Central Europe Viticulture

If you are asked what are the Central European peoples contributions to the world, you may say that technology, modern engineering or renewable energy. You may answer that luxury watchmaking, avant-garde artists, classical music, ski slopes or thermal baths. Or maybe Franz Kafka, Josef Strauß, Herman Hesse or Karol Wojtyla. If you forget to talk about their wine, I invite you to read this brief introduction to the Central-European vineyards and their historical evolution.


Marcus Aurelius Probos (3th century BC) is considered the father of German viticulture although wild vines have been found in the Mosel and the Upper Rhine valleys. The expansion of the Empire and the number of soldiers demanded a greater wine demand, including German wine that cames from the Rhin and Mosel valleys. Winemaking techniques were imported from other Roman Empire’s regions but with the native varieties from Rhin valley, on whose western side it developed more than in other places.

Charlemagne converted the Saxons to Christianity while expanding viticulture in the new conquered territories (8th century). The relief of German viticulture came from the hand of medieval monks. Benedictine and Cistercians monks promoted quality wine through absolutely native varieties such as Riesling, Elbling, Räuschling or Traminer. It is believed that it is in the Middle Ages (around 1500) when more hectares of vineyards were planted throughout Germany, especially in Rhine’s valley and its northernmost tributaries. Beer consumption in northern Germany, the Protestant reform (16th century) and the 30 Years' War (17th century) were hard coups for the national wine.

The Rhin Valley and the Church are two key elements for German wine before the arrival of Napoleon that will wrest the entire German vineyard from the Church (the bourgeoisie and the rich will take advantage of this new situation). In 1875 the phylloxera arrives in German Empire, at a time where the popularity of German wine was enjoyed by Queen Victoria of England. The two World Wars will mean the loss of the German wine quality, not until 1970, when new laws and classifications will be established for the reconquest of quality in German wine. Notable in 1971 the creation of two categories: Qualitätswein and Prädikatswein. And, finally a new classification: Deutscher Tafelweine < Landwein  < QmP, QbA.


The Swiss Valais region treasures containers of what could be wine since the Celtic era. It was however the Romans who introduced the vineyard during the 500 years they spent in swiss Alps. The vine cultivation ceases to be an anecdotal affair from the Middle Ages, when Cistercians monks drive viticulture. As proof, of the 12th century  there is a terraced vineyard called Le Dézalay, in Lake Geneve area. The Swiss farmers were in charge of working the vineyard of the High Clergy and the Nobles in exchange for a tax: the ‘cens’. The 1847 Swiss Civil War will mean the loss of clergy's viticultural possessions in favor of the great bourgeois of Valais and Vaud, which will lead to the country's great wine businesses.

Monk Jason after 3rd wine bottle

With the development of the railroad and the Industrial Revolution, Swiss wine goes from being a drink for domestic consumption to an element of business and export. In 1874 the phylloxera arrives at the Old Swiss Confederacy (one year before the German Empire), destroying almost all its vineyard and therefore all the existing native varieties. The replanting will be done with the neighbors Pinot Noir, Gamay, Chasselas or Johannisnerg. The interwar period will be a coup to the Swiss wine industry, which will solve its demand with southern wines. In the IIWW the Swiss borders are closed avoiding their disasters, from there the national viticultural surface is further developed and therefore the wine production grows. In 1980, the yields per hectare in favor of quality began to be controlled, and in the 90's and later the quality parameters were harmonized between Europe and Switzerland.


Before Tiberius Claudius Cesare Augustus Germanicus conquered “Austria” in 14 b. C. here the vines were already cultivated. Centuries later came Emperor Marcus Aurelius Probo, who promoted viticulture in the provinces of western Austria until the Germanic barbarians ended the development of this land. The Roman Empire broke down and the northern tribes settled in currently Austria and germanized it in the VI century, but three centuries later Charlemagne appears to subdue those pagan tribes. 

