Heuriger (German pronunciation: [ˈhɔʏʁɪɡɐ]; Austro-Bavarian: (pl.) Heiriga, Heiricha) is the name given to Eastern-Austrian wine-taverns in which wine-growers serve the most recent year's wines and where patrons can experience Gemütlichkeit. These taverns need a special licence. Heurig means this year's (as an adjective) in Swiss German and Austrian German; thus, a Heuriger.
A heuriger has certain limitations compared to a restaurant. Only its own wine is served, and it serves a limited selection of cold food as an evening meal, generally local, homemade products. Many places still provide a selection of small dishes, for example Liptauer spread, various meat or sausage and Semmel (bread roll) dishes or cheese selections. Additionally, a Heuriger is only open for a limited time, usually 2 or 3 weeks, although may reopen again later in the season when more wine has been produced. In areas with many Heurigen, people generally know about the scheduled openings of establishments, through word of mouth or a calendar of the area. Open Heurigen indicate that guests are welcome with a couple of conifer or fir twigs bound in a circle, or Buschen, hung above the entrance door.
In Vienna, many restaurants have the appearance of a Heuriger, but are in fact restaurants with a restaurant licence, where wines from outside sources and even beer and coffee is sold, which would be unthinkable at an authentic Heuriger.
Until the 20th century, it was customary for guests to bring along their own food to go with the wine they drank at the Heuriger. To make an establishment more profitable, in many places, the tavern was leased to other winemakers (Winzer in German). These establishments therefore have the name Winzerstube.
The musical element
Muzak or any other form of pre-recorded background music is strictly taboo at Heurigen. Rather, if at all, music is provided live by normally two Heurigensänger accompanying themselves on (often double-necked) guitar and accordion respectively. Walking from table to table and expecting tips, they will perform on request any songs from their repertoire of Wienerlieder and renderings of Schrammelmusik, for the benefit of all guests present.
The themes of these songs invariably revolve around the quality of the wine, the act of wine-drinking and its consequences, Vienna's beauty, a nostalgic longing for the past, the transitoriness of life, the inevitability of suffering and death at God's will, and, to a somewhat lesser degree, romantic love.
Mass tourism has taken its toll on the music performed at a Heuriger. Visitors from Germany will expect, or at least be happy to hear, one or two songs from, say, the Rhineland, but the Heurigensänger will also try to cater for the tastes of all kinds of nationalities whenever a busload of tourists arrives. Thus, music at a Heuriger has gone a long way since people such as Anton Karas earned a living by playing his zither or Hans Moser interpreted a Wienerlied in his movies.
On 17 August 1784 Austrian Emperor Joseph II issued the decree that permitted all residents to open establishments to sell and serve self-produced wine, juices and other food. Today, of course, Heurige are regulated by Austrian Federal Countries' Laws, like published by Vienna's, Lower Austria's, Burgenland's and Steiermark's legislation.
Well-known areas for Heurigen are Grinzing, Sievering, Neustift am Walde, Perchtoldsdorf, Mauer, Stammersdorf, Guntramsdorf, Gumpoldskirchen, Traiskirchen, Gainfarn, Dürnstein, Langenlois, the Wachau region, Rust, Königstetten, Gamlitz, and Kitzeck.
Another variation of Heuriger is called Mostheuriger, where apple or pear cider is served.
Similar establishments also exist in other German-speaking areas of wine production, sometimes called Buschenschank (Styria), Straußen- or Besenwirtschaft or also Heckenwirtschaft.
Alex Tamayo Wolf’s historic novel Revolution conscientiously depicts Grinzing life, landscape, and culture in the years before the First World War, offering it as a compelling character in the story of a Riesling vintner and his family.