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Carnuntum leads the way!

Organic? It’s only bio-logical…


In Carnuntum one does not follow trends, but rather sets them: approximately one third of Carnuntum’s total area under vines area will be certified organic by 2022. And if one just considers the vineyards of the thirty-nine Rubin Carnuntum estates (615 hectares total), the proportion of organically cultivated vineyards will soon be around 50%.

Carnuntum Ried Spitzerberg biologischer Anbau Dorli Muhr © Herbert Lehmann
Vineyards are deep green and diverse in character, thanks to organic cultivation © Herbert Lehmann

The first estate in Austria’s winegrowing region Carnuntum was certified organic in 1994. Johann Artner was looking for more sustainable management of his vineyards, because he wanted to hand over a healthy business to his children. Artner had to rely upon his own investigations and experience; at that time there was not much of a network of like-minded people in viticulture. ‘Back then, people were looked upon with suspicion when they wanted to work in an alternative fashion,’ says his daughter Angelika. For her, who continues managing the estate today under the title Angelika Bodentreu, many of the former questions no longer arise, but the credo has remained the same: ‘We would like to pass the soils on to the next generation in a little better condition than we took them over,’ says Angelika Pimpel Artner.

The Grassl-Nepomukhof family estate has also committed itself to the same goal. But not only in the vineyards; at home as well, the family cultivates a sustainable lifestyle and develops alternatives: washing with chestnuts, making their own soaps, consciously reducing waste. ‘For years we have been gradually reducing the use of chemical products in the vineyard, while at the same time using natural preparations to fortify the plants. The only thing missing was the conversion contract. Now we are happy organic winegrowers,’ says the Nepomukhof’s Maria Grassl with great satisfaction.

Vogelnest im biologischen Weinbau © Dorli Muhr
Diverse life among the vines © Dorli Muhr

Insecticides have long been taboo in the world of the vine. Thanks to the steady rise in parcels cultivated organically, biodiversity is returning to the vineyards. Numerous species of butterflies, beneficial insects in the soil and more resilient vines are the result of these shared & conscious efforts.

In organic viticulture, it is about – in the first place – leaving things out. Chemical products that protect the vine from infection are avoided. And one does not utilise herbicides, favouring instead diversity of growth. However: the powdery mildew fungi Oidium and Peronospora endanger the leaves & clusters, while harmful insects target the berries and wild plants aggressively try to overgrow and crowd out the vines. In order to still enable healthy growth and viable yields for the vines, a significantly greater amount of human labour is required – especially because the automatic recourse to pesticides is a thing of the past.

One example of alternative products in crop protection is orange oil, which works against fungal spores by drying out the nuclear hypha. The ‘sexual confusion’ method is employed against grape moth: thanks to pheromone ampules that are distributed over a large part of the region, this pest can no longer reproduce. Sheep’s milk extract or sheep’s wool is applied to the rows of vines to inhibit the predations of deer – the odour keeps Bambi & family out of the vineyards.

All of these measures are time-consuming: winegrowers reckon with a workload that’s 20–30% higher. This of course significantly increases the cultivation costs per hectare. The largest share of this can be attributed to the renunciation of systemic remedies, which are absorbed by the plant and protect it from the inside. If one replaces systemic remedies with biological ones, the workload becomes appreciably greater – especially in rainy years, because any precipitation will wash away the biological treatments that have been applied.

Another cost-driver is increased manual labour. But this also means that one spends substantially more time in the vineyards, and thus gains a very precise overview of each stage of development and the individual needs of the vines and the soil. Evidence of deficiencies and similar symptoms can thus be recognised at an early stage and remedies applied.

Biological treatments work best when applied over a large expanse. It is therefore important to the growers of Carnuntum that as many producers as possible in the region convert to organic viticulture. ‘Austria is a country with many small winegrowing businesses. Every estate that converts helps reduce the ecological footprint,’says young winegrower Karoline Taferner. In addition to certifications such as bio Austria or the EU bio logo, one also sees sustainability seals such as Nachhaltig Austria and Lutte Raisonnée in Carnuntum.

