From the Romans to the present: a short excursion into the history of wine in the Kremstal.
With the city of Krems, the Kremstal has an urban centre that has been closely linked to viticulture for centuries. The first winegrowers’ guild was founded here in the Middle Ages, although the region had already gotten underway with wine far earlier.
Thank the Romans!
The ideal geographic location and the favourable climate in neighbourhood of Krems & Stein attracted human settlement quite early on. The beginning of viticulture in Austria can generally be traced back to the Romans, even if the indigenous Celts were probably able to ferment grape juice before then. In Roman times, the Danube as ‘Limes’ demarcated the border of the empire, and the Life of Saint Severin tells of the existence of vineyards around 470 AD, which were growing in front of the walls of the Roman fort of Faviania – opposite the present-day town of Stein.
The monasteries bring wine back once more
During the turbulent times of the Great Migration, the initial blossoming of wine in the area Krems area faded rather severely. But with the penetration into the area of Bavaria & Franconia around 750, it was not only the Christian religion that came down the Danube. The newly arrived immigrants also began addressing viticulture once more. Many monasteries in the area of Bavaria & Salzburg were being supplied from foundations and charities in the Krems/Wachau area, and viticulture experienced a great boom as a result. The steep south-facing slopes were reinforced with dry stone walls and stone terraces; unimaginable effort turned barren land into vineyards. Over the course of history, a total of fifty-four different monasteries & cloisters owned vines and harvesting yards in the neighbourhood of Krems. Wine was a valuable commodity and was shipped up the Danube; the church needed the wine as liturgical sacrament – and of course for daily use at the table. The wine trade also provided a significant source of income.
War & Wine
Wars against the Turks and the associated deliveries to the military exerted a positive effect on the wine business. The city flourished to the benefit of its citizens, who were increasingly buying vineyards and building lovely baroque houses. After this recovery lasting until the late Baroque era, when a third of the total population still lived directly from viticulture, the economic importance of wine declined from the second half of the eighteenth century into the nineteenth. Maria Theresia’s wars exerted fatal effects on the wine trade. In 1760 the city of Krems was unable to sell wine; in 1772 only 76hl of the 858 hectolitres in the cellars could be sold. Tough customs restrictions were also responsible for the decline in exports. However, the mediocre quality of the wine from Krems was probably one of the reasons; the Heuriger (wine of the vintage) was quite likely characterised by extremely high acidity. An idea of the reputation of young wines can be inferred from a documented request made in 1708 to the city council by the Dominican monks in Krems, who asked to be allowed to import foreign wine because: ‘The young wines cannot be drunk by the tender & young novices without harming their health’.
Winegrowers, Merchants & the Industrial Revolution
With the closing years of the eighteenth century, a professional wine trade also developed in the region of Krems. These individuals recognised the need to seek out customers within a wider radius. On the occasion of an industrial exhibition in London in 1862, the wines of the Krems community presentation – including the families Brandl, Czank, Czermak, Dinstl, Hietzgern, Krammer, Krippl, Lagler, Moshammer & Thalhofer – were awarded a medal for their cellaring potential and modest pricing. Franz von Wertheim from Krems, who was instrumental in establishing the viticulture schools at Klosterneuburg (1859) and later in Krems (1875), also made great contributions to viticultural politics. The most important innovation relevant to winegrowing at the time came from another citizen of Krems: in the middle of the 19th century, toolmaker Johann Keusch invented the pruning shears, a combination of curved pruning knives and garden shears.