Vienna now ranks alongside cities like London, Paris and Berlin for adventurous winelovers to dine out in, but it is the only city among these to have its own vineyards, which begin literally at the garden fences of its northern suburbs, on both sides of the Danube. With these vineyards has grown up a very special wine culture, in my view integral to the soul of the city, that of the heuriger and the buschenschank.
Gemischter Satz in hand, cheers from the Nussberg!
You will find web sites and forums which argue the detail of how a heuriger (plural – heurigen) differs from a buschenschank, and I don’t propose to fill half this article running through these arguments. Both are effectively wine taverns which serve simple food. Sometimes.
Josef II became ruler of the Habsburg lands in 1765, and along with encouraging the young Mozart, he enacted a law which regulated the Buschenschank, a farm inn (specifically, run by owners or tenants of a vineyard or orchard) serving home produced beverages and uncooked food. The law still applies to this day. You will often read that the Heuriger is a larger, commercial enterprise, serving wine and hot food. You will soon find that such a definition is an over simplification, but it doesn’t really matter to the tourist. If you see somewhere with a bunch of pine twigs or a branch over the door and you like the look of the place, then go in. The larger establishments will be well advertised.
Most of Vienna’s wine taverns are located on the edge of the vineyards, in suburbs which have maintained a chocolate box village feel, such as Grinzing and Stammersdorf (at least when you walk along Stammersdorfer Strasse up towards the Bisamberg vines). But one of the delights of Vienna is the ease of getting out into the Vienna Woods and the vineyards when the weather is nice. In this article we are going to travel up above the Nussberg and walk down to Vienna, through these woods and vines.
On the way we will explore the summer pop-up wine taverns which open in the vines, some with near perfect views over the city. At the end of our walk we will stop at perhaps the most famous inn of them all.
You can reach the woods in under an hour from the city centre. The U-bahn/Metro line, U4, will take you to Heiligenstadt terminus (note that in summer 2018 engineering work saw the train terminate at the previous stop, Spittelau, with a short ride on Tram D up to Heiligenstadt). From Heiligenstadt, jump on the 38A Bus, which waits right outside Heiligenstadt Station. It will take you along Grinzinger Strasse, then through Grinzing village, before climbing into the woods.
If you alight at the stop before Kahlenberg and cross over the road, there is a chapel set well back in the trees (the Gnadenskapelle – the stop is marked with a red dot on the map below, just before the road name “Höhenstraße” towards the top left, and you can easily follow the bus route from Heiligenstadt on that map).
Before you reach the chapel there’s a nice café, around fifty metres from the bus stop, with outside tables, run by the nuns, where you can grab a coffee before you begin walking. Of course, the truly adventurous can walk up the Nussberg from any point on Grinzinger Strasse, or indeed Nussdorf (where Tram D continues to). If you take the bus up to this point, however, the walking is pretty much downhill all the way.
There is a perfect map of Vienna and its wider area which I would recommend for anyone visiting the city who would like to venture beyond the historic centre. It’s the 1:25 000 map called simply Vienna, by Freytag & Berndt (www.freytagberndt.com). I purchased mine at Stanfords on Long Acre in Covent Garden, London (http://www.stanfords.co.uk).
Heading down the hill from the café, recross the road to where you got off the bus and the path into the trees is obvious. Keep right initially and you will reach a tiny stream, marked as the Wildgrube on the map. You merely follow it through the woods until you eventually almost reach the vines. As the map shows, you will have reached a three-pronged fork in the road. If you take the left fork, uphill a little, you’ll be right in the Nussberg vineyards in a couple of minutes. It is here, at the next junction, that you will then see a map (photo below) detailing the summer popups on the hill.
As the photo of the Freytag & Berndt 1:25 000 map shows, there are several options. If you really can’t wait, the famous Mayer am Pfarrplatz has a very nice popup Buschenschank, Mayer am Nussberg, on the corner of Wildgrubgasse and Kahlenberger Strasse (marked “M” on the map photo), with a big garden at a high point on the hill.
If you continue by taking a right turn onto Eichelhofweg you will soon reach our favourite of the summer popups, Wieninger am Nussberg (marked “W” on the map). Why our favourite? When you see photos taken from the Nussberg vines over the city, it is here that the picture was invariably taken. Sit at a table, or on one of the deckchairs, sip on a glass or two of Gemischter Satz, and wallow in the fresh air and the view.
