Austrians are born nature-lovers and therefore particularly respectful towards the natural environment. This is a country that places great importance on environmental protection and the responsible use of natural resources. It comes as no surprise, that Austria is a world leader in environmentally conscious viticulture.
a natural affinity with nature
The fact that Austrian family-run wineries are traditionally small has always required that vineyards be worked hand in hand with nature.
On average, an Austrian wine producer only cultivates around 4 hectares of vineyards, and some of these are on steep slopes and terraced. Here, there is no other option but to work by hand, in sync with the existing resources.
The natural consequence of this for small vineyards is increased biodiversity, in contrast to the monocultures of large vineyards in other wine-growing countries.
Cultivating vineyards with respect to nature is not a new trend in Austria – it has a deeply rooted tradition.
family-run wineries fit for the future
The Austrian wine-growing industry is characterised by vineyards worked by several generations.
A total of 95% of Austria’s wineries are family-run. Wineries that have already passed down through many generations consistently carry out work by hand and use natural resources responsibly. This approach to wine production also enables carefully devised and sure-fire strategies to be put into place to counteract the effects of climate change. This ensures that the grandchildren of today’s winegrowers will inherit vineyards with immaculate soils and resistant vines.
environmentally focused subsidy programmes
The agri-environmental programme ÖPUL is an Austrian initiative derived from the implementation of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.
Over 80% of all farmers currently participate in ÖPUL.
Subsidies linked to this programme also ensure a high baseline of environmentally friendly viticultural practices. This, together with certifications such as BIO AUSTRIA and “Sustainable Austria” (“Nachhaltig Austria”), makes sure that the majority of producers implement the most important environmentally friendly measures.
ÖPUL is one of the main drivers behind the widespread environmentally friendly practices in Austrian viticulture.
verifiable, science-based sustainability
The “Sustainable Austria” (“Nachhaltig Austria”) certification – a comprehensive, science-based programme with quantifiable results – was launched in 2015 with the aim of promoting sustainable farming in Austrian viticulture.
This is linked to a unique online tool that evaluates over 360 measures in 9 different areas of sustainability. Furthermore, the minimum requirements for certification are evaluated and raised on an ongoing basis. In addition, each participating winery receives suggestions on how to improve their operations to become even more sustainable.
A total of 20% of Austria’s area under vine is already cultivated according to the measures required for the “Sustainable Austria” certification.
pioneering organic wine production
Austria was one of the first countries in the world to develop guidelines for organic farming – several years before the first EU organic regulations were introduced.
Today, 28% of Austria’s farming industry is organic – ranking second highest in the world, after Liechtenstein. In terms of viticulture, 22% of Austria’s area under vine is cultivated organically (placing Austria among the top 3 worldwide).
Austria is also home to BIO AUSTRIA, the largest organic farmers’ association in Europe. Its members adopt a pioneering approach and implement stricter standards for organic viticulture than those contained within EU regulations.
being the birthplace of biodynamic farming
Biodynamic practices and the founding of the first biodynamic wineries can be traced back to the work of Austrian anthroposophist Rudolf Steiner.
The purpose of implementing biodynamic production methods is for a winery to establish its “individuality” – in other words, to create a circular economy that allows the producer to be self-sufficient without the need for external resources. Two associations in Austria – Demeter and respekt-BIODYN – provide members with guidelines on growing wine biodynamically. An organic certification is a requirement.
Around 15% of organic vineyards in Austria are already farmed biodynamically, which represents 3% of the total area under vine.
over one-third of Austria’s area under vine is certified as environmentally friendly
If all the vineyards that are cultivated organically, biodynamically or according to “Sustainable Austria” guidelines are added together, we find that a considerable one-third of Austria’s total area under vine is cultivated using officially inspected, environmentally conscious practices (16,689 ha out of 44,537 ha, the area of wineries with more than one certification is only counted once ).
20% of the total area under vine
International experts on environmental consciousness in the wine-growing country Austria:
Austria’s strict wine law and the small size of the country’s (family-run) wineries mean that non-certified producers also strive to ensure a healthy environment in order to secure their future. A healthy ecosystem and sustainable working practices are vital if future generations are to continue bringing authentic Austrian wine onto the market.
Taking a look at what is happening in other countries also confirms Austria’s ranking among the global pioneers in environmentally conscious viticulture. Although organic farming exists across all continents, a mere ten countries account for almost all of the world’s organic viticulture (91% of the global area under vine). One of these is Austria, which has almost 10,000 ha of organically cultivated vineyards, despite the country having a smaller total area under vine. The share of organically cultivated vineyards as a percentage of total area under vine (22%) puts Austria among the top three countries worldwide.
The EU regulations on organic farming provide the minimum standards for Austria’s organic legislation, although Austria’s general national legislation already sets high ecological, economic and social standards for all of the country’s producers.
