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Paul B.

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The dynamics behind Grüner Veltliner's rising fame?

by Paul B. » Wed Aug 29, 2007 12:54 pm

Many wine lovers already know that Austria's signature white grape, Grüner Veltliner, has become increasingly popular in recent times, and is getting a lot of press nowadays. It seems to me to be the new Sauvignon Blanc in a way - generally another "anti-Chardonnay" dry white that shares Sauvignon's green notes but adds distinctive peppery spice that's quite signature Central European (I say this because Blaufränkisch, a red grape grown in Austria and Hungary among other places, also displays a peppery character with regularity).

Personally, I love Grüner Veltliner and have enjoyed the ones that would appear infrequently at Vintages since about the late '90s. In those days, however, the grape's fame hadn't yet started - it appears to be quite a recent phenomenon. What was its genesis? Was there a "driving force" behind it all, an influential sommelier or a well connected, enterprising Austrian winemaker with big dreams for the grape, and the will to make them materialize?

With the inertia of name recognition and press space behind it, pretty much any grape benefits from increased attention - not only among consumers, but among winemakers who will use it as a canvas to test out new styles, and among wineries that will of course rush out and plant it precisely because it's the new fad. Those are the potential advantages; the disadvantages of fame, though, include a lot of bland wine potentially being made from a grape, part of which may be linked to its being planted in terroirs of questionable suitability just due to name recognition.

To wrap up this impromptu dissertation, it would be interesting to discuss the rise of GruVee a bit and see what it was that got it rolling into the sphere of everyday winespeak, as it clearly has.
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Robin Garr

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Re: The dynamics behind Grüner Veltliner's rising fame?

by Robin Garr » Wed Aug 29, 2007 1:18 pm

Bear in mind, Paul, that GV is still very much a niche market, much of its purported "fame" limited to wine and food geeks in urban communities.

I think the role of a single sommelier, Mark Ellenbogen at Slanted Door in San Francisco, can't be underestimated. He was a big advocate of GV as a great match for the restaurant's Vietnamese fusion fare, he persuaded a core group of wine-and-food geeks (many of them on this forum and others), and as Slanted Door coincidentally became a very hot Bay Area property, people - or at least foodie insiders - started routinely thinking of GV as a great food wine. This trend wasn't hurt when fairly trendy Asian-fusion restaurants in other cities (Pho Paris in Cincinnati and now Basa Modern Vietnamese in Louisville, to name two regional spots I know of) flattered Slanted Door by imitation. I'm sure there are similar spots in NYC and elsewhere with GV on the list, too.

This move might have been enhanced by a few of the usual-suspect importers and wine shops (Chambers Street for sure, and Dressner among the importers) who love minerality in wines and serve a wine-geek clientele who agree.

I do think it's still very much a niche market, though, and if you hear somebody talking about GV without looking mystified, there's a very good chance that they'll be within one degree of separation of one of the wine boards.

Sorry, no armies of stout and sturdy peasants in jerkins involved here.
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Re: The dynamics behind Grüner Veltliner's rising fame?

by David M. Bueker » Wed Aug 29, 2007 1:22 pm

Well I don't think Dressner imports any Gruner Veltliner (or any Austrian wine for that matter), but Terry Theise has been a tireless advocate. With Theise operating on the east coast, and the Vin Divino folks marketing the Wachau estates from the midwest there's some pretty decent PR going. No it's not Gallo-esque, but for a niche wine (and Robin is right, it's still a niche) there's some decent hype.
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Re: The dynamics behind Grüner Veltliner's rising fame?

by Bob Parsons Alberta » Wed Aug 29, 2007 1:33 pm

I think that a few of us well remember the chemical scandle from years back. Here, in Alberta, it is only in the past 2 years that GrunVee has been appearing on the shelf in vastley increased quality. Only in the top stores however, not the corner operations. In store tastings, word of mouth and good press reports .....all have contributed. Now the riesling is being talked about!
I suggested to the Grill group that they should feature some Austrian wines but the demand for the whites we listed was not a success despite some training etc. Niche market, guess you are right but at one local store sales are brisk after a bottle or two ends up on the tasting bar!!

Thanks Paul B for this thread.
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Re: The dynamics behind Grüner Veltliner's rising fame?

by Robin Garr » Wed Aug 29, 2007 1:41 pm

David M. Bueker wrote:Well I don't think Dressner imports any Gruner Veltliner (or any Austrian wine for that matter).


You're right, I was wrong, although I don't think this misstatement throws off my basic premise.