The Eichelhofweg winds down from the Wieninger buschenschank around the edge of the Nussberg hill. Below is the wide Danube, and the suburb of Nussdorf itself. The last vineyard is Ulm, which if you read my previous article about my morning spent with Wieninger’s Georg Grohs, you will already be familiar with. If you are desperate to end your walk you can head right down into Nussdorf to get the Tram D back into Vienna.
If you are game for more, then keep following the road, keeping right. You can turn onto the Nussberggasse, but the map will show you a previous right turn (at the big wall!) which will take you on a more interesting route via a small track, away from any traffic, through the vines. What you are aiming for is the Eroica Gasse, which travels south from the cemetery marked by two crosses on the map, and which leads you directly to Pfarrplatz.
It is here that you’ll find what might be Vienna’s most famous wine tavern, Mayer am Pfarrplatz, located in the Beethovenhaus (marked “M&P” on the map photo). It gets its name because Beethoven lived in rooms here for a while, from 1817.
Mayer is famous, and as such it will be busy. We’d visited on a previous trip with friends, and they had booked a table. This time we just walked in, and we were quite lucky to find a space, mid-afternoon on a public holiday, at an outdoor table in the vine covered courtyard, although to be fair they will try hard to fit you in. Mayer make their own (very good) wine, including Wiener Gemischter Satz, both under the Mayer am Pfarrplatz label, and Rotes Haus.
To digress for a moment, the fame of the heurigen is perhaps greatest for the time of year after the harvest, sturmzeit (sturm time), when they invariably serve sturm. Sturm is the part-fermented young wine which traditionally cannot be bottled because it is still fermenting (you will find bottles labelled sturm in places like the Naschmarkt in Vienna…hmmm!).
The wine will be cloudy, a bit fizzy, acidic and, for many people, the source of gutrot and a hangover. But it really is a beverage to experience, though not to be precious about, whether at a heuriger/buschenschank in September/October, or at popup stalls around Vienna during the same time, where it is invariably served from half-pint mugs and drunk rather like a thirst quencher.
There was no sturm wine to be had at Mayer in August, but what does make a fantastic, lightly fermented, thirst quencher and re-hydration drink (especially in the unusually high temperatures experienced in August 2018) is himbeersturm. Himbeer is German for raspberry, and raspberry sturm is usually served in a large glass on ice. Few drinks will be more refreshing.
From here you are just two minutes walk from the 38A bus stop back to Heiligenstadt, although you can call for a taxi back to Vienna if you have consumed too much.
The vineyards of Nussberg are the most attractive around Vienna, and having the woods rise beyond is an added bonus here. If you are feeling fit you can even walk through the woods to the famous abbey of Klosterneuberg, with its own vineyards, which lies to the north. But whether you are there in the summer season when the popups operate, or on a cold but sunny day in winter, this is one of the nicest excursions you can make from the city centre, for those just wanting some fresh air and countryside, but especially for wine lovers.
As an alternative to Nussberg you may have made an appointment to go and visit Weingut Wieninger, Vienna’s best known producer, near Bisamberg on the opposite side of the Danube. Close to their winery and tasting room you will find the family’s Heuriger on Stammersdorfer Strasse (the winery is at number 31 and the heuriger at 78).
As I mentioned above, if you continue along Stammersdorfer Strasse you will find a number of heuriger, leading to increasingly small buschenschanks on the appropriately named Kellerweg, which rises into the vines. The Wieninger Heuriger will provide you with a more substantial meal and the chance to drink Wieninger’s range of Wiener Gemischter Satz. It is one of eighteen Viennese restaurants in the “Top-Class Heuriger” scheme.
Opening times are what you need to be on top of for visiting the heuriger and buschenschanks. Places like Wieninger and Mayer’s main locations will only be open Friday to Sunday for some of the year, and so it pays to check their web sites. The main Tourist Office in Central Vienna has leaflets which provide the same information, with more detailed opening times and, if you are quick and they have not all gone, heuriger maps. The summer popups are even more restricted, usually June to August. I was too late for Jutta Ambrositsch’s popup, which finished in July.