While pop-ups are a trendy concept in today’s restaurant scene, temporary dining spaces have deep roots in Austria. From April through September, it’s not just the vineyards in the wine-growing regions that teem with life; the wineries themselves open their doors to guests and transform into boisterous heuriger.
These neighborhood spots serve as convivial gathering places. Here, the atmosphere is light and joyous as everyone enjoys the brief respite from hard vineyard work. The name heuriger, which in German means “this year’s ___” gives a self-explanatory overview of the menu. Owners pour young wines — nothing that’s been in the cellar longer than a year. Fresh grape juice and sturm, which is juice in the process of fermentation, may also be available. The food is simple yet satiating: meats, cheeses, seasonal vegetables and hearty breads accompany the quaffable wines.
The traditional tavern, also referred to as a Buschenschank, dates backs to 1784. A Lord in a small country town monopolized the offerings at local inns by ordering the innkeepers to serve only wine from his winery. Emperor Joseph II stepped in and issued an ordinance which allowed civilians to sell homemade drinks and foodstuffs without a license. This new format presented opportunities for burgeoning winemakers to showcase their wares. Over time, these “tasting rooms” evolved into the modern iteration of a heuriger.
Given how much work it takes to run a restaurant today, what’s the appeal of opening a hueriger for a modern winemaker? For Stephanie and Eduard Tscheppe, owners of Gut Oggau, the reasoning is layered but simple: share their philosophy through tradition.
Walking up to the winery’s light-strung patio on the closing night of Gut Oggau’s heuriger last fall, I was immediately drawn in by the last-days-of-vacation vibe that rode in the wind. We first toured the small on-premise winery and cellar.
Gut Oggau has risen to cult status in the natural wine world; its iconic labels — portraits of fictional characters with distinct names and personalities created by the Tscheppes — are instantly recognizable at any trendy wine bar or restaurant. The small production relies little on machinery and heavily on human hands.
After, we gathered around the rough-hewn wood table in the charmingly rustic dining room, which was soon laden with platters of hearty breads and a range of cheeses. We passed baskets of rainbow-hued crudités and pierced slices of silky charcuterie with our forks. Into the little pots of paté our knives went. Pickled things, creamy things – we devoured it all.
Of course, the wine flowed. We would pause with each new glass to discuss the process of winemaking and their inspiration for each cuvée. Talks about cultural differences, politics, and personal revelations wove themselves between sips. At the end of the night, we tipsily went back to the hotel, knowing the hueriger was closed for the year and Stephanie and Eduard would wake up early in the morning to get down to the serious business of winemaking.
“Yes, it is a lot of work, but we love hosting people and friends,” they later wrote in an email. “We encourage people to come and see us on our place, because you can understand the philosophy and our vision much better.”
Natural winemaking, which often imparts traditional winemaking methods, dovetails with the legacy of the heuriger. For winemakers like Stephanie and Eduard, it’s a way to honor their heritage while bringing a personal point of view to the wide and evolving world of wine.