Funny, though, GV sure seems like the kind of wine that Dressner would import.
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Re: The dynamics behind Grüner Veltliner's rising fame?

by David M. Bueker » Wed Aug 29, 2007 1:58 pm

The glycol scandal was well over 20 years ago. Time for the whole world to let it go. I find it sad and amusing that so many stories about Austrian wine start with a re-hash of what is ancient vinous history.
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Re: The dynamics behind Grüner Veltliner's rising fame?

by Bob Parsons Alberta » Wed Aug 29, 2007 2:27 pm

David, well that may be so but after the scandal sales of wines from Austria went zippo. My point is that it has taken this long for wine merchants/agents to promote again. We knew the values out there but did the general wine buying public?
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Re: The dynamics behind Grüner Veltliner's rising fame?

by wrcstl » Wed Aug 29, 2007 2:33 pm

I think most of what has been said is correct and since I am only 30 I cannot remember the glycol scandal. Good food wine, lots of hype but when I buy Austria it is still Riesling. Don't think it will ever replace SB as most people cannot pronounce it and many market producers are even abreviating the name so people can remember it.
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Re: The dynamics behind Grüner Veltliner's rising fame?

by Mark Lipton » Wed Aug 29, 2007 2:41 pm

I agree with most of the points made here. My own view about GV's rise is that it's a result of a number of interrelated factors:

1. Recovery of Austrian wine's reputation from the media-fueled "glycol" scandal of the '80s.
2. Increased quality of Austrian winemaking, in part as a consequence of the fallout from the scandal of the '80s.
3. Increased availability in the US, courtesy of folks like Mr. Theise.
4. The food-friendliness of GV that results from its limited aromatic quality (a la Pinot Gris and Chardonnay), its good acidity (a la Riesling) and the stylistic variability in (a la Chardonnay and Riesling).
5. The good QPR found in many decent GVs
6. The tendency of the US wine-drinking public to seize upon a "variety of the moment." From Chardonnay to Viognier to Pinot Gris to...

I'm with Robin in thinking that GV has yet to really make inroads into the mainstream of US wine-drinking consciousness. One impediment may be that there just isn't enough GV made or exported to support large-scale consumption here. Additionally, because of the limited quantity of GV available here, the price has crept steadily upward over the past decade, eroding its QPR status.

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Re: The dynamics behind Grüner Veltliner's rising fame?

by David M. Bueker » Wed Aug 29, 2007 2:52 pm

Quanitites are a huge issue for widespread fame for Austrian wine. Most of the wine is bought and drank in Austria. This is in marked contrast to Germany, where many of the finest etstaes export the lion's share of their production.
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Re: The dynamics behind Grüner Veltliner's rising fame?

by Paul B. » Wed Aug 29, 2007 4:08 pm

David M. Bueker wrote:The glycol scandal was well over 20 years ago. Time for the whole world to let it go. I find it sad and amusing that so many stories about Austrian wine start with a re-hash of what is ancient vinous history.

I fully agree - yet it pays never to underestimate the power of inertia and the way certain things just snowball long after they have ceased to exist. I'm lucky, I suppose, in that I was too young to be into wine at the time of the glycol scandal, and so its effect on my Austrian wine consciousness is exactly nil.
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Re: The dynamics behind Grüner Veltliner's rising fame?

by Lou Kessler » Wed Aug 29, 2007 9:24 pm

We sell some Austrian wines in our store but it's still limited to the wine geek population. The other problem as I see it is that decent Gruners are expensive. There is not a plethora of inexpensive wines like chard, sauvignon blanc, german rieslings, pinot gris.
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Re: The dynamics behind Grüner Veltliner's rising fame?

by Peter Ruhrberg » Thu Aug 30, 2007 7:15 am

David M. Bueker wrote:Quanitites are a huge issue for widespread fame for Austrian wine. Most of the wine is bought and drank in Austria.


The emphasis on the domstic market is an important point here. However much praise Mr. Ellebogen and Mr. Theise deserve for making GV known to US consumers (and I would add SFJoe to that list for spreading the news through the www), they did not create the rise of GV to grape stardom. When did serious GV start appearing on Theise's / Ellenbogen's lists? Does anyone remember? I'm curious. I remember reading about the potential greatness of GV in German publications of the early 90s. But right after the scandal of 85, Smaragd type GVs appeared in the Wachau, such as the greatest dry GV I tasted to date: Hirtzberger's 1986 Honivogl Honifogl (or is it the other way 'round? ;) ) In a sweeter style, great GVs had been made before 85, but I don't know how many (Knoll's 83 Auslese lingers in my memory).
Perhaps Michl Pronay could be alerted here, to give us a more comprehensive view of the history of GV as a grape used for making great wines...

