Hannes Richter

The Truth About Austrian Wine

Hannes Richter

by
Leonne Lewis*

The consumption of wine per capita in the U.S. is around 7.5 litres (1.98 U.S. gallons) per year, far below the average per person of Italy, France and Luxembourg. According to the Austrian Trade Commission in New York, sales of Austrian wine in the U.S. rose to 3.2 million euro ($3.87 million) last year.

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The interest among Americans has increased because of distributors like Klaus Wittauer, born in Salzburg, who started his company called KW Selection three years ago in Virginia. He is an agent for some of Austria's finest wine producers and sells 10 percent of Austria's wine exports, over 6,000 cases to such cities as New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago and Las Vegas.

"I think Americans are starting to look at Austrian wines because the quality is there and for the most part, one finds small wineries making the best product possible," says Wittauer. He comments that many Americans think Austrian and German wine tastes the same, so in order to educate consumers, he hosts seminars. "Austrian wines are completely different and when Americans discover this, they love drinking them."

Wittauer distributes the select wines to stores and restaurants throughout the U.S. and observes that the Grüner Veltliner, Sauvignon Blanc and Zweigelt varieties are best sellers in the U.S. "I try to pick a winery from each region in Austria and like to represent unknown producers."

He explains that restaurants in San Francisco and in New York, such as the Wallsee and Danube, prominently feature Austrian wine. Due to the strength of the euro, the U.S. consumer will pay 25 percent more this year for a bottle of delicious Austrian wine. But, Wittauer sells his product at a reasonable price, between $10 to $40 range. "Wine production in Austria is under strict guidelines and is not motivated by big business or corporations. It is driven by young, enthusiastic wine makers who believe in natural products. Most of the vineyards in the country are organically managed.

Wittauer works closely with the Austrian wine Marketing Board in Vienna to expand the American market. And his latest project is to offer tours of Austria's wineries in conjunction with the Austrian National Tourist Office in New York. "When people in the U.S. talk about fine cuisine, they usually refer to places like Paris or Rome. But many chefs in top restaurants worldwide and on cruise ships are Austrian trained. I would like Americans to experience the food and wine of Austria because it is so good," says Wittauer. Zum Wohl!

* Ms. Leonne Lewis is a freelance journalist who lives in California.