The history of Weinakademie Österreich

Campus of Weinakademie Österreich in Rust

How it all began

As with so many recent developments in the history of Austrian wine, the wine scandal of 1985 was also the trigger of a process that ultimately led to the founding of the Weinakademie Österreich (Austrian Wine Academy). Paul Rittsteuer, Minister of Agriculture in Burgenland, was looking to establish a centre for the new Burgenland wine, ‘Weinakademie Burgenland’.

The wine academy vinotheque (architect Kaitna&Smetana, 1990 is considered the beginning of modern Burgenland wine architecture)

The perfect location for this new wine centre was soon found in the historic Seehof Rust building in the small town of Rust. Josef Schuller was appointed managing director. At that time, Schuller – a Burgenland native – was working in California for the Robert Mondavi Winery, following his graduation from the Cape Wine Academy during his doctoral studies in South Africa. The Cape Wine Academy and the Robert Mondavi Wine Education Center subsequently provided inspiration for the training concept employed at the Austrian Wine Academy.

The Weinakademie Burgenland developed a very close partnership with the AWMB (Austrian Wine Marketing Board), which had been established two years previously. The Burgenland Academy carried out various projects in association with the AWMB, both in Austria and abroad. On the AWMB’s part, there was an urgent desire to professionalise the field of wine education and further professional training, both in the fields of marketing for winegrowers and wine training for consumers and the trade and hospitality industries.

Günter Triebaumer is awarded the bursary for his internship in South Africa, 1989

Building on the training activities of the Burgenland Wine Academy, this led to the founding of a new training institution in 1991, the Weinakademie Österreich association, which had its headquarters in Rust and a branch in Krems. The AWMB was a partner in this association, and the Weinakademie Österreich would be established as Austria’s ‘national wine school’. Josef Schuller was appointed director and he put together a team of staff in Rust and Krems, as well as a team of lecturers. The Austrian Wine Academy was officially opened in March 1991, and teaching began. At that time, before joining the EU, Austria was a wine island, protected as it was by wine import quotas. International wines and international wine knowledge were rare. That naturally fostered parochial thinking and hindered an international view of the wine world. The scholarship system of the new Wine Academy allowed young winegrowers to complete traineeships in New World winegrowing countries and, when they returned, import wine enthusiasm to Austria. Marketing workshops and wine technology seminars for winegrowers were among the main activities in the Wine Academy’s early years.


The Weinakademie vision and the implementation

The Wine Academy’s international orientation also influenced the development of a training system for the trade, hospitality and distribution sectors, as well as for consumers. The goal was to create a high-quality training programme not only for Austrian wine, but also for wines from all four corners of the world. Besides the focus on teaching as many people as possible about Austrian wine and drumming up their enthusiasm for it, the aim was to offer a high-end international training course that would produce experts who could then also competently and compellingly communicate the merits of Austrian wines within the competitive market of international wines.

In the second half of the 1990s, Austria was nearing the peak of the wine boom, which, in turn, had a positive effect on the demand for wine seminars. During this period, the Wine Academy grew to become continental Europe’s largest wine school. The programme of 800+ seminars has been attracting more than 15,000 participants annually ever since. The development of a new seminar centre in Seehof Rust in 2005 eventually enabled the academy to accommodate this influx of wine enthusiasts. A modern Wine Academy campus was built.

Renovation of the old youth hostel and construction of Weinakademie Campus 2004/2005

Opening of the new Weinakademie Campus 2005

The London Connection

Even though Great Britain was not a wine-producing country of any significance, and only began to make a name for itself in the 2000s in this respect, it has been the most important wine trading centre for centuries. Indeed, Great Britain – especially London – is the hub of the wine world. The leading wine journals, international wine trading companies, wine auction houses and wine training institutions (e.g. the Institute of Masters of Wine and the Wine and Spirit Education Trust) are all based in London. The Wine Academy was keen to establish international partnerships with these two institutions, and it succeeded in doing so. The Austrian Wine Academy has maintained a close partnership with both institutions for decades.

In the early 1990s, the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) offered the prestigious ‘Diploma in Wines and Spirits’, which leads on to the ‘Master of Wine’ course. Training was carried out exclusively in English, in the UK. By collaborating with the WSET, the Wine Academy was able to establish this course in Austria and offer it in Rust, exclusively in German from 1993. The Wine Academy could therefore boast a unique feather in their cap within the German-speaking world. The first year of recruits for the WSET Diploma in Wines and Spirits graduated in 1994. Since no special title was acquired by completing the WSET Diploma in Wines and Spirits, the Wine Academy developed the title Weinakademiker, which was awarded to those who successfully passed the course. Today, 30 years later, more than 1000 Weinakademiker from 50 countries hold this title.

