Austrian Sekt sparkles brilliantly in the glass – especially on the winter holidays Christmas and New Year’s Eve. We owe this ebullient delight to a great love story that began – once upon a time – in Champagne, and brought about a wave of significant Austrian innovations.
What was going on with Robert Alwin Schlumberger when he first met the young Viennese woman Sophie Kirchner in 1841? This encounter, so pivotal for Austrian Sekt, took place during a boat trip on the Rhine. Born in Stuttgart, Schlumberger was then working as cellarmaster and production manager at the famous champagne house Ruinart Père et Fils. In any event, the feelings he had for the young lady from Vienna must have been very deep indeed, because when her parents refused to allow her to move to France, he followed his great love without hesitation to Vienna, where he founded his own sparkling wine operation in 1842.
Ennobled, thanks to Sekt
Robert Alwin Schlumberger brought verve and panache to the sparkling life of the entire Danube Monarchy – and well beyond. In 1843 he settled in Bad Vöslau and a mere two years later received a bronze medal for his Sekt at the Austrian Trade Exposition in Vienna. In 1859 he became the first producer in Austria to have his sparkling wine protected by trademark law. With his “Sparkling Vöslauer”, Schlumberger made it onto the wine list of Great Britain’s Queen Victoria thanks to the International Exhibition in London, and in Vienna he advanced to become an official purveyor to the Imperial and Royal Court. His fame grew so great that he was elevated to the nobility in 1878 with the title “Edler von Goldeck.”
An Austrian invention
Meanwhile, other producers of sparkling wine were also busy turning, riddling and disgorging. The Kattus Sektkellerei, founded in 1890, still bears witness to this today. Emperor Franz Josef is said to have enjoyed a bottle of Kattus Sekt every Sunday. In 1851, innkeeper Joseph Winkelbauer and landlord Johann Winkler from Perchtoldsdorf invented new technology for the closure of champagne and sparkling wine bottles, a “clip made of drawn wire.” In their patent application, the two wrote that the typical French cast-iron locking clip regularly caused bottles to burst. From this it could be concluded that the wire cage (muselet) commonly used around the world today was invented in Austria. Even if there is no hard evidence to back up the theory (yet), this story gives an idea of the great importance of Sekt in Austria at that time.
The “Sekt wonder”
The year 1976 witnessed a giant step for Austrian sparkling wine. Before then, Sekt had to be produced by a dedicated specialist – a Sektkellerei (sparkling wine producer). But in 1976 the efforts of Kremstal winegrower Gerald Malat bore fruit, and individual estates were then allowed to produce sparklers themselves. This began with a handful of pioneers who then improved their technique with each passing year, while at the same time gaining an impressive international reputation. Over time, the circle of estates producing “grower Sekt” grew steadily, and now numbers around 200 producers. At the same time, a lively and friendly exchange developed between winegrowers and the Sektkellereien. Together they created a true “Austrian Sekt wonder” with their excellent sparkling wines.
Onward & upward with the Sekt pyramid!
Today Sekt is one of the major trends in Austria’s wine sector. The three-tiered Sekt pyramid for Austrian Sekt with protected designation of origin (Sekt mit geschützter Ursprungsbezeichnung, abbreviated Sekt g.U.) created in 2015 offers consumers clear orientation. The category Sekt g.U. Klassik implies freshness and good cheer – just plain fizzy fun. Sekt g.U. Reserve requires a significantly longer maturation time on the lees (eighteen months), and bottle fermentation is mandatory. Here, we are roughly playing in the same league as Spumante, Cava and French Crémant. And at the apex of the pyramid, Sekt g.U. Grosse Reserve lays claim to equal footing with the finest sparkling wines in the world like Franciacorta and champagne. These three categories of Austrian Sekt g.U can be recognised at a glance by the red-white-red banderole on the top of the bottle.
In any case, it is well worthwhile to stay tuned and discover the achievements of the new generation of Austria’s Sekt producers, and to support them – with any everyday opportunity as well as on festive occasions.