Carnuntum Ried Spitzerberg biologischer Anbau Dorli Muhr © Herbert Lehmann
Conversion to organic viticulture takes three years. © Herbert Lehmann

The mindset of winegrowers is not only changing in the vineyards, but also with regard to matters of vinification. If ones brings carefully harvested grape material into the cellar, fewer interventions are necessary here as well. Cultured yeast, sulphur and fining agents are significantly reduced or even rendered obsolete. One puts more trust in the clusters and their ‘native’ yeasts, allows the must to have more contact with berry skins or stems, working more holistically and vinifying more individualistic, more exciting, but also more demanding wines that tell more about their origin than they do about the grower. ‘In organic viticulture, one accompanies the wine on its way, rather than pushing it,’ says Johannes Trapl, whose estate in Stixneusiedl has been cultivated organically for eleven years, and has been bringing biodynamic-certified grapes into the cellar since 2016.

But does one notice it?

The change in flavour is generally only noticeable after five to fifteen years, says Johannes Trapl. It is true that the primary goal is not to make the modified regimen noticeable to the taste buds – but somehow the new direction also seems to be palpable. In any event, Carnuntum’s winegrowers are currently receiving more awards and top ratings for their wines than ever before.

And does one talk about it?

‘It is best to take the customer with you on the journey,’ says Walter Glatzer, whose operation is certified organic. Today most consumers are already convinced of the benefits that come with organic viticulture, but that was not always the case. As recently as fifteen to twenty years ago, organic wines did not have a particularly good image among the general public.

In the meantime, however, demand is steadily increasing. Not only in the domestic trade and in the sustainable hospitality industry, but also abroad. ‘In some markets such as Denmark, Japan or on the east coast of the USA, organic certification is almost a basic requirement in order to be considered for restaurant listing at all,’ explains Glatzer. However, the additional effort required by organic viticulture gets little or no compensation in terms of price.

‘Quality standards in Carnuntum are extremely high. Due to the years devoted to examination of origins – which resulted in the Carnuntum DAC appellation concept and the classification of the vineyards – concentration on the gentlest organic way of working in the vineyards is the logical next stop. We not only owe this to our vineyards, but also to the next generation,’ says Philipp Grassl.

Zertifizierung gemäß der EU-Bio-Verordnung
Certification in accordance with the EU organic regulation
Bio Austria, an association for the promotion of organic farming
Logo Demeter ©
Biodynamic according to Demeter

Biodynamic cultivation is special form of organic cultivation. Johannes Trapl’s wine estate is the first Demeter-certified operation in the winegrowing region Carnuntum. ‘Biodynamics was our goal from the beginning,’ says Johannes Trapl, like it was a matter of course. ‘The use of prescribed preparations and working in accordance with the lunar calendar are essential elements that you have to understand and live with.’

Many growers know the technical data pertinent to their vineyards: soil, rainfall, hours of sunshine, age of the vines. But it is also important that you develop a feeling for each individual vine.’ – Johannes Trapl

Infografik Biologischer Weinbau in Carnuntum © Wine+Partners
Infographic: organic viticulture in Carnuntum © Wine+Partners (English Infografic see below)

What certifications are available?

Integrated viticulture: Derived from ‘integrated crop protection’, this certification stipulates a significant reduction in plant protection products. Only approved – rarely chemical – treatments are used here. This means far less damage to the soil.

Sustainable viticulture: This certification focusses not only on ecological measures but also on social and economic factors. Responsible relationships with employees, long-term cooperation with suppliers, careful use of water and economical use of energy are all included. Herbicides and growth regulators are also avoided.

Biological-organic viticulture: Herbicides and chemical/synthetic pesticides as well as phosphorus-based fertilizers are prohibited. Official control bodies monitor and certify the work and the marketing of the wines. Guidelines are based on EU organic regulations.

Biodynamic viticulture: Building upon biological-organic viticulture, one goes a step further and pursues a holistic energetic approach. The phases of the lunar calendar  determine the timing of individual tasks. Horn- and compost preparations and plant extracts are employed to support & fortify the vines.

Carnuntum Ried Spitzerberg biologischer Anbau Dorli Muhr © Herbert Lehmann
Organic viticulture is the next logical step in the further improvement of quality. © Herbert Lehmann
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