The first vintage of 14 Weinakademiker, 1994

The ‘Weinakademiker h. c.’ title was awarded for the first time at the 1994 Weinakademiker graduation ceremony for special achievements in the field of international wine education and for Austrian wine in particular. The grande dame of wine journalism, Jancis Robinson MW (Master of Wine) from the UK, was the first to receive this title, which has since been awarded to a total of 15 leading figures in the international wine world.

First Weinakademiker h.c. Jancis Robinson MW, 1994

Another key factor in the ‘London connection’ was the Institute of Masters of Wine, which awards the most prestigious title in the wine world, the ‘Master of Wine’ to graduates of the ‘world’s most difficult wine exam’. In 1998, Josef Schuller, the Austrian Wine Academy’s Director, graduated in London to become Austria’s first Master of Wine. The links between the Wine Academy and the Institute of Masters of Wine were strengthened further, and from 2004, the Master of Wine preparatory course for future Masters of Wine was held annually at the Wine Academy’s new campus in Rust – alongside the other course locations of London, Bordeaux, San Francisco and Adelaide. Several hundred Master of Wine students and more than 100 Masters of Wine have begun their long journey towards becoming Masters of Wine in Rust, in so doing establishing a special connection with Austrian wine.

This excellent cooperation with the Institute of Masters of Wine eventually led to Josef Schuller being appointed chairman in 2008 – the first ‘non-British’ chairman in the institute’s 60-year history. This was, of course, also highly advantageous for the further international establishment of the Wine Academy.

Chairman Dr. Josef Schuller MW and Vice-Chairman Lynne Sherriff MW, Institute of Masters of Wine, 2008

Globalisation

The Austrian Wine Academy first established close links with Geisenheim University in Rheingau, Germany, an elite oenological training centre of world renown, in the mid-1990s. Growing interest in the Weinakademiker programme in Germany eventually led to the establishment of the Weinakademiker course at Geisenheim University in 2002. A few years later, the Weinakademiker training expanded to Switzerland. Since 2007, the renowned Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) in Wädenswil, just outside Zurich, has been a partner and training venue. At the same time, a collaboration was established with the Sommeliervereinigung Südtirol (Alto Adige Sommelier Association) and the Weinakademie Südtirol (Alto Adige Wine Academy).

The Weinakademiker courses in Austria, Germany and Switzerland were offered exclusively in German language until 2010, but the forces of globalisation changed that in 2011. Due to growing demand from Eastern Europe, the Wine Academy began to offer the Weinakademiker programme in English that year. In 2016, the network was expanded through a cooperation in Italy with the Istituto Grandi Marchi, an association of leading estates such as Antinori, Gaja, Masi and Lageder. As well as the campus in Rust, one course block of the Weinakademiker training is now also run in Florence. Because of growing international demand, a third English-language version of the Weinakademiker course was introduced in 2018, with course modules in Rust, Geisenheim and Alto Adige. Seminar participants come from all over the world.

In the 2017/18 academic year, the Austrian Wine Academy offered the WSET Diploma – which was until then the only path towards becoming a Weinakademiker – for the last time in German language. It was replaced by the Weinakademiker Diploma: a new Wine Academy course that was developed in collaboration with the universities in Geisenheim and Wädenswil. This new Weinakademiker Diploma course led to increased demand for the Weinakademiker qualification, and to increasing numbers of participants and graduates.

30th anniversary of Weinakademie and graduation of a record vintage of 74 Weinakademiker, 2021

Graduates of the Wine Academy are bestowed the title of Weinakademiker. The Wine Academy’s senate only awards this title to graduates who sign a code of conduct in which they commit to continuous professional development and the highest ethical standards in all business and private dealings relating to wine. Graduates are then accepted into the Weinakademiker Club. This alumni association was founded in 1997 as an association affiliated with the Wine Academy, with the purpose of promoting further training and international networking between members. The association is run by an international committee, and its more than 1000 members come from 50 different countries, but predominantly Austria, Germany and Switzerland. Graduates work in all sectors of the wine industry and include winegrowers, wine merchants, purchasers, sommeliers, restaurateurs and wine educators.

Roman Horvath MW, Josef Schuller MW, Andreas Wickhoff MW, gala tasting “The 3 MWs”, 2014

For many Weinakademiker, the renowned Master of Wine training is the next big target on their path towards the ultimate in wine expertise. Since it was established by the Institute of Masters of Wine in 1953, just over 400 people have ever passed this exam – the most difficult wine exam in the world. Records from 2022 confirm that eleven of the Masters of Wine come from the ranks of the Weinakademiker. Alongside the Austrians Josef Schuller, Roman Horvath and Andreas Wickhoff, these are Caro Maurer, Romana Echensperger, Frank Röder, Janek Schumann and Thomas Curtius (from Germany), Pedro Ballesteros Torres (from Spain), and Job de Swart (from the Netherlands) and Lin Liu (from China).



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