During Karolus Magnus era the wine that in his empire was made enjoyed a good deal thanks to measures like the selection of clusters, the conservation of wine in barrels and their classification. Everything was going well, the vineyards were managed by the abbeys while the borders of Austria extended to the east. Henri II moved his residence from Klosterneuburg to Vienna to become the capital of the kingdom (12th century) and there promoted viticulture.

From the XI to the XIII century Austrian wine became strong: regrouping of wine producing villages, rising of wine consumption, private interests appear and with it, taxes. The cultivation area spread throughout the geography of the Austrian county but is at the end of century XVIII when an unexpected enemy arrives: the phylloxera, that it sweeps with all the vineyard of continental Europe. To date, the vine is cultivated in eastern Austria and mostly with white varieties, where the Grüner Veltliner is the king.


It all starts here with the arrival of the 10th Roman Legion, recruited in northern Italy, to south of Moravia in the 2nd century AD. In 278 Marcus Aurelius Probo Emperor gives his permission to plant vines in the north of the Alps colonies. The Grüner Veltliner variety was already known then. Magna Moravia is revealed in the 9th century as a very suitable area for viticulture. In neighboring Bohemia, viticulture begins to be stimulated from the city of Melník also towards the year 870.

 The monks are in charge during the 13th century to enrich the wine landscape with French and Germanic varieties as well as their cultivation techniques. During the Bohemian Kingdom, new vineyards are planted at the foot of the of Pálava hills (southern kingdom). Later it is in Moravia where administrative improvements and agricultural laws inspired by lower Austria are developed for the viticulture progress. It will be Míkulov (southern Moravia) one of the reference locations of Czech wine around 1400 A.D.

The Thirty Years' War (17th century) devastated the Czech vineyard that was successfully replenished over time until it became a commercial menace to the neighboring Austrian wine. From the mid-19th century until the outbreak of the Filoxera, academies will be opened to train Czech winemakers for the improvement of viticultural quality. In 1995, the first wine law on winemaking practices was enacted and in 2004, the Wine Law on them was applied with the Czech Republic in the European Union and the Czech wine legislation was equated with the European one.

Míkulov (Moravia): Mikulovská wine region's capital


Polish viticulture was born in the Middle Age, particularly in the west of the country thanks to the Benedictines and Cistercians monks. Vines were planted in the center of the country but with Czech origin, a country whose wine liked chose Polish royalty as well as Hungary wine. With the advent of communism in Poland, wine production decreased so that today it is rare the wine consumption compared to beer or vodka.
The white grape is the best adapted to the climate of Poland, as continental as Germany and nucleus of the little wine tradition that left in the west country. These white varieties are represented by the Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Sylvaner, Chardonnay or Pinot Gris. Currently Poland wants to be important in the world of wine thanks to the vintners exodus, laws promoting wine, wine tourism programs and regulations of general application.


The Romans exported the viticulture to Magyarorszag, starting south of the Danube River. The Hungarian tribes assimilated this culture and expanded it through the Carpathian Basin. During the following centuries some grape varieties were brought in from France and Italy, being white grapes the best adapted. During the resistance against the Ottoman Empire the national red wine was the one that allowed Hungarian troops to win in the Eger siege (1552). During the Turkish time the liquor wine Tokaji Aszú reached a world-wide fame, being considered for Luis XIV of France "Vinum Regum, Rex Vinorum" (Wine of kings, King of wines).

When the Ottomans lost Hungary in favor of the Austrians, there was a germanic influence with the appearance of grapes such the Blauer Portugieser. In 1882 the Phylloxera arrives and gives a hard coup to the national viticultural panorama because it destroys the majority of his vineyard. This misfortune would be followed by others: the Trianon Treaty, the Axis Time and the communist era where, as in other countries, they opted for quantity and not quality. From the 90's Hungarian wine lives a revival led by the Tokaj-Hegyalja wines (7ooo Ha's and 28 villages).

The 'Hungarian Tuscany': Balaton wine region

To know where we are going it is necessary to know where we come from. For Central Europeans, if Romans and monks are not their parents, they are the parents of his wine. A wine that has endured all wars and environmental crises and has evolved with its inhabitants. A product that is much more than a drink, is an ancient people’s blood.

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