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In Carnuntum, south-east of Vienna, the Roman past meets innovative winegrowers. They are working to make their wines internationally recognised. The region's DAC status has helped them achieve this since 2019.

Austria keeps a fine secret. When it comes to wine in Austria, the Carnuntum region is not usually the first thing that comes to mind. With 823 hectares of vineyards, this rather small growing area stretches south-east of Vienna between Weinviertel, Thermenregion and Burgenland to the border with Slovakia in the east. But it has a lot to offer: delicate white wines and, above all, excellent red wines. The region owes this range to a geological finesse that was created thousands of years ago by the shifting of the earth's plates. Previously, the Carpathians and the Alps formed a closed mountain range. Their separation formed today's Carnuntum, which extends south of the Danube over three hilly landscapes: the Leitha Mountains, the Arbesthal Hills and the Hainburg Hills. The five most important wine-growing villages in this region are Arbesthal, Petronell, Höflein, Prellenkirchen and Göttlesbrunn. Göttlesbrunn accounts for almost half of the vineyards in Carnuntum. The special thing about these places, however, is that each of them has a different soil profile. Coupled with the equally different microclimatic influences, this is the essence that makes the growing region so exceptional.

Limestone soils dominate near Prellenkirchen on the Spitzerberg


The best natural conditions

Carnuntum is a region where archaeologists also go into raptures: Time and again, they unearth important cultural and historical artefacts during excavations. The name comes from an ancient Roman legionary camp, which developed into a larger town at the same time. The soil is also a wonderful playground for winegrowers: While the soils in Petronell are sandy and gravelly, Prellenkirchen has limestone, which makes the wines more elegant and at the same time firmer. In Göttlesbrunn, on the other hand, it is clay and gravel that bring a delicate flavour to the wines. The wines in Höflein benefit from the greater temperature differences between day and night in the form of a beautiful balance - and in Hainburg, which lies close to the Danube, they delight with their delicacy.

In addition to the influence of the Danube, it is the Pannonian climate with its hot summers and cold winters as well as the nearby Lake Neusiedl that influence the grapes and allow them to fully ripen. These parameters, which form an excellent basis for viticulture, are also being utilised by a young generation of winegrowers. The 146 wineries in Carnuntum are mostly small, but they are working passionately to give the region its own voice. This common goal was sealed in 2019 with DAC status. Since then, only wines that are typical of the region and meet strict quality criteria can carry the name Carnuntum as a protected designation of origin on the label - together with the abbreviation DAC for "Districtus Austriae Controllatus".

Interplay between red and white

The balance in Carnuntum is not only found in the wines themselves - it is also reflected in the balance of the wine colours: The region produces 55 per cent red wine. Zweigelt is the grape variety that has made Carnuntum great. The sensitive skin of the red grape is perfect for the vineyards between the two mountain ranges, where dew, fog and raindrops literally disappear at lightning speed. Zweigelt loves the deep, silty soils that are found mainly in the Arbesthaler Hügelland. It is joined by Blaufränkisch, the second most important red wine grape variety in the region. Grüner Veltliner is the leading white wine variety. It feels at home in sites where the moisture balance is even. The Pinot varieties Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc, which favour limestone-rich soils, provide excitement.

However, the favourable natural conditions hardly exclude any grape variety. As a result, many international varieties have become native to Carnuntum. Merlot is often cultivated as a partner for cuvées to make them denser. Cabernet varieties and Syrah are on the rise and have not yet exhausted their potential in view of the climatic changes. The moody St. Laurent also finds its fans in Carnuntum, who are able to elicit exciting wine profiles from it. Also worth mentioning are Sauvignon Blanc and Muskateller.

The ancient pagan gate is the landmark of the Carnuntum excavations

OEWM Armin Faber

A still young DAC region

Finally, as with all protected designations of origin, Carnuntum DAC is also subject to clear guidelines for production. These range from the authorised grape varieties to the flavour profile. Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Grüner Veltliner, Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch are permitted for single-varietal DAC wines, while DAC cuvées must consist of at least two thirds of these white or red wine varieties. Otherwise, the wines bear the generic designation Niederösterreich on the label.

The quality system is based on a three-level pyramid of origin:

  • Regional wine with the designation "Carnuntum DAC"
  • Local wine with the designation "Carnuntum DAC" and the corresponding place of origin: Göttlesbrunn, Hainburg, Höflein, Petronell-Carnuntum, Prellenkirchen or Stixneusiedl; white wines may be submitted for testing from 15 March, red wines from 1 November of the year following the harvest.
  • Riedenwein with the designation "Carnuntum DAC" and a vineyard designation (single vineyard); white wines may be submitted for testing from 15 March, red wines from 1 November of the year following the harvest.

All wines of these three levels must be vinified dry, red wines require an alcohol content of at least 12 per cent by volume.

Something for everyone

What makes Carnuntum so attractive for winegrowing also increases its recreational value. The villages of Höflein, Prellenkirchen and Göttlesbrunn, known for their wines, are also famous for their wine taverns, where locally produced wines and specialities are served. But you shouldn't miss out on the historical roots here either: In Petronell-Carnuntum, part of a Roman neighbourhood has been reconstructed on its original site. This journey back 1,700 years in time is unique and invites you into Roman houses that are fully functional and based on archaeological finds on site. The reconstructed wooden training arena and a multimedia exhibition in the amphitheatre of the military city make the visit even more vivid and invite you into the world of gladiator fights.

For those interested in culture, Rohrau Castle with the largest private collection of Spanish and Neapolitan painters and the birthplace of the composer Joseph Haydn in Rohrau are well worth a visit. You can immerse yourself in nature in the Donauauen National Park, for example on a canoe tour. The nearby capital city of Vienna also offers a wealth of history, shopping opportunities, legendary coffee houses and top restaurants, whose menus also feature the wines of Carnuntum.

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