In Rust on Lake Neusiedl, incomparable sweet wines with protection of origin are produced from noble rotten grapes dried on the vine. But the Ruster Ausbruch DAC is not the only reason to visit the region - The old town and the storks are also worth seeing.
Lake Neusiedl plays an important role in Austria's wine world. Several protected wine-growing areas stretch along the shores of Europe's largest steppe lake. One of them lies on the western shore - and not only has an interesting history, but is also a very young area. In the midst of the Leithaberg growing region, which is known for its typically mineral, dry white and red wines, lies the picturesque Freistadt Rust, a vinophile island that produces a fascinating speciality: the Ruster Ausbruch. Only since 2020 has this inimitable sweet wine speciality, which may only be pressed from five white grape varieties, been protected by DAC regulation. DAC stands for "Districtus Austriae Controllatus" - the designation that not only guarantees geographical origin but is also linked to quality regulations. The history of wine production in Rust, on the other hand, goes back centuries.
Today, the community of about 2,000 souls is Rustwhich is open on its eastern side to the shallow waters of Lake Neusiedl, is a popular holiday resort. In this capacity, it embodies everything that makes a break from everyday life so valuable: the time-honoured Lesehöfe, where the wines are produced, extend around a kind of Mediterranean piazza in the historic centre of the village, where numerous restaurants and wine taverns invite visitors to enjoy typical regional fare. Thanks to the many nests perched on the chimneys of the roofs, many pairs of storks live here from the spring months until around mid-August, raising their young before setting off on the great journey south. The lake itself also offers a lot of variety: sailors, kitesurfers, swimmers and even ornithologists get their money's worth here, because the reed belt that surrounds the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Lake Neusiedl is a breeding ground for numerous bird species.
Wine is the common thread that binds everything together. Already in the Middle Ages, the winegrowers of Rust had built up a considerable trade network thanks to their excellent wines; it reached as far as Bavaria and Poland. Due to the high quality of the wines, in 1524 Queen Maria of Hungary even granted the winegrowers the special right to have a large "R" branded on their wine barrels - the form of protection of origin at that time. Because Rust's sweet wine, which since 2016 has been the only one in Austria allowed to carry the Ausbruch predicate level, already caused a sensation back then - and at the same time created considerable wealth among the inhabitants: in 1681, the citizens bought the title of a royal free city from Emperor Leopold I with 60,000 gulden and 500 buckets (approx. 30,000 litres) of the "real and liquid gold" - the Ausbruch wine. For even he could not resist the noble sweet white wine speciality made from noble rotten berries dried into sultanas.
The climatic conditions at Lake Neusiedl are ideal for producing fine wines. The body of water with its large surface area and shallow depth is a unique heat reservoir and regulator at the same time. In the hot summer months, the lake quickly warms up to over 25 degrees. It gradually releases this stored energy in the autumn months, which gives the Rust climate its special character - and moderates the temperatures until October. In addition, the evaporating water provides the necessary humidity to bring out the noble rot on the grapes caused by the fungus Botrytis cinerea. The key to sweet wines thrives in the interplay of cool nights and warm days. This is because from the end of September to the end of October, fog lies over the vineyards in the mornings, favouring infestation of the ripe grapes with the noble fungus. Another decisive factor is the Rust hill country with its gentle elevations around the historic centre of the town. It forms a large basin, similar to an amphitheatre, which protects the vines from storms and allows excellent sunlight.
The geological conditions are also striking: south of the town centre, the soil consists of sands and the quartz-rich Ruster Schotter, whose formation began about 18 million years ago when a river deposited this rock here on its way to the Vienna Basin. The north is dominated by the younger Leithakalk, which was formed in the calm shallow waters of the warm sea that washed around the crystalline basement 16 to 11 million years ago and provided space for small reefs and diverse marine life.
All these building blocks provide the basis for the sweet wines from here, which are appreciated all over the world. The Ruster Ausbruch is basically equivalent to a Trockenbeerenauslese. The predicate designation "Ausbruch" can be traced back to the hand selection of the ideal berries - the so-called Ausbrechen. The fine sweetness-acidity interplay is decisive for these wines. Despite its great concentration, the Ruster Ausbruch never becomes too lush, jammy or overflowing and makes it a versatile food companion - whether with classic Austrian pastries and international desserts or with poultry liver, blue cheese, Asian spicy dishes or even a hearty meat stew.
Only white wine grapes from Rust may be used for Ruster Ausbruch DAC. The permitted grape varieties Chardonnay, Welschriesling, Pinot Blanc, Gelber Muskateller and Furmint may be processed separately or as a cuvée. Only grape material shrivelled naturally on the vine and affected by botrytis, harvested by hand, is permitted. The minimum must weight must be 30 degrees KMW (around 149 degrees Oechsle). The vinification of the wine must take place in a Rust winery. The resulting wine must have a residual sugar content of at least 45 g/l, the alcohol content to be aimed for is 12 % vol. The wines may be submitted for testing from 1 April of the year following the harvest.
All other wines from the area around Rust, which do not fall under the sweet category Ruster Ausbruch DAC, are sold with the Leithaberg DAC designation of origin, provided they meet its specifications; otherwise they bear the generic Burgenland designation of origin. These include mainly dry wines, but also sweet Auslesen and Beerenauslesen.