Hannes Richter

The Heurigen Tradition

Hannes Richter

Walking through a charming town in one of Austria’s numerous wine regions in late summer, one will sooner or later come across a curious sight: a bundle of twigs or branches fastened to a door or a house wall.

The sound of merry laughter might be heard coming from inside the building or its backyard, where a scene of intimate conviviality will present itself: deliciouslooking food and plenty of wine on long wooden tables, surrounded by a crowd of lively chatting people, enjoying the delicacies and each other’s company.

The so-called Buschenschank, a rustic, inn-like place, whose name points to the typical bundle of twigs (Buschen) that can be found at its entrance, is an integral part of Austrian culture. The bundle signals that the Buschenschank is open, welcoming people to enter. Frequently, a Buschenschank is also called Heuriger, which is German for “this year’s”.

The name traditionally refers to this year’s young wine, which can be purchased by the glass or in bottles. During the time when grapes are harvested in late summer or early fall, fresh grape juice (Most) as well as older grape juice in the process of fermentation (Sturm) are also served. Sturm can be more or less spirituous depending on its freshness and its sugar content.

In addition to these delicious and appetizing drinks, a variety of mostly cold snacks is offered. Cheese platters with a selection of different hard and soft cheeses, and oversized slices of bread with various spreads can be found at almost every Heuriger.

In the past, people would even bring their own meal to enjoy with the wine at a Heuriger. Musical entertainment in these places is also very special. Usually any kind of taped music is shunned. The visitor of a Heuriger will find local musicians (mostly on guitars and accordions) play their assortment of traditional Viennese songs, which usually revolve around good wine, its consumption, and the singer’s affection for the charming and beautiful city of Vienna.

So how did this most cherished Austrian tradition come into being? Today, its origins are unknown to many of the younger generations. In fact, the history of the Heuriger begins with an ordinance issued by Emperor Joseph II in 1784, according to which everybody was allowed to sell home-made food, wine and fruit juice without having to apply for a special permit.

The measure was taken after several inn-owners in a small town in the county of Görz had complained about their Lord, Count Delmetri, who wanted them to only serve wine from his own winery. Wine makers thus started selling their own wine and products in their own houses, often in order to present their latest wine creations to the public.

Of course the typical Heuriger is open only for a limited period of time – after all, vintners also need the time to produce their delicious goods. If your curiosity has been sparked, you can still experience this authentic display of Austrian culture today. Numerous Heurige can be found in Austria’s wine regions. Especially known for its Heurige are the states of Lower Austria, Styria, Carinthia, and Burgenland.

Vienna, too, has a lively Heurigen tradition with a remarkable number of wineries (around 230!) that produce more than 1.5 million liters (or close to 400.000 gallons) of wine. You might enjoy a walk through the famous district of Döbling, where vineyards and Heurige are located on the Kahlenberg hill and allow a spectacular view over the city.

The 830 kilometer long “wine street” in Lower Austria, where Most and Sturm flow in abundance, is also a popular destination for Heurigen-lovers. The Heurigen tradition is one of the many ways in which Austria preserves and celebrates its rich and diverse cultural heritage. One of our most central and cherished values, the Gemütlichkeit, is nowhere more prevalent than in the peaceful, convivial, and relishing atmosphere of an Austrian Heuriger.