World’s worst wine disasters

Austria’s 1985 Diethylene Glycol wine scandal

Edelfaule_WeintraubenMore of a scandal than a disaster, in 1985 a number of Austrian wineries were found to be mixing their wines with the toxic substance diethylene glycol, commonly found in antifreeze. A limited number of Austrian wineries, mostly committed to bulk wine production, hit upon the idea of using the chemical in their wines to boost its sweetness before it was sent to Germany to be bottled, either as Austrian wine or, on occasion, mixed in with bulk German wine.

The ruse was discovered when one of the producers claimed for unusually large quantities of the stuff on his tax return bills and its presence was also confirmed by German laboratory tests. The news made headlines around the world especially as diethylene glycol is often used in antifreeze. Long-term consumption of the chemical is indeed very dangerous but the quantities involved in this particular case would have necessitated the uninterrupted drinking of dozens of bottles over several days to achieve lethal results.

Only one bottle, a Welschriesling Beerenauslese from Burgenland, exceeded the 40 grams needed for such an eventuality. Still, Austrian wine exports crashed overnight from 45 million litres a year to just 4.4m and some countries banned imports altogether. As an example of how a bad thing can lead to good, however, Austria’s years in the wilderness forced it to clean up its act, focus on winemaking and cut down on bulk wine. Stricter wine laws were introduced and its re-emergence in recent years with the likes of Grüner Veltliner is an example to all.

2 Responses to “World’s worst wine disasters”

  1. Ducourt says:

    1956, the extreme frost wiped out 80% of all vineyards between Bordeaux and Languedoc

  2. Richard Smart says:

    Who wrote this about phylloxera…So many mistakes.

    There are several books on the subject, and a fulsome entry in the Oxford Companion to wine.

    Phylloxera did not come close “to killing every vine on the European continent, and all of its grape varieties”. There are experimental vineyards in France, on sandy soils, still own-rooted.
    Phylloxera was reported in a London glasshouse, and did not “devastate British vineyards”, probably the majority of which, and there are many more now, remain free of phylloxera.

    Burying toads under vines, which might be praised today as “biodynamic”, was one of many bizarre solutions offered for prize money. The solution was to graft to resistant American rootstocks. Sadly the author of the article confuses this process with “hybridisation” which is a sexual crossing of two varieties.

    Phylloxera is controllable by grafting on resistant rootstocks, and many but not all vines are planted this way. The vineyards of Chile are free of phylloxera, as are the great majority in Australia.

    I have recently written an article suggesting that grapevine trunk diseases pose a greater threat to the worlds vineyard than phylloxera. If you are going to include vineyard pests and diseases in “the worlds worst wine disasters”, trunk diseases and maybe red blotch virus are major omissions.

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