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Re: The dynamics behind Grüner Veltliner's rising fame?

by Robin Garr » Thu Aug 30, 2007 9:17 am

Peter Ruhrberg wrote:When did serious GV start appearing on Theise's / Ellenbogen's lists? Does anyone remember? I'm curious.


Interesting thoughts, Peter! I dug back through my TN archives, and find that my earliest GV tasting note was posted toward the end of 1995. Reading it now, I almost wonder if it was "cooked," as it doesn't read much like a characteristic GV. I bought this from the Kentucky retail chain where David Schildknecht worked at the time, and as I recall, David was another of the very early adopters, so I expect GV started turning up in Louisville and the Cincinnati area fairly early in the trend.

<b>E & M Berger non-vintage Kremstal (Austria) Gruner Veltliner</b> ($6.69/1 liter)
Clear straw color. Cooking apples scent with musky and butterscotch overtones. Fresh, simple fruit flavor, dry and tart; apples and a bit of peach-pit bitterness in a long finish. Excellent price-quality ratio! Importer: Terry Theise/Milton Kronheim, Washington, DC. (Dec. 15, 1995)

Other interesting points: Theise hadn't yet moved to Skurnik, and "QPR" was still evolving as a wine-geek term ... I used the PQR variation and didn't acronymize it. ;)

You may recall, Peter, that our trip to Germany and Austria when we met you was in the spring of 1998, and by that time, GV had become <i>much</i> more of a name among wine geeks in the U.S.
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Re: The dynamics behind Grüner Veltliner's rising fame?

by David M. Bueker » Thu Aug 30, 2007 9:25 am

My first Theise imported GV was a 1995 Brundlmayer, but he started before then. I'm checking.
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Re: The dynamics behind Grüner Veltliner's rising fame?

by Peter Ruhrberg » Thu Aug 30, 2007 9:32 am

Robin Garr wrote:You may recall, Peter, that our trip to Germany and Austria when we met you was in the spring of 1998, and by that time, GV had become <i>much</i> more of a name among wine geeks in the U.S.


I recall, of course. That was when we had the Knoll 83! I remember being surprised that at the time, the top GVs were still quite a bit cheaper than the top Rieslings. The reputation being so high by then, I expected them to cost the same.

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Re: The dynamics behind Grüner Veltliner's rising fame?

by Jon Peterson » Thu Aug 30, 2007 10:18 am

This is not a deep observation on GV, but I was pleased to see it appear on a wine list here in DC whereas up to this time it was unheard of. As a matter of fact, when I saw the list, I thought about Paul and this forum and that was the sole reason I ordered it with my seared tuna.
As nice as it is to see on the list, the restaurant in question does cater to those interested in wine almost more than food, which supports Robin's niche theory.
I just wanted to inform you that I find you to be very attractive. Thank you and have a nice day.
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Re: The dynamics behind Grüner Veltliner's rising fame?

by Thomas » Thu Aug 30, 2007 10:25 am

I have been told that a winery down the road from me in the Finger Lakes has planted a few acres of Gruner V. This is a 30-year winery well known for its Riesling.
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Re: The dynamics behind Grüner Veltliner's rising fame?

by MtBakerDave » Thu Aug 30, 2007 12:31 pm

Maybe OT, but I just found a great closeout on a GV:

2001 Johann Topf Grüner Veltliner Alte Reben Hasel (Austria, Niederösterreich, Kamptal)
Dark straw color. Very ripe pear on the nose. Rich and mouthcoating on the palate, and definitely with an aged characteristic. Kind of like a very concentrated Pinot Gris, with maybe sone Chardonnay thrown in to smooth things out. Just a touch of bitterness on the finish, not enough to be offputting. A teriffic food wine that will stand up to almost anything. Beautiful stuff, and I bought a case at $9.75 retail.

This should have sold for quite a bit more. I assume that the reason it sat unsold, and is now closed out is because GV is still a cult wine?

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Re: The dynamics behind Grüner Veltliner's rising fame?

by David M. Bueker » Thu Aug 30, 2007 12:57 pm

Answer received: Terry Theise started importing Gruner Veltliner in 1994 with the 1992 vintage.
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Re: The dynamics behind Grüner Veltliner's rising fame?

by David M. Bueker » Thu Aug 30, 2007 12:58 pm

MtBakerDave wrote:I assume that the reason it sat unsold, and is now closed out is because GV is still a cult wine?


