How many litres of wine do you think the city of Vienna grows each year?
0? Maybe 50 (from some clever homeowner with a south-facing garden terrace)?
The answer is over 2.8 million. And it’s quality wine, too.
- The only large city in the world with a major wine-growing industry (I think)
- Most wines are regional varieties, like Grüner Veltliner or Blauer Zweigelt
- Most wineries sell locally through the city’s wine taverns (Heuriger)
- See also: Food and drink in Vienna | Vienna Wine Fest
The Viennese vineyards
Wine production has always played an important role in the Viennese economy. When Rudolf I laid siege to the city in 1276, for example, one of his more powerful threats was to destroy the local vineyards.
Today, numerous (mostly small) wineries produce wine within the city limits on about 645 hectares of land. Which might make Vienna the only large city in the world with a major wine growing industry.
(And it doesn’t stop at wine. Vienna provides around two-thirds of Austrian aubergines and cucumbers, as well as about a third of the country’s tomatoes and bell peppers.)
Since it’s hard to grow vines on roundabouts, roadsides and high-rise balconies, you might wonder how all that wine production is possible.
Its largely down to geographical luck. The outer districts in the north and west of the city stretch into sunny hillsides, where the soils are perfect for a diverse mix of grape varieties. Various climatic influences (particularly the course of the Danube river) ensure the right weather conditions.
And these vineyards really are within the city limits: nobody slipped a brown paper envelope to the cartographers, so they’d move the city border out into wine territory. I live in a residential area and the vineyard pictured above is one tram stop away.
White wine typically makes up most of the harvest. While you’ll find your Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, the commonest grape variety is a fairly local one called Grüner Veltliner, popular in white wine spritzers.
Red wines include Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, but (again) another local variety is commonest: Blauer Zweigelt.
Of course the skeptics might question whether any of this is quality wine. After all, you don’t see the word Vienna on too many wine menus in the gourmet temples of London, Paris and New York.
You’d have to judge for yourself, but Viennese wines score well in national wine guides and there’s a hotly-contested annual Wiener Weinpreis (Vienna Wine Awards) with formal evaluations by an independent jury.
In 2020, for example, the city’s state-owned Cobenzl winery took home first prize in the “Grüner Veltliner Grinzing” and “Gemischter Satz Sekt Brut Reserve” categories. So,yes, there’s a civil servant somewhere in Vienna whose official job title is “vineyard manager”.
One reason you don’t see too much Viennese wine outside of Vienna is that the locals drink a lot of it, though some is exported as far afield as the USA. Most wineries sell direct to consumers at the vineyard or through their wine tavern (Heuriger). Local restaurants and supermarkets also stock the regional wines.
Although there are various types, the more traditional Heuriger opens only seasonally, serving local food from a buffet in addition to home-produced wine.
A visit to a Heuriger makes for a very pleasant evening in the summer months and the ones in Grinzing and Nussdorf (both in the 19th district) are particularly popular.
Take a close look at the buffets to discover various local delicacies, too, like Blunzen (blood sausage or black pudding), Grammelschmalz (fried bacon bits and lard) and Kummelbraten (roast pork belly with caraway seeds). “Mahlzeit”, as they say before meals in Austria.