Alpine treat: Austrian wine in Shoreditch
Austrian wine has come a long way – 30 years ago antifreeze was found in some of the country’s bulk wines and the scandal demolished the industry.
In the wake of the devastation, Austria painstakingly rebuilt its wine trade with a focus on quality, indigenous grapes and terroir.
Today no self-respecting wine list will be seen without at least one of the country’s wines, and its trademark Grüner Veltliner grape is grown as far afield as California and New Zealand.
Last March a shop specialising not just in Austrian wine, but in small, dynamic Austrian wineries, opened in London’s trendy Shoreditch Boxpark.
Newcomer Wines aims to create a revolutionary way of exploring and buying wine, and to be a link between interested consumers and winemakers.
The shop is run by a young team of Austrians studying business in London – the oldest is just 22 – and features touch-screen tablets and a “multi- touch barrel” – a touch-screen embedded in an old wine barrel where customers can find short descriptions of the wines and food matches, or research them more thoroughly online.
Daniela Pillhofer, who is pictured below with co-founder Peter Honegger, explains: "The tablets we use in our store allow us to show consumers the stories behind the bottle.
"We’ve made short film clips about each winemaker that we showcase. That way, each producer is able to personally spread the message behind their wines to the consumer as we believe it’s important to know how and by whom the wine is produced.
"Is it a family wine business run for decades? Is it a former UN soldier who fell in love with Guns N Roses rock music and is dedicating his flagship wines to them?"
The latter is Ewald Zweytick of Ratsch in Styria, whose flagship wines include Don't Cry and November Rain – both hits for the US rock band in the 1990s.
Instead of the traditional staid portfolio tasting, Newcomer Wines' first big winemaker event this Feburary will be Winebeats, a tasting and party in Shoreditch Studios, featuring Austrian music act Erwin & Edwin, who combine brass with electronic beats.
The shop has worked so well initially that it was able to turn a profit within nine months of launch, and has drawn plenty of new business over a successful Christmas.
Pillhofer says: “We are excited about how the business has progressed. We have many people coming back for our wines at Boxpark and they are curious to taste something new. We work with an increasing number of restaurants and retail partners – mostly in London but also outside the capital.”
Pillhofer adds: “We love the nervy vibe that surrounds Shoreditch. People always look out for something new – for us that was a great starting point.
“We have a great mix of customers in our store – ranging from locals who swing by for a decent bottle of wine to industry experts and other Londoners who have heard of us or visit Shoreditch during the weekends.”
She believes the fact that Austria is relatively unknown in wine terms adds to its potential.
“Austrian wine has not got any particular image attached – this is a huge opportunity. Customers don’t pay any premium on Austrian wines because of branding. Austrian wines will almost always be a good buy because they are really good value.”
So how do consumers react to such a specialist shop?
“Many customers are surprised that Austria produces quality wine. Many have heard little about wines like Grüner Veltliner or Blaufränkisch. Most of them are positively surprised once they indulge in a short tasting and are excited to take their first bottle of Austrian wine with them.”
Pillhofer says there is plenty of appetite for lesser-known grapes such as Neuburger, Gelber Muskateller and Scheurebe, and predicts a strong future for “natural” and biodynamic wines.
“There will always be a great share of classic varieties such as Grüner Veltliner, Zweigelt or Blaufränkisch, but we see a lot of Austrian producers rethinking questions such as: What is traditional? Which varieties have always been in our region? Is the style authentic?” she says.
“In a nutshell, the future is down to authenticity – whether this is a classic style or a natural or biodynamic style. Such decisions should be left to the winemakers themselves.
“People in the UK have just started discovering what Austrian winemakers are able to produce. It goes way beyond the go-to-guy Grüner Veltliner. We hope we can make a contribution to a growing awareness.”