If that were the reason then nearly all wines would be called niche items. Closeouts happen all the time on all different wines (except perhaps things like Petrus and Le Pin and they ARE niche items).
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Re: The dynamics behind Grüner Veltliner's rising fame?

by Hoke » Thu Aug 30, 2007 4:18 pm

With all due respect to Mark Ellenbogen (and I sincerely mean that, because I do respect him tremendously), he was one of several wine list writers championing GV. One of the best, yes, certainly. But not the only one

Several restaurateur/sommelier/stewards, primarily in the trendy areas (the two Coasts and selected other places) tagged onto GV when Theise and a small handful of others started bringing in and tirelessly flogging (thank you thank you) GV. It's the nature of stewards to look for those precious new things. At about the same time, Albarino was "happening".

Starting in the mid to late 90s, I was teaching courses and giving seminars on "Traditions, Trends, and Blends" to many people in the trade. This morphed into my company's "Center for Global Wine Education", wherein we processed hundreds of influential tradespeople (distributors, retailers, restaurateurs) through a three day intensive program on the global aspects of wine, with one of the culminating seminars a tasting/discussion on what were then the current trends...and what we thought were the immediate trends coming down the pike.

From the beginning, we included GV in that seminar. In the beginning I would ask for a show of hands of these wine pros how many had ever had a GV (or even knew about it). Almost always got no response, or very, very few that had ever tasted it. Later, a few were aware of but had not had it. Then, it seemed, GV was at least known by most, and had been consumed by many, and several were selling it.

(The aforementioned Albarinho was usually included in those seminars, as were, at differing times, Rueda, Bierzo Mencia, Dry Roses, Mourvedre/Mataro/Monastrell, Pinotage, Fiano/Greco/Falanghina, Riesling (as the Comeback Kid), Priorato, Prosecco, Marsanne and Muscat.)

The point of all this is that while one or two folks can be early influencers, it takes the effort of lots and lots of people to be aware of, champion, and push the rise of a trend...especially one resulting in the firm establishment of a new flavor/style/variety and a "new" wine producing reigon for the world.

I would add that the rise of GV (along with Riesling and some other crisp, dry, aromatic whites, as well as PN) would not have been nearly as quick or successful, had it not coincided with the monumental changes in the eating habits, and particularly the restaurant cuisines, of this country. Or, in other words, how great would Mark's wine list be at The Slanted Door if there wasn't a Slanted Door??? The genius (and it is genius) of the SD list is that it so perfectly matches the foods and flavors and aromas of the SD menu. If the food had not changed in this country, the wines would not have had the impetus for change either.
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Re: The dynamics behind Grüner Veltliner's rising fame?

by SFJoe » Sat Sep 01, 2007 2:45 am

I think I bought '93s, and certainly quite a few '94s from the Theise list in SF through Bill Mayer in Berkeley. Bill is a great guy, scholar of German and Austrian wine, and a somewhat understated marketer. That would have been in 1995 and succeeding years.

So if Terry weren't bringing them in, none of us would have had them. If Bill weren't pushing them in SF, I probably wouldn't have tried them either. Mark introduced me to Bill. Mark and I drank the occasional GV together in those days.

I'm pretty sure the SD opened in 1997.
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Re: The dynamics behind Grüner Veltliner's rising fame?

by Bernard Roth » Sat Sep 01, 2007 1:00 pm

Ditto what Hoke said.

I first encountered GV in Austria in 1980, although the wine that most made an impression on me was the summery, fresh Gumpoldskirchner whites sold in the Viennese Heurigen - a wine that doesn't ship to the US as far as I know. So I started drinking GV when I got to Austin Tx later that year. (Austin has a large Germanic community, so it was a bastion of German and Austrian wine long before such wines caught on in the rest of the country.)

I took a hiatus with GV when the ethylene glycol problem was revealed. It took the better part of a decade before importers were willing to start bringing back Austrian wines, including GV, to the US. Basically, the few importers like Thiese who took the risk had to educate their customers and develop a market from scratch.

It was really the importers who deserve the credit for awakening the GV passion in the US. Without them, the sommeliers and retailers would not have any to sell.

The introduction of GV back to the US market occurred during the same time that US consumers were just starting to move from beer and box wines to fine wines. GV was a harder sell because there were a plethora of white zins, chardonnays, and SBs competing for shelf space and restaurant bin space. It took a decade for US consumers to accept the chardonnays and SBs as rote and begin looking for diversity.

At this point, about 5 years ago, we began to see a real influx of new GV labels. It is still a niche market, as I would guess that fewer than 20 GV producers sold in the US, and the overall production is not that great. If GV really becomes a fad, as opposed to a niche, the Austrians will have a hard time meeting demand AND keeping up quality.

Let's hope that domestic growers can experiment and find optimal places to plant GV vines to meet a new demand for lower price GV so that Austria can continue to meet the high end consumer demand.
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