THE DIETHYLENE GLYCOL WINE SCANDAL OF 1985

The 1985 diethylene glycol wine controversy involved Austrian wineries illegally adulterating their wines with the hazardous substance diethylene glycol. Using this ingredient found in antifreeze brands, winemakers aimed to make their products taste sweeter.

These Austrian wines were frequently sent in bulk to West Germany, where some of them were later bottled at sizable bottling facilities. Importers unlawfully blended select Austrian wines with German wines at these facilities, resulting in the discovery of diethylene glycol in these bulk-bottled West German wines.

Wine laboratories uncover this fraud while conducting quality checks on wines marketed in West Germany. The scandal made international news immediately, and the wines in question were removed from the market. Some of the affair’s participants received jail sentences or significant fines in Austria and West Germany.

In the short term, the incident completely halted Austrian wine exports. It resulted in a catastrophic loss of image for the entire Austrian wine business, with other considerable adverse consequences for German wines. In the long-term, the Austrian wine industry shifted its focus away from sweet wines and toward different wine varieties, including dry white wines, progressively seeking a larger market group.

From mid-July of that year onwards, selling Austrian wine on any international market was difficult. Numerous nations, including Switzerland and France, seized thousands of bottles, and on July 29, 1985, Japan banned the import and sale of all Austrian wines. The products were subsequently removed from the shelves of other countries as well.

From a pre-1985 level of about 45 million litres annually, exports decreased by one-tenth, or about 4.4 million litres, in 1986. The figure remained almost the same until 1989, then rose slightly in 1990–97, but remained significantly below pre-1985 levels. Only in 2001, when the export amount reached just over 50 million liters, did it match the previous high, catching up to where it once was.

Despite optimistic predictions, the Austrian wine industry needed more than ten years to regain its prior position in terms of export volume. Austria further went ahead to make stricter wine laws.

 ON THIS DAY

1985 – Austrian wineries were illegally adulterating their wines with a hazardous substance called diethylene glycol.

Mid 1985 – Selling Austrian wine on any international market was very difficult.

July 29, 1985 – Japan imposed a ban on importing and selling all Austrian wines.

2001 – The exports reached slightly over 50 million liters, matching the previous high from 1985.

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