BBefore we mentally move into the Wachau with a glass of sweet apricot spritzers, imagine how we sit on a church square on a summer day and let our eyes wander along the blue-green Danube over wine terraces and fruit trees, it has to be clarified: Is the famous apricot of the Wachau really so much more than a simple Austrian apricot?

Johanna Kuroczik

Editor in the “Science” section of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.

The “Original Wachau Apricot” is soft orange with red speckles and tastes particularly sweet, despite its acidic nuances. Since 2003, around 220 fruit growers in the Wachau region have guaranteed that only traditional varieties are grown, mainly the “Klosterneuburger Apricot”. The origin of the species Prunus armeniaca lies in China and Central Asia, but with the support of the Roman Empire, apricot has also been native to the Lower Austrian valley for around two millennia. During the day there is Pannonian warmth, the nearby Waldviertel ensures cool nights: This interplay has a direct influence on the taste, according to the EU document on the “protected designation of origin” of the Wachau apricot. But the old varieties are sensitive, says Franz Reisinger, chairman of the “Wachauer Apricot PDO” association – and master of more than 2,000 trees. They usually have their white flowers in March. If it freezes again, the harvest is ruined, it was this year.

A bad year for the apricot

Due to the warm winter, the trees bloomed early, a few days of cold air from Scandinavia in April were enough to shrink the yields in summer 2020 to just five percent of the usual amount. The harvest started last week: The farmers and their helpers now move through the rows of trees several times a day, because the fruits must be picked at the right time. It is ideal if they can be easily removed from the branch. “We actually harvest with the eyes,” says Reisinger. The stone fruit only tastes really good until the next day, it quickly becomes mushy and is then no longer suitable for jam. Growing apricots is always a risk, the fruit grower knows. If it rained, the ripe fruit would burst on the trees, and the already poor harvest would be gone. 2020 is a very bad year for the apricot: this weekend, the residents of the Wachau (together with thousands of tourists) usually celebrate the annual Apricot Kirtag, a folk festival on the church square in Spitz. The mayor praises it as particularly rich in tradition, although it has only been taking place since 1951. But between apricot dumplings, proper apricot schnapps and Wachau wine, such details no longer matter. Because of the corona pandemic, the fruit sweat is now canceled.

Micha Horacek from the Francisco Josephinum Research Center in Wieselburg, Austria, is trying to find out whether apricot is special, even when soberly considered, by isotope analyzes: So whether carbon, acid, water and nitrogen atoms in Austrian fruit are characteristically composed, whose profile is therefore unmistakable and counterfeit-proof is. He actually found a peculiarity in 2017, if not in the boasted pulp, but in the stone. The project is not yet complete – we accept the limits of science at this point and recommend that you do not skimp on the nectar for the best apricot spritzer.