In Vienna, take wine in the hills
Although Vienna’s vineyards are within the city limits, they can seem like a world apart. Among the rows of grapes on the outskirts of the Austrian capital, the sounds and the action of 1.9 million people is replaced by rocky paths, the clap of crickets and a general calm.
That is, until the beginning of September.
As fall and harvest season arrive, the townspeople are enjoying one last bit of summer and heading to the vineyards in their thousands to spend a few more weekends drinking and eating in the sun. To accommodate them, wine taverns called heurigen – a word that refers both to young wine and to the establishments themselves – and buschenschanken. The latter must serve their own wine, made from local grape varieties, and they must identify themselves by writing a branch of pine, spruce or fir in their signage (this tradition dates back to the Middle Ages, when a “wine crier” mark the cellars where townspeople could get wine by pinning a pine branch to them).
“The heuriger is like the Wiener schnitzel,” said Laura Scheybal, who this year took over the management of a heuriger called Der Hirt with several partners. “He has his place in the hearts of the Viennese.
There are approximately 580 hectares of vines in Vienne and 145 cellars. Until the 1970s, people went to the heurigen with their own food. These days, they can instead shop for carefully selected produce – cheeses, meats, pickled vegetables and more – to soak up the wide selection of Viennese wines.
Once the domain of older generations, the heurigen began to attract more and more young people. “In the 1980s, the average customer was 60,” said Paul Kiefer, sales manager of Mayer am Pfarrplatz Winery, which counts composer Ludwig van Beethoven as its only heuriger customer. “Over the past 10 years, we have had so many young people coming to the heurigen, who are 20, 22 years old. They prepare for the match in the heurigen and then go out to the club.
Paul Erker, 35, a physicist, tries to go to the vineyards with friends a few times during the season, from mid-spring to mid-autumn. “There are beautiful views and good wine, combined with light physical activity,” he said. “It’s the perfect combination. You can sunbathe a bit and get drunk, which the Viennese always love.
The heuriger visitor archetype does not exist. “There’s a college professor, a farmer two houses to the left, and the unemployed man who’s sitting there drinking a few cheap spritzers,” said Marco Kalchbrenner, who handles sales for wine company Weinbau Jutta Ambrositsch. , who is named after his wife. “It’s a wild social pond.”
First, get there
Wine taverns are spread across different parts of the city, but several neighborhoods have concentrations that are particularly good for touring the vineyards. The Vienna Tourist Board provides a good overview of these places and notes specific heurigen and their addresses on its website.
Some of Vienna’s most important wineries came together several years ago to create an industry group called Wien Wein. Their website has a list of heurigen and buschenschanken where their wine is served.
A starting point is Nussdorf, a district of the 19th district. From Nussdorf, several roads and trails lead to the Nussberg, a small mountain topped by vineyards. There are many heurigen in this area.
Those whose stamina decreases as their wine consumption increases might consider going to the top of Nussberg and then descending. There are several ways to reach the summit of Nussberg. The easiest, and if you are alone, the most expensive, is to pay for a taxi or an Uber. (Set your destination to Mayer am Nussberg; many drivers know it, and it’s near the top of the mountain. From the center, the trip will cost you 20 to 25 euros or about the equivalent in dollars at the current exchange rate. )
Another option is to take the U-bahn, or metro, line U4 to Heiligenstadt station, from where you can take the Heurigen Express, a small tram that loops through the vineyards. It runs from April 1 to October 31 on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays (except Labor Day, May 1) and costs 9.90 euros return.
If you’d rather get some exercise, take tram D to the Nussdorf stop and connect Mayer am Nussberg to a map app for walking directions. Don’t worry about cutting through the vines on the way up. Everyone does it.
For many locals, part of the appeal of going to the vineyards of the Nussdorf region is the hiking. “At the beginning of autumn, the walking season begins,” said Marlene Maierhofer, 35, a social worker. “People go for long walks and then they want to reward themselves. “I did sports, and now I can start drinking wine and eating something good.”
You will find Weingut Wailand and Der Hirt at the very top of Nussberg; these heurigens are quieter than some of their counterparts. Both serve high-quality wines and dishes including an assortment of meats and cheeses, as well as dips made with items like grammelschmalz, or pork fat and crackers; kuerbiskerne or pumpkin seeds; and liptauer, a blend of cheeses. Der Hirt also serves hot dishes, such as schweinebraten, or roast pork, and leberkäse, which looks like a sausage. A meal and several glasses of wine will cost around 20-30 euros per person.
A short walk down the trail is a trio of popular heurigen: Mayer am Nussberg, Heuriger Sirbu am Nussberg and Wieninger am Nussberg. If it’s crowded, be prepared to queue to order food and don’t expect sparkling customer service. The grumbling among waiters is considered by some to be an indelible part of Viennese culture, and nothing brings out grimaces like a busy day.
Across the road and slightly further down the trail are smaller wine and food outposts, like Monte Nucum Buschenschank and Buschenschank Windischbauer.
The Heuriger experience
Around 80% of the grapes grown in Vienna are white and include well-known varieties like Riesling, Weissburgunder, Gruener Veltliner, Gelber Muskateller and Sauvignon Blanc. A local specialty is Gemischter Satz, a blend of white grapes that are grown, harvested, pressed and fermented together.
Buy a bottle of wine made from one of these varietals, order a cheese platter and a few slices of cake, and display them at a table, or if full, among the vines on a picnic blanket – or simply on the grass. Relaxation is the name of the game. No one will offer you tasting notes here, and swirling a glass mug with a handle wouldn’t make sense.
“You have a drink in one place, hike half a kilometer and there’s another nice place,” said Kiefer of winery Mayer am Pfarrplatz. “Each serves their own wine and different types of food. This brings the whole production process closer to people. If they live in town and they only see the bottle, they have no idea how it is produced.
Kiefer said many winemakers don’t even care if people pull a few grapes from the vines to taste them, as long as they don’t take whole bunches.
A typical drink order at a heuriger consists of a liter of white wine and a liter of sparkling water, and costs around 15 to 25 euros. Customers can make their own spritzers based on their preferred ratios. There are usually many white wines available by the glass or bottle, as well as red, rosé and sparkling options. Locals often opt for the very drinkable “house white”, which costs around 3.50 to 4.50 euros a glass.
For the brave and adventurous, there is another option: the sturm. Available only in early fall, sturm is fresh grape juice that is harvested during harvest and has just begun to ferment. Very sweet, it tastes a little like cider and contains 3 to 5% alcohol. Warning: the name translates to storm and alludes to what can happen to the stomach when faced with more than a glass or two of the drink.
Nussberg’s heurigen and buschenschanken tend to operate depending on weather conditions, so be sure to check their websites or call before you go. You can also make a reservation; many have online booking available.
The town is full of other wine tavern options. Intrepid wine hikers can travel from Nussberg to the Neustift district by following a map app or a city wine hiking map, and will pass many heurigen along the way, including the city-owned Genuss am Cobenzl. A nightcap (or more) can be ordered from Fuhrgassl-Huber Weingut or Weingut Zimmermann, which are about a 10-minute walk from each other and easily reached by taking the 35A bus to Neustift am Walde.
Other parts of the city, including Ottakring, which lies to the west of the city, and Stammersdorf, across the Danube, are also known for their heurigen and are easily accessible from the center.
“Autumn is one of the best times to visit the heurigen,” said Scheybal of Der Hirt. “The trees are changing, the colors are really cool and the light is perfect. Vienna is really lucky to have all these vineyards so close to the city. It’s very special. You will hardly find this in any other city in the world.