Women vintners taking over in Austria

Winemaking in Austria was long a male dominated industry, but is seeing a slow but steady change of face with more women taking lead roles in the industry.

by: Karin Strohecker | 23 Aug 2007

Over the past decade, bottles bearing the names of woman vintners have begun appearing in Austrian wine stores and women's wine-marketing associations and wine societies have sprung up.

While women running their own businesses still comprise just a fraction of the 20,000 wine growers in Austria, their reputation has changed enormously, said Birgit Eichinger, part of the "11 Women & their Wines" association set up in 2000.

When Eichinger launched her own winemaking business in 1992, using part of her family vineyards, her father's reaction was one of shock and disbelief.

"My father said "Are you completely mad? You are just a woman, you couldn't possibly do this all by yourself"," said Eichinger, sipping wine on the terrace outside her house in Strass, a picturesque village in the wine-growing region of Lower Austria.

Most of the wine estates are small by international standards and many have been run by the same family for centuries under male direction.

From daughter to boss
Gerald Kneissl, head of Lower Austria's viticulture department, said this was slowly changing, estimating there are now some 25 to 30 women winemakers among bigger producers.

A lot of the women entered winemaking after a wine scandal in 1985 when it emerged Austrian vintners had added antifreeze to wine to sweeten its taste. Austrian exports ground almost to a halt but have since recovered, due to tough controls and regulations.

Like other vintner associations, the women swap tips on growing and vinification, taste wines and represent each other at wine fairs around Europe.
"There is no competition whatsoever, and we are all friends. We don't even have a hierarchy or role allocation in our group," said Maier, who runs the organic Geyerhof winery.

Austria's female vintners do not only want to produce top class wine and serve as new role models for future generations, they also want to open new markets for their products.

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