A Visit To The Parliament Of Austria

Ξ October 29th, 2010 | → 4 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Wine & Politics, Wine News |

Finding my way in a new city without a grasp of the language, clutching only a worn map, this American tourist in Vienna, Austria cut an amusing figure. Zigzagging down streets, frequently turning back, transfixed by a monumental skyline, yet always searching the crowd for a friendly face to whom I might ask the one precious phrase learned, “Sprechen Sie Englisch?”, certainly is the stuff of comedy. And while in Vienna for the European Wine Bloggers Conference, I was quite the walking sight gag. But as I’ve often insisted, this condition can be a strength, an advantage of great value. And so it is a closely held truth of this nomad that unusually fruitful encounters are guaranteed. This was made perfectly clear when I visited the Parliament of Austria.
I was generously asked to participate on an EWBC panel about freedoms and responsibilities of advertisers and wine writers with George Sandeman of Sogrape Vinhos and, for the purposes of the panel, the organization Wine In Moderation, and Adam Watson Brown of the European Commission. I shall provide full details of our very interesting exchange in a later post. Of greater moment here were my effort to learn as much as possible in advance of the discussion. It occurred to me that speaking with member of Parliament might prove illuminating. But just how might I do that? Well, I just walked through a door.
There was much puzzlement at this unkempt American standing before staff. The entrance was teeming with students and their harried teachers, and well-dressed men and women coming and going through a maze of security. These are the customary groups. An occasional Russian, French, and English voice could be heard. Apart from officials of some sort on their way to the current legislative session, everyone else was destined for the controlled walk through.
“I would like to speak with someone in government about the liquor laws of Austria.” OK. I was asked whether I had an appointment? No. Did I have someone in mind? No. Did I have the slightest idea in which governmental division liquor laws are legislated? No. But I have a map! “Perhaps you need a better one.” Fair enough. But after much consultation and more than a few phone calls, all in German, natürlich, I was asked to wait. Someone had been found willing to speak with me.
Dr. Rudolf Kracher is no ordinary someone. In addition to being a Klubsekretär of the SPO, the Social Democratic Party of Austria, he is also the brother of the recently passed and greatly missed Alois Kracher, among the most important figures in the Austrian wine industry, past and present. His presence is still keenly felt. And Dr. Rudolf Kracher brought him to life for this writer. For once through security (and after a very entertaining conversation with a security agent about the American-style football played in Austria–he was a Raider fan, can you believe it!), Rudolf took me to the august Parliament cafeteria where, surrounded by deputies and politicians, he proceeded to tell me the story of his family’s life and struggles. Much was in confidence, I believe. I cannot be sure. Out of an abundance of caution, I will not relate the more personal remarks. In any event, I did not record the exchange.
I can say Dr. Kracher was particularly frank about the many shocks and setbacks the Austrian wine industry has suffered in recent years, especially on the political front (leaving aside the obvious wine doctoring scandal of ‘84-’85). The rise of the far-right, of the grossly misnamed Freedom Party–fascist was the word Dr. Kracher used–is especially troubling. In recent elections they made substantial gains. Indeed, the EWBC narrowly missed laboring under a fascist mayor, the morbid Heinz-Christian Strache. Austrian international trade has and likely will again suffer. The wine sector has proven particularly sensitive.
But the bright reality, forcefully explained by Dr. Kracher, is that many Austrian wine producers–and Alois Kracher was also a pioneer in this regard–work very hard to establish personal relationships with distributors, restauranteurs, retailers, and ordinary drinkers throughout the world. This is Alois’ enduring legacy. Beyond the body blows Austria seems destined to take, despite internal social turmoil, there remain lasting friendships. As Dr. Kracher poetically put it, the idea is to “show and explain what is in your heart”.
Dr. Rudolf Kracher then gave me an article written by his brother, “The Successful Development of An Austrian Winegrowing Estate In the International Dessert Wine Market”. Read properly, it is a moving document. (And I hope to locate and link an on-line version soon.) Many names and telephone numbers were written on the back of the paper. Among them that of Alois’ son, Gerhard Kracher. So it happened that I was immediately put in touch with Gerhard. My lunch-time interview with him will come in a few days.
Dr. Kracher bid me farewell, but not before insisting I contact him whenever I needed to (a promise he kept, you can be sure!). Show and explain what is in your heart. Words to live by.


4 Responses to ' A Visit To The Parliament Of Austria '

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  1. on October 29th, 2010 at 10:47 am

    A nice post and quite an interesting experience. I expect to see you on the next EWBC. Regards. Nacho

  2. Admin, Ken Payton said,

    on October 29th, 2010 at 10:50 am

    Thank you, Ignacio. Yes, I will attend the 2011 EWBC in Italy. They’ve proven very moving experiences for me.

  3. Wink Lorch said,

    on October 30th, 2010 at 4:30 am

    Ken, I shouldn’t be amazed, but I am. The sheer bravado of walking into ANY government building ANYWHERE as a foreign citizen and asking to talk to someone whose name you didn’t know is the stuff of real journalism, something rarely found amongst wine writers. The fact that you succeeded magnificently in whom you managed to meet leaves me quite in awe! Congratulations – a fine read and completely and utterly relevant to #EWBC too.

  4. Admin, Ken Payton said,

    on October 30th, 2010 at 6:53 am

    Hi, Wink. You capture the spirit of the adventure and my astonishment quite well! The very idea that I might secure an audience, let alone with such a figure of Dr. Kracher’s stature, can only be seen as, well, almost providential. So many elements had to be properly aligned. I did not include an account of my initial conversations with the police around the Parliament building. Making myself as visible as possible, I asked for instruction and was sent across town in a vain search for a government information center none of the Viennese I interrupted along the way knew existed. In fact, I went into a police station to ask for clarification of the directions, and even they, from behind bullet-proof glass, had no idea what information center I was talking about. Indeed, they instructed me to return to Parliament! Dr.Kracher was asked to help me only because the staff knew he had some knowledge of wine. It was only after introductions that he understood there might be shared fertile ground. So instead of a cursory exchange in the lobby, he generously invited me inside. Quite the turn of events! Thank you for the comment.

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