Austria is not among the most well known wine producing nations in Europe, but a quick glance at the latest export figures shows that consumers around the world are becoming increasingly aware of the wines produced there.
The country exported record amounts of wine in 2002, helped by a concerted effort on the part of the country's producers and the Austrian Wine Marketing Board.
According to the board's director, Michael Thurner, wine exports rose by 17.1 per cent in volume terms and by 9.5 per cent in value compared to 2001, a performance which was all the more remarkable given the difficult economic conditions.
Thurner cited figures from Statistik Austria, the official Austrian statistical office, which showed that exports had reached record levels - 60.3 million litres and €56.5 million in 2002, driven in particular by high quality wines (Qualitätswein), whose sales leaped 24.8 per cent.
"This is a considerable success," Thurner said, emphasising the support his organisation had given to Austrian wineries during the year. "Numerous international tasting successes and a dedicated campaign in the media are bearing fruit."
But Thurner is not content to rest on his laurels. "We must work towards a rise in value," he said, adding that this was especially important given the high percentage of bulk wines being exported.
"This will be achieved only in conjunction with a more effective marketing of the wine's origin. The DAC initiative will be a considerable help," he added, referring to the Districtus Austria Controllatus, a new system of denomination of origin designed to help consumers get a clearer idea about what to expect from wines from each region.
"Only if consumers can get an idea of the taste of the wine by looking at the label will we get a competitive advantage in the long run," said Thurner.
While neighbouring Germany is perhaps best known as a producer of white wines, in particular, but by no means exclusively, Rieslings, Austria's reputation abroad is being increasingly built on the quality of its reds.
One out of every four bottles exported in 2002 was red, with overall export volumes rising 29.8 per cent and value sales increasing 21.8 per cent. Red wine's share of total exports is still less than white at 27 per cent in volume and 39 per cent in value, but it is catching up fast.
"The demand for Austrian reds still outstrips supplies by far," Thurner explained, adding that the situation was just as bad at home.
But Austria is becoming increasingly capable of meeting domestic demand as well, not bad at a time when export sales are on the rise. This is clear from the fact that wine imports dropped for the first time in 2002, by a whopping 12.6 per cent.
Sales from the Austrian wine retail trade (domestic and imported wines combined) also increased during 2002, rising 7.1 per cent in volume to 42.3 million litres. Value sales rose 13 per cent to €129 million as consumers switched to more expensive - and better quality - wines.
Much of this improvement was driven by Austrian consumers drinking more Austrian wine, reversing a long-term decline in sales in the domestic market. Last year, 54.6 per cent of all wines bought in supermarkets were produced in the country, according to Thurner. With many consumers still buying directly from producers, the market share of Austrian wine in its home market is more like 80 per cent, he added.