WS: Do you collect wine? What's in your cellar?
AG: Yes, I collect wine. You will find in my cellar mainly Austrian white wines from the Wachau, and additionally some red wines from France--from all regions there. And some Spanish wines.
WS: Does being a socialist conflict with being a wine lover?
AG: No, on the contrary. Being a socialist means wanting more people to enjoy better living conditions and to raise their quality of life. This automatically enables people then to dedicate more time and money to specific hobbies. In addition to arts, science and some other topics, I have chosen wine as one area of personal interest.
WS: Do you know any political leaders who are as passionate about wine as you?
AG: Among the new European leaders you will find quite a number that appreciate a glass of good wine. For example, Prime Minister Jansa (Slovenia), Prime Minister Fico (Slovakia) or Chancellor Merkel (Germany). But of course, it is difficult for me to judge how strong their passion about wine is. And also among Austrian social democrats there are quite a few that are passionate about wine. After all, in Austria, wine is an object of cultural value.
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