21 Mar - See comments added below.
See Julia's enthusiastic tasting notes on 80 fine Austrian whites.
Before the annual Austrian wine tasting in London last month Willi Klinger (pictured), head of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board (AWMB), had the following news:
- record value of exports* of €126 million in 2011 despite a 25% drop in volume exported (down to 46.5 million litres) due to the small 2009 and 2010 harvests (in 2009 they exported 69.5 million litres, in 2010 it was just under 62 million)
- an average price increase from €1.98 per litre (2010) to €2.71 (2011), mostly because of the small 2009 and 2010 harvests
- a drop in the volume of bulk wine exported and an increase in bottled wine, with the average bottle price (ex cellars) rising from €2.50 per litre (2010) to more than €3 in 2011.
Klinger attributes this last increase to the fact that winemakers are no longer offering wines at 'giveaway' prices, encouraged by increasing demand and reduced supply. He acknowledges that Austrian wine cannot compete at the cheapest end of the market but the AWMB's current plan is to get back up to, and maintain, total annual export volumes of 60-70 million litres.
To do this through sales of bottled rather than bulk wine, they will have to be better represented at lower prices - not as the cheapest of the cheap in the supermarkets but at the prices that will succeed for wines by the glass in gastropubs and mid-priced restaurants - hence their new marketing campaign promoting 'cool wines by the glass'. It's unusual to hear a generic body say they want to bring down the average price per bottle, but this seems to be their strategy to regain and retain their export targets in terms of volume.
For those who love statistics (but see also the *note below): Germany remains Austria's biggest export market by far, despite last year's drop in bulk wine exports, with 55% of exports by value. The USA is the third most important market (up nearly 9% to 6.35%), after Switzerland and Liechtenstein (11.98%), and the UK comes in at number six (up 10.61% to 1.75%), after the Netherlands (3.73%) and Sweden (2.94%).
Klinger also announced that they were about to finalise the criteria for the Neusiedlersee DAC, the next in a line of recently created appellations - there are currently seven - that focus on benchmark variety/region combinations, this time based on red variety Zweigelt. (See New Austrian wine classifications for details of Leithaberg and Eisenberg DACs, created in 2010.)
* German wine journalist Eckhard Supp contacted us after this article had been published to point out that these export figures also include not insubstantial amounts (4-8 million litres, maybe more) of wine that has been imported to Austria and then re-exported, thus skewing the statistics. Supp and fellow journalist Mario Scheuermann have written about this issue on their respective German-language blogs, www.enobooks.de and drinktank.blogg.de. The inclusion of re-exports in export statistics is not unique to Austria but some wine-producing countries such as Germany now exclude re-exports from their figures in order to give greater transparency.
21 Mar – Willi Klinger, wishing to clarify the question of differences between the AWMB strategies in the UK and in Germany and the point about re-exports, sent me the following comments:
'At the press conference at the Austrian Tasting in London last month, I stated that we would like to see an export volume of one million liters (compared with 300,000 in 2011) to the UK market. In order to achieve this, Austria must place more value wines (not cheap) sold ex cellar at € 2-3 in order to have an initial shelf price if £7.99 instead of £9.99. This means that the overall average price of Austrian wine exports to the UK will have to come down from €6.74 in 2011 to levels around €4, as in most other markets. We have often stated that re-exports (such as the Wein & Co Bordeaux collection sold from Austria through Sotheby's) might influence export figures, but we cannot identify them properly, because to our knowledge only the german institute DESTATIS identifies the origin of exported and imported wines.
'In Germany, however, our strategy is the opposite: We have to raise the average price, because in 2009, for example, we sold 50 million litres at an average price of only €1.41. That was too much wine for too little money. This included 23.4 million litres of bulk wine. Following the small harvests of 2009 (-8%) and 2010 (-32%), bulk wine sales decreased to 5.4 million liters and the overall volume of exports to Germany went down to 32 million litres (re-exports included). The overall value of exports to Germany (including re-exports) was close to €73 million (average price €2.22). Our aim is to get more volume in the UK even if the average price has to come down a bit, whereas we have to increase the average price in Germany, accepting that we will sell 35-40 million litres instead of 45-50 in a regular year.'