By Joseph Rosendo
December 12, 2014
If you have any doubt that Austrians love their wine, consider the fact that the Viennese vineyards were begun 2,000 years ago and they are the only significant producing vineyards in the world growing within a cosmopolitan center’s city limits. The vines are less than 20 minutes by car, bus or train from the heart of the city.
Austria has four major wine regions with more than 5,000 wineries and 141,000 acres of vineyards. Seventy percent of their production is white wine such as Riesling, Weissburgunder, Sauvignon Blanc, Gelber Muskatteller and the wines made from their national grape, Grüner Veltliner. Bordering the Neusiedlersee (Lake Neusiedl), the Burgenland is Austria's second largest grape growing region. Besides its world famous sweet wines, it produces many of Austria’s tastiest reds, such as Blaufränkisch, Zweigelt and St. Laurent.
In Burgenland, the historic and the modern thrive side by side. Alongside traditional winemaking methods flourishes a new biodynamic philosophy that, among other techniques, allows vines to grow unpruned, uses nonpoisonous Stinging Nettle tea as a pesticide and ages wine in concrete egg barrels. As strange as these new practices may seem, Austrian wines keep getting better. It may be the innovations, or, simply, the winemakers’ passion.
In Austria, wine is celebrated with family, friends -- and strangers. When a wreath made of pine branches hangs from the door to the Buschenschank, a traditional wine tavern, it announces to all and sundry that “the new wine is in!” Along with a selection of young, local vintages, a wooden plank laden with tasty homemade specialties, such as Liptauer, a spicy cheese spread, and a mouth- watering lineup of local Wurst, sausages, is served. Wine, food and music – there’s always a lively accordion on hand -- are all part of the Austrian concept of Gemütlichkeit – a calm, graceful perspective on living the good life.
Burgenland has more to offer than wine. In Austria’s Steppe National Park there’s biking, hiking and bird watching. In the quaint town of Eisenstadt, the province’s capital, visitors meet up with the region’s favorite son – Joseph Haydn. Each September the 10-day Haydn Festival fills the concert hall of the Esterházy Palace with the master’s music.
In the Free City of Rust (pronounced “roost”) the area’s natural, viticultural and small town attractions come together. Rust is the home of the Burgenland’s famous sweet wine, Ruster Ausbruch, a botrytized wine similar to Hungarian Tokaj or French Sauternes. Thanks to the delicate, yet concentrated flavors extracted from hand-picked grapes kissed by “the noble rot”, the wine has been the town’s most important product since the 15th century. In fact, the town’s “free city” charter was bought from the Hapsburg dynasty for “600,000 gulden and 500 buckets of Ruster Ausbruch” – the equivalent of 300,000 liters of wine.
Another of Rust’s attraction is the European White Stork. In the summer months more than a dozen pairs breed on top of the chimneys of the old baroque homes. A symbol of the community, in peace and protection they are allowed to raise their young. Their distinctive “bill clapping” is a ubiquitous summer eve’s melody in the fields and towns along Lake Neusiedl.
Throughout the Burgenland in charming villages like Purbach am See, the wine lover can find a Zimmer Frei, literally translated as a “free room”. It is, in fact, a reasonably priced accommodation in a cozy bed and breakfast. In local restaurants and eateries scattered throughout the region, the traveler can experience the Austrian appreciation of good food, which in the Bugenland is sure to include a plate of Pike-perch accompanied by a wide variety of bean, potato and cabbage dishes.
On a cruise of Lake Neusiedl, the UNESCO World Heritage area, the Austrian synergy between the old and new presents itself once again. In the rusted watchtowers along the former Hungarian cold war border and in the hip urban-style restaurant serving locals and Vienna holidaymakers. Whether it’s old wine, exciting designs, new friends, cutting edge trends, there’s always something wonderful to discover. It’s that combination of the historic and the modern with a dash of the unexpected that makes Austria a dynamic European destination