Vandalized 500-year-old grapevine survives

AP News
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Posted: May 05, 2011 3:55 PM

Talk about a robust wine.

A 500-year-old grape vine, an ancestor of Austria's storied gruner veltliner, has survived a vandal's attack and is sending out new shoots after being hacked into pieces two months ago.

The vine, a great grape-grandparent of the popular gruner veltliner, was found chopped down _ and then chopped up _ in February. Local vintners said it was unlikely to recover. But the website of state broadcaster ORF quoted them Thursday as saying the stem had recently begun to sprout new shoots.

Vintner Hans Moser said the vine could again bear grapes within three years.

The wait to see whether the plant survived was "very tense," Moser said.

Hidden among dense underbrush on a hillside east of Vienna, the gnarled vine survived wars, winters and insect pests for 500 years. Its discovery 11 years ago near the village of St. Georgen was a sensation for oenophiles and scientists alike.

While not visually stunning like Austria's top tourist attractions, it proved to be a "missing link" to today's gruner veltliner, which has become a cult wine in the U.S.

Before then, the vine's existence had been little more than folklore.

Vintner Michael Leberl first heard about it from his mother, then researched it as an adult and found it after being led to its approximate location by a village elder. Experts gradually surmised that it had been crossed with the traminer grape centuries ago to produce the first drops of the acidic and tangy white known as "gru-ve" in the United States.

They named it the "St. Georgen Vine" after the village of the vintners who bottle gruner veltliner by the tens of thousands each year.

An experts' certificate issued in 2009 valued the vine at more than euro100,000 _ nearly $150,000. Shortly after that certificate was issued, police were called out to look for unknown perpetrators who clipped off buds from the plant.

Now that it's showing new signs of life, residents plan to fence off the vine, ORF said. Police said Thursday the vine vandal remains at large.

Even if the vine had died, it would not have died out _ its offshoots were being cultivated in three other wine-growing regions before the February attack.