Wine is an integral part of Vienna – just like St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Schönbrunn Palace and the Vienna Boys’ Choir. Viennese wine is not just to be found in the traditional heuriger. It is in the process of conquering the entire city.
Vienna and wine are inseparable. Vienna is the only world capital to produce significant quantities of wine within the city limits. And wine cultivation is one of its hallmarks. But there is more to Viennese wine than that – it is an economic factor, a defining element of the urban image, a contribution to the urban eco-system but also to people’s wellbeing – for both the Viennese and the guests to this city. For years wine was almost only associated with the heuriger, the typical Viennese wine tavern but in the meantime it has almost become a household word. Vienna is becoming ever more established as a wine-growing region. Each year Viennese wine is the central focus of numerous events and has become a fixture in many wine bars, wine shops and inns of the city. In short: Viennese wine is readily available and can be enjoyed at many spots in the city.
Traditionally, Viennese wine is drunk at the heuriger. Today’s wine tavern law goes back to an ordinance issued by Emperor Josef II in the year 1784. It allowed wine growers to serve wine produced in their own vineyards. A place where the Viennese heuriger wine is offered can be recognized by the “Ausg’steckt” sign and the fir branch which also indicates that the tavern is open. These two symbols also guarantee that only self-produced Viennese wines are served here. The relaxed atmosphere, the gardens on the edge of town, the good wine and the tasty delicacies make the heuriger a popular destination for a diverse public. The word “heuriger” also has a second meaning. It is used to refer to wine from the current year which is “christened” on St. Martin’s day (November 11) before being receiving the title “Altwein” (old wine) on the same day a year later.
Vienna is not only a province and the capital of a province. It is also wine-growing region in its own right with a wine-growing surface of about 700 hectares and average annual production of 2.4 million liters. About 80% of the area under cultivation is covered with white wine vines. Wine types such as Riesling, Weissburgunder, Grüner Veltliner, Sauvignon Blanc and Gelber Muskateller produce distinctly fruity and elegant wines. A growing number of Viennese winegrowers are producing red wines, in particular Zweigelt and St. Laurent along with trendy international types such as Merlot, Pinot noir and Syrah. The Viennese wine is influenced both by the Pannonian climate contributing to its maturity and the cool winds from the north lending it fresh and fruity notes. A perfect interplay of forces, producing fruity-elegant wines that are fun to drink and are the perfect accompaniment to a heuriger snack or Viennese cuisine.
Viennese winegrowers are also producing excellent bottled wines that are very popular in Viennese restaurants. Regular awards at samplings organized by renowned specialist journals and at the SALON Austrian Wine confirm the high quality of these wines. In the leading wine disciplines Riesling and Weissburgunder Viennese producers have often presented the country’s best wines.
Precisely due to its proximity to the city Viennese wine growers see an ecologically sound and sustainable cultivation of their vineyards as an especially concern. Some even go one step further. Leading Vienna wine grower Fritz Wieninger made the switch to biodynamic cultivation, and the Hajszan Neumann winery also uses the same method. Jutta Kalchbrenner (Weinbau Jutta Ambrositsch) has also experimented with biodynamic cultivation in several vineyards. This means refraining entirely from systemic fertilizers and instead using natural extracts for plant protection, such as teas that serve to strengthen plants in the wine gardens in the tradition of homeopathy.
One specialty among Viennese wines is the so-called “Field Blend” (“Wiener Gemischter Satz”). Already in the 19th century when in most of the other Austrian high-yielding winegrowing regions were produced, Viennese winemakers focused more on quality grapes such as Riesling, Rotgipfler, Weissburgunder and Traminer. They were mixed with grapes of different varieties and planted, harvested and vinified together. The resulting wines were not only very multi-layered and complex, merging various qualities such as freshness, fruitiness and rich body. They also meant secure yields for the winemaker. Given the different bloom times of the grapes even unfavorable weather conditions during the bloom period never endangered the entire harvest but only specific grapes. After having been hardly visible for a very long time as a simple wine from the tap at heuriger, the field blend is now experiencing a sort of renaissance in recent years. This very typical, characteristic Viennese wine is sold as a light and succulent wine but also as an intense, complex top bottled wine.
Vienna’s best and most active winemakers joined forces in 2006 to create the group WienWein (www.wienwein.at). The members of WienWein share an uncompromising commitment to quality, and enthusiasm and commitment to wine which go far beyond the rim of the glass. Together they are seeking to define new quality standards for Viennese wine, to reveal its special character and to disseminate this message both nationally and internationally. The WienWein group is made up of winemakers Rainer Christ, Michael Edlmoser, Fritz Wieninger, Weingut Cobenzl – the winegrowing estate owned by the City of Vienna – and the Mayer am Pfarrplatz winery.
From the beginning, a major interest of the group has been to revive the classic Viennese field blend (“Wiener Gemischter Satz”). A special regulation for the Wiener Gemischter Satz, defining its profile, entered into force in April 2011. It stipulates that the wine must be 100% from Viennese vineyards, planted with at least three grape varieties, which are harvested and processed together. No single variety should make up more than 50% or less than 10% of the blend.
The work of WienWein is based on sound reflection – external wine experts are consulted to focus on the quality of wine and on the contents and strategies for group activities. At the same time the winemakers present their wines at numerous events, engaging in a dialogue with experts and the public to convey their highly personal view of Viennese wine. Their creed could be summed up as follows: “Viennese wine is simply more!” Once a year the winemakers from WienWein present their wines at carefully selected Viennese venues.
In 2009 the group planted a 1,000 square meter vineyard in the Schlosspark in front of Schönbrunn Palace, in an area that had been cultivated for wine production until the mid-18th century. A special Schönbrunn wine harvest festival was held to mark the first grape harvest in fall 2012.
