Austrian wine tipped for expansion

PETER WATSON
Last updated 13:30 06/11/2012
Lindsay Alderson
MARION VAN DIJK/FAIRFAX NZ
KEYNOTE DELIVERY: Austrian Markus Huber will be the guest speaker at the Nelson International Aromatics Symposium.

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Gruner veltliner is Austria's most popular white wine and has acquired the nickname gru-vee, but it is barely known in New Zealand.

But the organisers of a Nelson conference in February aim to change that, saying it has the potential to do well here.

They have invited award-winning Austrian winemaker Markus Huber to the Nelson International Aromatics Symposium on February 1-2 as the keynote speaker to spark discussion on the merits of growing more gruner veltliner (pronounced "grew-na felt-leena") in New Zealand.

Only small amounts of the wine are grown here by a couple of dozen vineyards across the country, including several in Nelson.

Waimea Estates has just produced its third vintage from just over one hectare of vines and has ordered another 1.5 hectares of vines to plant next year.

General manager Ben Bolitho said the variety - which he likens to a spicy, more interesting riesling - was well suited to growing in Nelson and was probably the most exciting of the new whites being planted.

"We think it has real potential for not only Nelson but New Zealand.

"We think we can do it very well."

The wine appealed because it was well known in established markets in the United States and Britain, where it fetched high prices, he said.

It was also relatively easy to grow, with a thick skin which made it more resistant to disease, although it did have a tendency to crop heavily and required more thinning and vineyard work.

Waimea had made it in two styles, a dry version in 2010 similar to the ones produced in Austria and slightly sweeter in 2011 and 2012, Mr Bolitho said.

Seifried Estate has been growing the variety for four years after Hermann Seifried decided he wanted to give the wine from his native Austria a go.

They have planted 1.5 hectares, of which a third is nearing full production.

Much of the tiny amount they produce is sold in upmarket London retail outlets such as Harrods and top restaurants.

"It's gone pretty good and we've got good write-ups in Britain," Mr Seifried said. There was also potential in the US for Austrian-style wines.

However, it was far too soon to claim that gruner veltliner was the next sauvignon blanc, he said. People had said that about pinot gris and been mistaken.

"It can over-crop very easily and become a bulk variety and very bland. But if you keep the tonnage down to seven to nine tonnes per hectare, I think it has great potential."

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Symposium chairman Patrick Stowe said he expected 150 people, including delegates from the US, Sweden and Australia, to attend the triennial event, which is being held at the Moutere Hills Community Centre and will include panel discussions, tastings and workshops.

Mr Stowe said it was exciting to have someone of Mr Huber's calibre to enthuse winemakers. "Markus has an unquenchable passion for gruner veltliner and I know that with his practical knowledge of growing, winemaking and the marketing of this grape he's sure to give delegates some inspiration."

Dubbed by international wine commentators a "wonder child", Mr Huber has garnered many accolades including being four times winner of the Falstaff Gruner Veltliner Grand Prix and best white wine producer at the London International Wine and Spirit Competition 2006.

The other subject of the symposium will be riesling, with comparative tastings of some fine Austrian examples and Nelson vintages.

As well as the serious business of wine knowledge, the organisers have included social events, among them a picnic dinner at Neudorf Vineyards listening to the Wellington Ukulele Orchestra.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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