Good to know
Austria’s national legislation imposes tighter rules than the EU regulations on organic farming with regard to the use of copper. For instance, the maximum amount of copper that can be used to protect plants from fungal infestation is 4 kg/ha per year, as per Pflanzenschutzmittelverordnung (Austria’s ordinance on plant protection). This limit is mandatory for all wine producers, regardless of their certification. BIO AUSTRIA has limited the use of copper for its members to a maximum of 3 kg/ha per year. The EU regulations on organic farming, however, permit the use of 28 kg/ha of copper over a seven-year period, without any annual restrictions.
Whereas in the year 2000, less than 1,000 ha of vineyards were certified organic or biodynamic and a sustainability certification was not yet on the drawing board, newly certified organic or biodynamic areas under vine have exceeded an annual average of 500 ha since 2015. Over the last 20 years, the total area of land cultivated organically and/or biodynamically has increased roughly tenfold and the trend towards environmentally conscious production methods is continuously growing. The “Sustainable Austria” (“Nachhaltig Austria”) certification, that was first introduced in 2015, has recorded an average annual increase of just over 1,400 ha of certified area under vine.
It is important to emphasise that these continued increases are due to the voluntary changes made by winegrowers who have reached their own conclusion that environmental friendliness and profitability are not mutually exclusive. For decades in Austria, the implementation of production methods that protect beneficial organisms and the environment has been based on an environmentally conscious, nationwide subsidy policy, in which the vast majority of wineries participate.
Within the framework of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), certain basic requirements are imposed on farmers within the member states. The requirements are laid down in various decrees and directives of the European Union, as well as in national legislation and regulations.
One set of standards that outlines these requirements in Austria is the GAEC (GLÖZ in German). These state that land must be maintained in “good agricultural and ecological condition” (GAEC) and apply to the entire Austrian farming industry. The purpose of these standards is to ensure the protection of natural resources. In the specific context of viticulture, for example, GAEC provisions lay down guidelines for minimum soil cover in winter, as well as regulations governing plant protection and the transport of harvested grapes.
The GAEC provisions serve as the basis for the additional “green elements” of the CAP, such as ÖPUL (Austria’s agri-environmental programme for the promotion of an agricultural system that is environmentally sound, extensive and protective of natural habitats).
ÖPUL is a key tool within Austria’s agricultural and regional development policies. It is the sixth agri-environmental programme since Austria joined the EU in 1995. It is worth underlining that ÖPUL applies to the whole of Austria, in contrast to other EU countries in which environmental programmes are often developed regionally, resulting in a certain amount of inconsistency. Due to Austria’s extensive agri-environmental programme, a very high proportion of subsidies is also linked to tangible environmental activities within the agricultural field compared to other EU countries.
ÖPUL has led to the establishment of high environmental standards in agriculture, independent of private-law certifications. Comparable subsidy programmes that prohibit the use of herbicides and insecticides over a period of several years, for example, do not exist in other countries, or are only promoted in certain regions. Despite its strict provisions, ÖPUL is adhered to by 80% of Austria’s farmers, putting Austria in a leading position within Europe.
Wineries that are certified as organic receive compensation for activities as part of the “Organic Farming” measure in order to offset the higher costs and increased workload associated with organic farming. Additionally, support is available for the implementation of environmentally friendly measures for both organic wineries and those practising integrated viticulture. Such measures include, for example, the planting of cover crops between rows of vines or refraining from using herbicides or insecticides in integrated viticulture. The following ÖPUL subsidy programmes are particularly relevant and responsible for the widespread implementation of environmentally friendly and sustainable farming practices in Austrian viticulture (as of 2022, including vineyards that are receiving organic farming subsidies):
- 65% of area under vine (29,967 ha)
- Subsidies are available for: year-round cover crops between each row of vines
- Objectives: erosion control, carbon sinks (increasing the amount of CO2 stored in the soil), soil resilience, surface and groundwater protection, soil fertility
No use of herbicides
- 33% of area under vine (14,483 ha)
- Subsidies are available for: wineries that refrain from the use of herbicides over their entire estate for several years, including the purchase and storage of herbicides
- Objectives: biodiversity, surface and groundwater protection
No use of insecticides
- 50% of area under vine (22,400 ha)
- Subsidies are available for: wineries that refrain from the use of insecticides over their entire estate for several years; products that comply with the EU regulation on organic farming are permitted.
- Objectives: biodiversity, surface and groundwater protection
- Subsidies are available for: certified organic producers to cushion costs and income losses arising from various factors, including compliance with the EU regulation on organic farming, the establishment of biodiversity areas, participation in continued professional development and additional management practices that have a positive impact on the environment
- Objectives: reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, surface and groundwater protection, qualitative conservation and improvement of both the condition and fertility of the soil, biodiversity
- If a winery is in receipt of an organic viticulture subsidy from ÖPUL, it is not allowed to apply for additional subsidies in connection with the measures “Refraining from the use of herbicides” and “Refraining from the use of insecticides”.
Generally, the increasingly dynamic efforts of all winemakers to use natural resources responsibly complement both national legislation and the country’s subsidy landscape, resulting in an ever-growing environmental consciousness within Austrian viticulture.