Based on long-standing traditions wine cultivation in Vienna has undergone rapid modernization in recent years. A visible sign of this are the architecturally sophisticated cellar constructions and heuriger built in a new contemporary style. The special location in the city required that already existing buildings be sensibly connected with new functional constructions. An example of this is Fritz Wieninger in Vienna-Stammersdorf who had an old monastery cellar restored and combined with a radically modern designed working wing. Also worth seeing is Rainer Christ’s vinery and heuriger in Vienna-Jedlersdorf. With a lot of stone, exposed concrete, glass and wood a new cellar building was constructed that meets all the demands of today’s wine production. In addition, a new, simple but inviting heuriger area was designed and constructed, creating an appealing contrast to the existing, traditional heuriger. Stefan Hajszan, owner and manager of the Hajszan Neumann winery and wine restaurant in Vienna’s Heiligenstadt district, focused entirely on transparency. From the guest rooms one has a free view of the extensive brick vaults of the cellar and into the winepress. Thus one can witness the production of wine close-up, while enjoying one glass or more of it.
Two examples of a modern interpretation of the classical heuriger are Hans Peter Göbel’s tavern in the Stammersdorfer Kellergasse and Johannes Wiltschko’s tavern in Vienna-Mauer. Göbel, an architect by training, planned the interior design of his tavern. He replaced dark wood and baroque elements with simple and clear lines. Wiltschko went one step further. Looking out on the vineyards one sits here in Vienna’s first “heurigen-lounge” in comfortable seats and on leather-covered corner benches. There is also a sit-down bar in the center of the room. Guests feel good here since the selection of materials and sophisticated lighting effects create a cozy ambience.
Wine has existed in Vienna for more than 2,000 years – but it is only in recent years that the Danube metropolis has blossomed into a wine city. The noble nectar is at the center of a number of events in traditional wine-growing locations in Vienna such as Stammersdorf, Grinzing or Sievering but also the center of town. When the heuriger wine taverns re-open after winter in mid-March, the spring is ushered in with wine tastings, hikes during the vine bloom season and musical events at heurigers ranging from jazz brunches to folk music and so-called ‘Schrammel’ music evenings. In April Viennese winegrowers open their doors to wine buffs as part of the Wiener Winzertour, which gives an insight into the world of Viennese winegrowing. Producers also offer a number of special cellar door promotions.
The highpoint of the wine year is the Viennese Wine Prize, awarded at the end of June, and the subsequent Wine Days in the Arcaded Courtyard of the Vienna City Hall. As part of a festive ceremony the province’s winners are personally congratulated by Mayor Michael Häupl. The guests then have three days time to enjoy Vienna’s best wines along with selected delicacies prepared by Vienna’s top cooks. Summerstage on the banks of the Danube Canal is the venue for the Weinkulturfestival in July. Presentations of selected wines, tasting menus and readings are just some of the highlights lined up at the special wine pavilion. In October, the “Young Viennese” are the first harbingers of the new vintage, luring scores of visitors to the city’s heurigers and wineries (information on events linked to Viennese wine can be found at: www.wienerwein.at). The Vienna Wine Hiking day takes place at the end of September, in the 19th and 21st districts. Along the way, wine growers treat visitors to Viennese wine and culinary delicacies.
Vienna not only offers a backdrop for Viennese wine. It is also a regular stage for international large-scale events. In a two-year rhythm the wine scene gets together at the international wine fair “VieVinum” in the noble setting of the Vienna Hofburg (www.vievinum.at). And with the “AWC Vienna” International Wine Challenge the engaged wine grower Michael Edlmoser has launched the largest wine sampling and award event in Vienna. The winning wines are presented each year in fall at a major event in the ceremony hall in the Vienna City Hall. (www.awc-vienna.at)
Grape seed findings prove that already the Celts and the Illyrians produced wine 500 years B.C. in the Vienna area. But only the Romans introduced cultivated wine growing to the city, by planting quality from Italy on the existing vines. Emperor Probus (232-282 A.D.) lifted the ban imposed on the areas north of the Alps and allowed his legionaries to plant grapes and cultivate wine. There are hardly any written records documenting wine cultivation in Vienna after the Roman Period but in the late Middle Ages the largest part of the later Viennese districts were planted with vines. Vienna’s citizens already had wine garden inside and outside of the city in the 12th and 13th centuries and these continued to exist to the 16th century.
Thanks to the proximity of the wine gardens to inhabited areas a special kind of wine sale – the so-called “Heuriger” – evolved very early in time. It is not entirely clear when the first heuriger opened but we do know that already then wine was served in the cellars and bourgeois homes in and right outside the city. With the growing construction following the Turkish occupation of 1529 and the big reconstruction after the second Turkish occupation of 1683, the heuriger tavern was increasingly moved to the outskirts where it is still concentrated today. There was a lot of wine consumption in the Middle Ages – according to estimates it was six times higher in the late Middle Ages than it is today! Alone in the wine taverns an average of 120 liters per capita of the Viennese population was drunk towards the end of the 16th century. This heyday was followed by gradual disillusionment. The cultivated wine surface and wine consumption continued to decline and in 1815 the Viennese ‘only’ drank 87 liters per capita. In 1870, shortly before the vine pest disaster, consumption had even declined to 40 liters which was also a result of the tightened tax policy, the introduction of the retail measure for wine and the growing competition of coffee and beer.
Due to both world wars it took a long time for viniculture to recover after the vine louse disaster. Thanks to consistent protection measures introduced in the Viennese vineyards and a general upswing in quality Vienna wine is once again flourishing.
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