Austria adds new grape hybrids to QbA wine for organic and sustainable winemaking

Jacopo Mazzeo

Jacopo Mazzeo

27 November 2018

Do you know your Muscaris from your Souvignier Gris? Can you tell the difference between Blütenmuskateller and Goldenmuskateller? Well, if you don’t, you’re not alone. But maybe it's something that you need to learn about.

What you need to know about these new grapes...

Muscaris (PIWI* hybrid)

German crossing of Solaris and Muskateller, found primarily in the Styria region. Early-to-mid ripening. Aromas recall those of the Muskateller. It develops high acidity, which makes it a good candidate for sparkling wine production.

Souvignier Gris (PIWI hybrid)

German pink-skinned crossing of Cabernet Sauvignon and Bronner, again found primarily in the Styria region. Early-to-mid ripening, has a robust skin which makes it particularly resistant to rot and rainfall. Tends to overcrop. Its aromas are somewhat reminiscent of Pinot Gris.

Blütenmuskateller (PIWI hybrid)

Russian crossing of Severnyj and Muskat, developed in 1947. Mid-to-late ripening, can reach very high sugar content. Shows strong Muscat-like aromas, develops a full body and is well-suited to the production of sweet wines.

Goldenmuskateller

Indigenous to northern Italy, it’s not a hybrid but show good resistance to rot. Late ripening, prefers warm sites. Resulting wines tend to be full-bodied with marked Muscat-like notes. Usually vinified sweet.

(*PIWI is the German abbreviation for pilz = fungus and widerstandsfähig = resistant. They were first created in the late 19th century by crossing European and American varieties. Modern PIWIs might have Asian varietals’ genetic material.)

That's because, as of next vintage, UK wine professionals will encounter these four varieties on Qualitätswein (QbA) labels, Austria's top wine quality level. The four new additions, three of which are hybrids (ie containing both vitis vinifera and non-vinifera genetic material), take the total number of permitted grapes in Austrian Qualitätswein to 40.

So why have they been added? The answer is their high resistance to diseases such as powdery and downy mildew, grey rot, and other viral and fungal infections. This might not sound sexy, but it's of crucial importance to growers who want to practice organic or sustainable viticulture, since it allows them to avoid having to use chemical herbicides and pesticides. This also means fewer tractor passages through vineyards, which in turn reduces pollutant emissions.

Hybrids have been developed in Europe since the late 19th century, when their primary goal was to fight phylloxera. Despite their disease-resistant qualities, however, they have often been deemed unfit for quality winemaking. However, the decision to allow white hybrids such as Blütenmuskateller, Muscaris and Souvignier Gris for Qualitätswein production suggests that this assumption might be inaccurate.  

Two red hybrids – Rathay and Roesler – are already permitted for use in Austrian Qualitätswein, though plantings encompass a mere 0.5% (273ha) of the country’s total vineyard area.  The former adds body and tannins to blends, while Roesler is more often used as a monovarietal for its spicy aromatic profile.

No records exists for the new white varieties’ current area under vine, but it’s known that they’re mostly used in vineyards that are organically cultivated (13% of total Austrian vineyard area), particularly in the Steiermark region in southwestern Austria, where wet climate is a common cause for diseases.

Austrian Wine is expecting plantings to increase exponentially in the coming years.

 

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