However, there is more to responsible wine production than simply caring for vines in the vineyards – the human factor should not be overlooked. Thanks to social partnerships between employer and employee representatives in Austria, the labour law sets out strict standards such as a fair minimum wage secured through collective agreements, as well as regulations to ensure operational safety.
Having always been firmly anchored in the Austrian mindset, the Austrian’s affinity with environmentally conscious agriculture serves as the cornerstone for the different – yet by no means mutually exclusive – environmentally conscious production methods used in viticulture:
All certification programmes are aimed at encouraging the Austrian wine industry to adopt a resource- and environmentally friendly approach to wine production and associated practices. Considering the combined efforts of these various forms of cultivation, it becomes evident that a considerable share of viticulture in Austria is environmentally certified and geared for the future.
The aforementioned production methods differ primarily in the way in which they are regulated, their scope, and the control procedures to ensure the application of the guidelines.
Similarly to the case of organic food, the production of organic wine is regulatedbylegislation (EU regulation on organic farming) and subject to annual inspections by state-approved institutions. Violations are sanctioned accordingly under criminal law. Every EU country designates a number of organic control bodies, which must be accredited according to European standard 17065 (e.g., Austria Bio Garantie, LACON, BIOS). These carry out the initial certification of organic producers, as well as the annual inspections. The use of visual seals (the “Bio” (organic) logo), as well as the legally protected terms biologisch (organic) and ökologisch (ecological), is also defined by legislation.
The regulation and control of biodynamic production methods assumes compliance with all legal standards for organic production and is also subject to private-lawregulations. Consequently, use of the corresponding logo as proof of biodynamic production (a patented trademark comprising text and symbol) is also protected under private law. There are two key organisations within the Austrian wine industry that determine regulations for biodynamic production and certify their member wineries as biodynamic: Demeter Austria and respekt-BIODYN. These organisations nominate independent control institutions that carry out the inspections necessary for the initial certification as well as annual checks on compliance and the correct use of the patented logos.
The “Sustainable Austria” certification, which was established by the Austrian Winegrowers’ Association in collaboration with scientists and is regulated by private law, centres around the assessment of around 360 measures related to ecology, economy and social factors. An online tool with a traffic light system is used to evaluate all measures in nine different sustainability categories: biodiversity, soil, energy, climate, materials, economic factors, quality, social factors and water. A weighted-factor model is used to analyse the interaction between the different measures. The overall result determines whether a winery can be certified.
The “Sustainable Austria” seal is based on the concept of assessing the combined impact of all legally permitted activities along the entire production chain, rather than prescribing measures as mandatory or prohibited (with the exception of glyphosate, which has been banned since 2018). Once a producer has entered the necessary data in the online tool and reached the minimum targets (which are raised every year),independent control bodies carry out an audit of the winery and issue the “Sustainable Austria” certificate. The control bodies also regularly check the data that certified producers enter annually into the online tool via digital reviews and on location audits.
Integrated viticulture is a production method used for the growing of high-quality grapes and wine on a commercial scale. This concept focuses primarily on the protection of human health, together with the conservation of primary production resources and the environment. In the EU, integrated production in agriculture is now the minimum standard.
“Sustainable Austria”-certified viticulture
In the initial phase of the project, scientists spent several years evaluating around 360 measures involved in wine production according to their ecological, economic and social sustainability. Since then, every winery can evaluate its sustainability status across nine different categories – climate, materials, energy, soil, biodiversity, water, quality and both social and economic factors – using a unique online tool. Certification is awarded if the winery meets the (continually rising) minimum targets in the tool and passes an inspection by an external control body.
Organic viticulture centres around the promotion of healthy, fertile soil by advocating responsible soil cultivation methods and plant protection products and strengtheners of natural origin, with the aim of improving the resistance of the vines. The use of herbicides, synthetic chemical pesticides and genetic engineering is prohibited. EU-wide guidelines set standards, some of which are regulated by Austrian law for all wineries, or apply at a stricter level for members of BIO AUSTRIA.
Biodynamic viticulture is centred around the principles propagated by the Austrian anthroposophist Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s. These principles are based on the ideal concept of a winery’s individuality – in other words, the winery has a complete, self-contained farming cycle, is self-sufficient and does not overburden natural resources. Two associations in Austria – Demeter Austria and respekt-BIODYN – provide members with guidelines on biodynamic production methods. Organic certification is a prerequisite to belong to either association.
... the situation in Austria, it is fair to say that both the basic legal provisions and the regulations relating to each specific production method ensure high environmental standards within the viticultural industry. The ÖPUL subsidy programme has been establishing strict environmental standards within agriculture in general and specifically within viticulture ever since the 1990s. The proportion of total area under vine that is cultivated organically and biodynamically is very high compared to other countries around the world. The comprehensive, scientifically developed “Sustainable Austria” certification programme is also playing a pioneering role internationally. Last but not least, social partnerships in Austria play a role in ensuring strict standards in labour law, and make sure that the human factor is not neglected in the pursuit of environmentally conscious and future-oriented viticulture.
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