Austria's Carnuntum is the country's latest wine region to receive official recognition as a Districtus Austriae Controllatus, or DAC. Maria Patek, the Austrian federal minister for sustainability and tourism, signed the proposal, submitted by the region’s representatives and Austria's National Wine Committee, on Oct. 1. Carnuntum is the 14th Austrian winegrowing region to adopt regulations protecting the origin and typicity of its wines and to be recognized by the government as a DAC.
Austria's DACs, established in 2003, are similar to France's Appellations d'Origine Contrôlée (AOCs): The region's vintners work together to establish a proposal of regulations, which are then submitted to the National Wine Committee, whose members may deliberate and propose changes before then forwarding the plan to the government for official approval.
“It was the whole association of winemakers who have decided what Carnuntum will stand for in the future,” said Dorli Muhr, one of the region's leading producers. “Carnuntum has the potential of taking the lead in red wine quality of Austria because we are a small region with a very strong regional spirit between all producers.”
Carnuntum is located within the larger Niederösterreich wine region, which also includes Kamptal, Kremstal and Wachau, among other DACs. Carnuntum stretches from Vienna all the way east to the Slovakia border, and its winemaking history dates to Roman times. There are only about 150 wineries in the whole region, with a total vineyard area of about 2,200 acres. The terroir is influenced by the Danube river, Carpathian mountains and Pannonian plain. The climate is fairly continental, with hot summers and cold winters. Primary soils are loam, loess and gravel, which are perfect for cultivating Zweigelt. However, in the easternmost part of the region, in the Spitzerberg vineyard, there are layers of limestone covering granite, where Blaufränkisch excels.
“We have a big diversity of grape varieties here and everything started with a scan of the soils, finding the differences in the vineyards,” said Christina Artner-Netzl, proprietor and winemaker of Netzl. “Then the tastings started and what we found was mind-changing. There was an impressive similarity in [different] wines produced from specific places.”
Grape varieties permitted in the Carnuntum DAC include Chardonnay, Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) and Grüner Veltliner for whites, and Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch for reds. The blends can contain up to a third of other approved varieties like Sankt Laurent, Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.
Wines made from other varieties may no longer be labeled with the Carnuntum region name, but may still carry the Niederösterreich designation. The DAC's new rules also include winemaking and aging requirements. All wines labeled Carnuntum DAC must be fermented dry. Additionally, the reds from the region must have 12 percent alcohol or higher. Village and single-vineyard white wines cannot be released before March 15 following the harvest, and the reds must to be held until Nov. 1 of the following year.
The pre-existing Rubin Carnuntum designation, a classification for Zweigelts from the region made by more than two dozen local producers that has existed since the early 1990s, will remain in place and unchanged.
Earlier this year the region also classified nine top vineyards as Erste Lage, or premier cru, the first releases of which hail from the outstanding 2017 vintage.
Both Muhr and Artner-Netzl are convinced that the new regulations will strengthen the image of the region. “We have to look at it for the long run," Muhr said. "When vineyards are newly planted, producers won’t use Sauvignon Blanc or Merlot anymore, but they will focus on the grapes that fit best to the region.”