The Revival of the Roter Veltliner Grape, and the Role of Slow Food

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The Revival of the Roter Veltliner Grape, and the Role of Slow Food

WIMMER-CZERNY, Demeterhof in Fels am Wagram, Austria
Veröffentlicht von Hans in Reben · Freitag 15 Sep 2023
Tags: RoterVeltlinerGrapeSlowFoodvalleyoftheDanubegrapevarietyrenaissance

The Revival of the Roter Veltliner Grape, and the Role of Slow Food

Austria  might be better known for its symphonies than its sommeliers, but in  the valleys of the Danube its grape varieties are undergoing a  renaissance.
After decades  in the wilderness, the ancient Roter Veltliner is once again enticing  wine-lovers worldwide. We caught up with Hans Czerny, founder of the  Slow Food Community Roter Veltliner Donauterrassen, to find out how.

Hans Czerny, founder of the Slow Food Community Roter Veltliner Donauterrassen

Unearthing the History of the Roter Veltliner

“Here in the region of Wagram, the Roter Veltliner has been cultivated for centuries. It was the forbear of the Malvasia as well as local varieties like the Neuburger, Zierfalnder and Rotgipfler,” he tells us.
But  the 1980s brought with it a boom in monocultural production, and among  this newfound trend the Roter Veltliner almost disappeared. Then, in  2008, a small group of organic producers decided to take action to  reintroduce the Roter Veltliner as a unique regional grape variety,
“This  ancient aromatic grape has always been a favorite among wine  connoisseurs,” Hans tells us. “But outside this historic growing region,  we couldn’t cultivate enough interest to sustain it. By the 1990s, our  local wine was teetering on the edge of extinction, with only pockets of  interest among locals and specialists”

In  2008, Hans and four of his fellow producers undertook the full-time  cultivation and promotion of the Roter Veltliner in recognition of the  unique, organic quality of this regional wine. With the help of Slow  Food Waldviertel, they onboarded it onto the Ark of Taste  and created a network with other local Slow Food chapters, allow them  to share its rich history not only with consumers but with much of the  global media.

The Presidium Prospers

The  group soon expanded to include several local stakeholders, all engaged  in the struggle to preserve natural foods and wines and to give the  region a more sustainable direction.
“Last  year, we hosted journalists at our regional restaurants for a  Schneckendiner, where they were treated to Slow Food dinners paired with  our local wines. Then in September 2022, we attended Terra Madre in  Turin, showcasing our wines alongside several other Austrian Presidia,  including Waldstaude, Blondvieh and Waldschaf.”

Cultivating Tradition in Harvesting the Roter Veltliner

Hans is a strong believer in implementing Slow Food philosophy in his viticultural practices.
Its  production protocol follows all the regulations of organic cultivation,  establishing the use of indigenous yeasts in the winemaking process and  harvesting the grapes by hand. The producers also decided to set and  adopt a single price, which most fundamentally is considered fair for  both producers and consumers.

Grapes from the Slow Food Community Roter Veltliner Donauterrassen
But  Hans is also a believer in rooting the grape in its local territory,  recognizing the importance of the local context in making his product  unique. “While some wine-lovers outside our region recognize this  little-known wine, we wanted to draw the focus on our local area—to  blend the name of Roter Veltliner with the historical growing region. So  in 2020 we founded our group of 10 producers and with it the Slow Food  Presidium “Roter Veltliner Donauterrassen”.
“We  hosted a garden tasting “Schneckenpartie” with Slow Food dishes from  neighboring regions and we invited 40 journalists for a big winetasting.  This saved us during the Covid years, giving us the exposure we  otherwise wouldn’t have had. Then, in 2022, we worked with three  wineries to organize tasting for people traveling along the “Schneckenpfad” hiking trail.

Slow Food’s Impact

Hans  tells us that the Roter Veltliner has seen an enormous surge in  popularity over the last 20 years, and that the role of the Presidium  can’t be underrated in this.
“Being  able to proudly exhibit this special regional pearl means so much to  us—whether it’s abroad at events like Terra Madre or here within Wagram  and the Danube valley. And so is being able to network and make contacts  for the members of our Presidium, connecting with others who believe in  the movement’s vision of good, clean and fair.”

Challenges to the Cultivation of Roter Veltliner

Hans  pauses for a moment when asked about the long-term prospects of the  Roter Veltiner, “Even in our valley, we’re not isolated from the effects  of climate change,” he admits.  “But the Roter Veltliner doesn’t need too much water to grow well and  healthy, and is resistant to strong sunlight because of its color.”
“This makes it a grape for the future, able to weather the coming challenges.”
“Heavy  or wet soils would have risked damaging the grapes by accelerating  their growth,” Hans tells us. “But this grape grows well balanced to the  terraces of the Danube valley. That’s why it’s so important to protect  local biodiversity; to cultivate crops, and varieties, where they grow  most naturally, and not import monocultures that upset the natural  order.”

So what about this year’s harvest?

“This  year’s grapes are healthy,” Hans tells us, with a smile. “There aren’t  many vintages, and the soil is well watered. We expect good acidity, and  therefore a good yield, and can now enjoy a little time off between  working the vineyards in June and July and harvesting the hay and grain  in late September and October.”
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