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He has written the largest Wine lexicon in the world: Norbert Tischelmayer is the author of the dictionary at wein.plus. It now contains around 23,000 keywords, 50,000 synonyms and more than 155,000 cross-references, plus almost 8,000 audio files on correct pronunciation. An end? Not in sight.
Norbert Tischelmayer Norbert Tischelmayer

Norbert Tischelmayer from the Austrian Weinviertel created it. He was born here in 1945 and spent his childhood before moving to Vienna. But Norbert is not a scientist, not an editor for reference works or an editor of a specialised publishing house. He spent his professional life in IT, which was still called "data processing" when he started in 1965. He came to Lexicon in his own mixture of insatiable curiosity, systematic thinking and his love of literature and history. His library at home contains 3,000 volumes, only some of which he has not yet read. His favourite authors include Richard Dawkins, Yuval Noah Harari and Stephen King - and there is a lot of this mixture in Lexicon. For it is not only technical terms that he has included. In the meantime, he has changed and updated the entry "Wine and Food" well over a hundred times. For example, it now also contains the right wine for roasted grasshoppers. Norbert Tischelmayer wants to provide answers.

In 1999 he became aware of Wein-Plus "purely by chance". At that time, the Wein-Plus website was still quite manageable - and he had started collecting wine technical terms a few months earlier. Norbert suggested to Utz, who was unknown to him, Graafmann, to publish these wine terms with explanations on Wein-Plus after all. Utz found the idea interesting, Norbert emailed him his collection in Word format with 800 keywords. It was published on the website in PDF format. At that time there was no database, so Utz found a new version in his mailbox every two or three weeks.

If you want to get to know Norbert Tischelmayer's curiosity, you should enter the term "Wine lexicon" in the search mask of the encyclopaedia. There you will find out with what fascination he works on the subject: There he gathers the favourite wines of Leonardo da Vinci, Napoleon, Tut-Ench-Amun and William Shakespeare, gets to know all 40 bottle sizes that exist worldwide - and learns all about bikini wine, the possible influence of moon phases on winemaking as well as quotes from personalities such as Salvador Dali: "Those who can enjoy no longer drink wine, but taste secrets."

Why did you start to build up Wine lexicon?

I came to wine late, only at the age of 45. Until then I had hardly drunk any wine. The reason was a "traumatic" childhood experience: at the age of about 12, my brother, two friends and I stole a so-called "Doppler" from my father's wine cellar, which is a two-litre bottle in Austria. And as a test of courage, we drank it down in no time: Two quarts of wine each. You can imagine how we felt and that's why I couldn't even smell wine for decades without getting sick. In the early 1990s, I attended a wine tasting at the invitation of a colleague - and that's how my interest was piqued. After all, I had relatively little knowledge about wine, although I was born in a wine region and grew up surrounded by vineyards.

Therefore, I started to explain wine terms in writing, just for myself. At that time, I never dreamed of publishing them. The first term I remember clearly: it was "malolactic fermentation" - also called "biological acid reduction" or "BSA". I had no idea until then that this was a normal process in red wine making. So I bought some wine books and surfed the internet, which was still very slim at the time. In the process, I encountered many more terms that were unknown to me - such as tannin, anthocyanin or barrique ageing. My goal was to learn more about the subject of wine. After all, wine is one of those three topics that men would never admit to not knowing about. The other two are football and driving.

I had the first work read by a colleague who knew a lot about wine. He nodded: "Not bad at all - keep going". I wrote to about 60 publishers and only received rejections. But then a publisher came forward whom I had not contacted at all. In 2001, "Tischelmayer's Weinglossar - 2.777 Begriffe rund um den Wein" (Tischelmayer's Wine Glossary - 2,777 Wine Terms) was printed and sold around 8,000 times in the following years. In parallel, I continued to develop the Wein-Plus published at Lexicon. Today it contains around 22,500 keywords. That is 28 times as many as the first Wine-Plus scope with 800 keywords.

Which entry was the most difficult and time-consuming for you to write?

The very first one ("malolactic fermentation") was difficult. I worked on this term over and over again for many years. But the most elaborate in terms of time and sources was the keyword "grapevine systematics". To this day, there is no one-hundred-percent valid definition here, but rather different to contradictory statements, even from experts. This keyword also refers to at least 150 other keywords. I have to check and correct all of them after every change to the main keyword. I worked on the keyword itself for about three months. Not eight hours a day, but regularly - until today.

Do you work systematically, alphabetically or according to interest and whim?

I am - not infrequently to the chagrin of those around me - a very systematic and structured type of person. Criteria for changes are: Firstly, changes in wine law, secondly, suggestions from users. My personal goal is to answer every user comment within 24 hours. I have achieved this 99 percent of the time in the past 20 years. Thirdly, the priorities I have set myself - for example, updating all grape varieties on the basis of published DNA analyses of their parentage and integrating pictures into Lexicon. This has been my focus for the past two years - over 2,700 keywords now have at least one picture or graphic integrated.

A good spirit gives you two wishes: You may drink a bottle of wine of your choice without any restriction with a person of your choice. The language doesn't matter, the spirit takes care of that. Who would you meet with which wine?

Richard Dawkins. The British evolutionary biologist and critic of religion is my favourite writer, I have read all his books. Dawkins has the gift of explaining the most complicated facts in a clear way. Among other things, why you don't need a supreme being or a miracle to understand and explain the many phenomena that occur in nature. For example, why a species of cicada only appears in the USA every 17 years. I would drink a bottle of Pingus from the Spanish winery Dominio de Pingus with him because I am curious about what a wine made with extreme yield restriction might taste like. The best berries are picked out of each grape by hand, each vine yields a maximum of half a glass of wine. That is why it is extremely expensive (2016 vintage € 1,500).

What role does wine play in your life outside of encyclopaedia work?

Wine has played a major role for me for 20 years - not primarily as a luxury food, but because it covers many of my interests: writing, researching, solving puzzles, plus my pronounced weakness for history. But I also like to enjoy it. My favourite is a white wine, preferably Frühroter or Roter Veltliner from my home region, the Weinviertel in Lower Austria.

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