On the Vine | Dollhouse Vintage – Urban Vineyard

Vienna’s smallest working vineyard is in the heart of the city

We all know the PR photo stunts: a portly man in a serious business suit performing the unlikely task of shovelling earth, “breaking the ground” for his corporation’s next contribution to the greater global good. Vienna can do this too, except that it’s not a studio shot.

On a grey, cold and rainy October morning, the city’s long-serving mayor Michael Häupl could be seen snipping a bunch of scrumptious green grapes off the vine as a five-piece brass band played on in the improbable setting of Schwarzenbergplatz, the grand, stone-clad plaza off Vienna’s Ringstrasse.

The occasion was the annual harvesting of Vienna’s smallest vineyard, four short rows of somewhat scruffy-looking vines cowering behind the ornate balustrade of Schwarzenbergplatz 2. The 1869 Palais of banker Eduard Wiener von Welten, is now home to such illustrious foreign concerns as Universal Music and Wella haircare.

© Herbert Pfarrhofer
© Herbert Pfarrhofer

The grapes of this ancient vineyard usually produce about 60 bottles a season of Vienna’s signature wine, Gemischter Satz (mixed varieties fermented together – unlike a cuvée, which is a blend of finished wines). The precious vintage is then auctioned off to raise money for Licht ins Dunkel, a charity for children in need.

Despite the freezing rain, Dr. Häupl was his usual jovial self this year as benevolent Landesvater (State Father), making his annual contribution to a product he so famously enjoys.

And others applaud: One recent spoof tweet – with over 25,000 hits – claimed “Michael Häupl was stopped by police, driving with an 0.0% alcohol blood level!” … a crass misuse of the mayor’s responsibility as role model in a wine-steeped city.

Urban vintage

After all, Vienna is the only European capital with 700 hectares (1,730 acres) of vineyards and a substantial wine industry within the city limits. Still, it’s not what it once was: In the good old days, Vienna’s vineyards reached right up to the city walls. But as urban expansion pushed winemaking back to the outer villages, this one tiny patch remained.

According to legend, a faithful servant was granted the right to cultivate wine on the palace forecourt in perpetuity, a legacy still honored through successive generations of political and architectural change.

Given all that, the mayor seemed genuinely pleased to be there, sharing the quirky luxury of a working vineyard in mid-town.

© Gerhard Else
© Gerhard Else

Today the vineyard is part of Mayer am Pfarrplatz, best known for its classical Heuriger in the Beethovenhaus in the 19th district, just off the tourist magnet Grinzing. Mayer am Pfarrplatz is also one of the city’s major producers, filling around 400,000 bottles a year. Bad news for us WienerInnen – nearly a third of Mayer’s wine is exported. The good news: In a year of disastrous weather for most of Austria’s wine regions, Vienna was largely spared. Gerhard Lobner, a 7th generation winemaker and responsible for the Mayer and Rotes Haus vineyards, expects a good balance between quality and quantity.

So while Vienna alone isn’t one of the world’s major producers – those 700 hectares pale beside the huge expanses in Italy, Chile and California – it’s enough for many a cheerful evening in the Heuriger taverns around the city. Even if few mere mortals will ever get to taste a Schwarzenbergplatz vintage, it’s reassuring to know that when it comes to wine, no corner of the city goes to waste.

Vienna’s Smallest Vineyard 1., Schwarzenbergplatz 2, pfarrplatz.at

Simon Ballam
English, studied in NY and worked in London, Düsseldorf, NY, Fankfurt, Prague and Vienna. This covered stints in market research and the film industry, international advertising coordination and strategic planning. Currently business school lecturer and journalist.

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