Keeping an eye on Austria
If you heard there was a wine-producing country growing at 30% in the off-trade, you’d be running for the fireworks, wouldn’t you? You’d at least be cracking open a bottle of something special to celebrate.
Well, it’s true. Austrian wine sales grew 30% to £1.6 million in the year to December 7, with volumes up 31% to 15,500 cases. And yet there are no fireworks.
Nielsen's Helen Stares explains: "Austria is the 18th-biggest producer of wine by volume, which puts it behind Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania and Greece, and it only has a 0.02% share of total wine volume sold in the past year.”
But still, that is some pretty spectacular growth, albeit from a tiny base. In terms of exports, Austria has broken records in the past year, with volumes exported to the UK up 30% to 400,000 litres and sales up to €2.2 million.
Much of that volume is coming from Waitrose, which has seen sales grow 53% over the past year, according to Austria buyer Cat Lomax.
“This is driven by white sales,” she says, mainly of native grape Grüner Veltliner, which has become so popular in recent years that it has been planted as far afield as New Zealand.
The supermarket’s success proves that Austria isn’t just a hand-sell — although with wine specialists in every branch it can offer more advice than some multiples.
“Grüner Veltliner may be well known to the majority of the wine trade, but it’s still news to most UK wine drinkers,” says Lomax. “There are still many consumers who’ve yet to discover Austria, so there does need to be a hand-sell or educational element to get people to try the wines.
“A great way to talk to consumers about Grüner Veltliner is to present it as an exciting alternative to Sauvignon Blanc. If you’re a Sauvignon drinker, Grüner has all the key hallmarks you’re looking for in a wine — it’s bright, fresh, aromatic and zingy.”
Alliance Wine, which imports the wines of Domäne Wachau, has also had a bumper year for sales of Austrian wine — they grew 63% in 2013, according to buyer Garech Byrne, who is now looking for more Austrian producers to join the agency’s portfolio.
Byrne says: “The success that Waitrose has had with Austrian wines in the past few years demonstrates that there is a broad market for the wines.
“The success some retailers have had with introducing ranges from less mainstream countries — Marks & Spencer’s eastern Mediterranean range comes to mind — shows that there is an appetite among supermarket shoppers for diversity.
“Given that Austria delivers a fantastic quality-to-price ratio, there is absolutely no reason why Austria should not continue to flourish.”
The Austrian Wine Marketing Board expects to see even more growth in the multiples.
Marketing manager Susanne Staggl said: “We still see a big potential in the mid-price range in supermarkets, around £6.99-£7.99. There is far too little on offer in this price range, and we are convinced that Grüner Veltliner can be a category in UK supermarkets.
“The pure fruit and freshness of our wines, combined with a real sense of place and origin, make Austrian wines perfect for every occasion, especially as a universal food companion.”
She adds: “Independents also show big potential for us, and gastropubs are a big opportunity for growth. Although Austria is not only Grüner Veltliner, this grape is definitely our foot in the door in every country and displays excellent price-to-quality ratios with a big story to tell around it.”
And what about retailers who want to look beyond Grüner?
“Grüner will remain the signature variety, but I’m excited about the elegant, mineral Blaufränkisch from the south, and ever hopeful that the world will wake up to the delights of Austrian Riesling,” says Byrne.
Staggl agrees: “Besides Grüner Veltliner there is big interest in and success for Austrian Blaufränkisch, especially among sommeliers and the wine trade. Currently, Austrian red wine exports to the UK only account for 9% of the total volume, but we see Blaufränkisch becoming our next big grape, especially with experts in the wine trade. Blaufränkisch, with its pure fruit and fine acidity, can perfectly show its origin, and also shows Austria’s red wine development over the past few years.”
So it’s all looking great, isn’t it? Surely there is cause for some celebration?
“Maybe an indoor sparkler,” suggests Nielsen’s Stares.
Wines to watch
Native grape: Umathum's Zweigelt has cherry and spice on the palate
Feathery: Domäne Wachau's Grüner Veltliner Federspiel – white pepper, gooseberry
Feeling Grü-Ve: Langenlois Loimer Käferberg from Kamptal
Blaufränkisch: Heinrich's deep red from Burgenland's Leitha mountains
Granite: Rocky soils make for a lively Riesling from Kurt Angerer
Juicy red berries: Claus Preisinger's Pinot Noir
Young vines: Bründlmayer's Grüner Veltliner from Kamptal