Heuriger & Buschenschank:
Eastern Austria′s Traditional Wine Taverns
Pretty much every respectable tourist travelling in the wine regions of Austria (in the East or South) will sooner or later end up in a Heurigen, a traditional wine bar. These are particularly popular among tourists in Vienna, who want a dash of rural culture in their urban stay. In principle, there is nothing wrong with that - in fact, I would recommend an evening in a Heurigen myself.
However, most established guide books will send you straight to the middle of Grinzing, where you can swim in vast numbers of Japanese, Germans, Italians and Americans only to realise that this is likely to be the least authentic place in Vienna. Let′s start with a bit of etymology first. "Heuriger" means "of this year" and refers to the wine made in the year. Traditionally, this term was also used for private bars run by local wine farmers, where they sold their own - and only their own - wine.
The term "Heurigen" is not protected, though, and so all sorts of bars call themselves Heurige. This name is common all over eastern Austria, mostly in Upper Austria, Lower Austria and Vienna as well as the Burgenland. In the South, such as Styria or the southern Burgenland, the same institution is called "Buschenschank" and on contrast to "Heuriger", a protected term restricted to a private bar that sells only homemade wine. There are also so-called Mostheurige mostly in Upper Austria and Lower Austria that sell cider instead of wine.
History of the Austrian Heurigen Culture
After the etymology, some history: Once upon a time in the 18th century, a bunch of wine farmers from Görz complained at Emperor Joseph II that the local noble landlord forced them to sell only his wine. In response, the emperor released a law in 1784 that allowed everybody to sell goods, wine and cider from his or her own production. This law was renewed repeatedly in the 19th century.
These events are considered to be the formal origin of the Heurigen; wine sales from the farms has a much longer history, though, and the roots of Heurigen culture go back much further. The Franco-Bavarian law "Capitulare de villis" from 795 regulate the care, treatment and sale of wine and granted privileges for small-scale production and sale. After the history, a bit more on the culture: Traditionally, Heurige were not allowed to sell food items "professionally". Thus many Heurige still sell food only from a buffet - however, they often sell very nice food from this buffet.
They used to be very reasonably priced, but unfortunately, at least this part of the Heurigen culture is history. Most Heurige are part of a cartel or community in which the farmers regulate like guilds at what days of the year a Heuriger is open. Most Heurige could not afford to be open all the time, as the families that run them have to work on the vineyards, too. Besides, the restriction to certain days helps to keep the competition under control.
How to find an Authentic Heurigen
To learn which Heuriger of a village is currently open, you have to look for the "Rauschbaum" ("Tree of Intoxication"). This pillar-like piece of locksmith craft displays small plates with the names of those Heurige that are open on the particular day. Walking by a Heuriger, you can tell whether or not: Watch out for a bush hanging upside down in front of the entrance. This is the sign that the Heurige is indeed open. The local term for a shop that is open is "ausg′steckt", meaning that it has the bush on display.
If you are looking for a Heuriger or Buschenschank, I would advise you to avoid the touristy ones - they come with tacky live music, but lack the genuine atmosphere that they became famous for. In Vienna, the districts or neighbourhoods of Grinzing, Heiligenstadt, Sievering, Neustift am Walde, Stammersdorf, Strebersdorf, Mauer, Oberlaa and Nußdorf are famous for their Heurige.
In Lower Austria, go for Gumpoldskirchen, Baden, Pertoldsdorf, Ebreichsdorf, Heiligenkreuz, Tattendorf,
Mödling, Sooß, Tribuswinkel, the entire
Wachau area, Furth bei Göttweig, Langenlois, Retz, Pulkau, Bad Vöslau,
Klosterneuburg or Martinsdorf. In the
Burgenland, Rechnitz, Deutschkreutz, Rust, Heiligenbrunn, Mörbisch, Oberschützen and Moschendorf are good places. In
Styria, check out Gamlitz, Kitzeck im Sausal, Klöch and St Anna am Aigen for the local variation "Buschenschank".