As a part of our program we have to do some community service work. Lucky for us, the Institute has some good connections and Friday we were given the chance to work in a vineyard run by Josef Regner.

We woke up early that morning so that we could catch a train that would take us about 45 minutes outside of Vienna to the Weinviertel, which means wine quarter. It was promising to be a good day, but we were all a little nervous about what we would be doing. From what I’ve heard, harvesting grapes is a delicate process and so I thought that perhaps we might only get to watch as the professional workers picked the grapes.

As soon as we arrived, I realized that I had been dead wrong. In a rush, we all piled into a van, which was driven by Josef’s wife Anita and co-piloted by her dog, Lila. She drove us directly to the field. Right as we got out we were given clippers for the vines, quickly shown how to cut the grapes and then we were off!

The first field we worked in.

It was one of the most enjoyable ways to spend a Friday. The sun was shinning, we had a wonderful view, and every once in a while we were able to taste the delicious grapes. All around us were other workers, some were from Austria, but others were also from Slovakia and Hungary. We ended up working for about two hours straight and probably got around six rows done. It was really soothing to stand out in the sun and cut grapes, just working with our hands and not really thinking about much else.

By the end of the first session my hands were completely covered in grape juice and super sticky. Everyone piled around the van and we all took turns rinsing off our hands with water from a bucket.

All the grapes we picked! With everyone working together we must have gotten at least three wagons full of grapes by the end of the day.

We all had to pile into the back of the van, which was really dark and had a tiny lightbulb in the corner that lit only a portion of the van. While we drove, I talked to a couple who lived one town over. They were really interested in the wine grown in Oregon and also about our stay in Austria. Soon we arrived at the Heuriger, which is a small specialized tavern in Austria and serves new wines. When we arrived Anita had cooked us pumpkin soup, lasagna and a variation of vegetable salads.

Below is only a portion of the Heuriger. There is a house to the left and also a little shop out of sight. The actual dinning area was quite large and could have probably fit 50 to 60 people, but we were all able to fit at one table. They also had a little garden with pigs in a pen.

After lunch we headed back out to work, this time we worked up on a hill, which gave us a wonderful view of the entire valley. While we worked, Anita’s grandfather kept us company, telling us about friends and family he had in America and also scaring us with a giant grasshopper. He was the perfect example of a cute old Austrian man. He wore a little hat with a feather in the side and he was a little hunched from all the long years working in the fields.

From our vantage point we could see a little bit of Vienna off in the distance, but mostly our view consisted of rolling fields of grass and pumpkins.

After another hour or two of work we headed back to the Heuriger, finished with the day’s work. We had a delicious cake for dessert and afterwards, when everyone else had left, the grandfather was kind enough to show us around the town. We walked up the one hill in the entire town, passing by the school (which is apparently where he was born) and headed towards the wine cellar.

To get to the wine cellars all we had to do was walk down Kellergasse, which means cellar alley.

When we arrived the owner of the vineyard, Josef, was a little busy cleaning the cellar, so the grandfather led us around the back. As soon as I rounded the corner I felt like I had been placed on the set of The Hobbit, we were led up a small pebbled trail towards a tiny door placed in the side of a hill. Once we went inside we walked down steep stone steeps to go down into the cellar.

The entire cellar was made completely out of dirt. I touched one of the walls and it was moist and earthy. The tunnels leading to each individual cellar we small, long and dark, only lit by little bulbs at our feet.

We were led through the different sections of the cellar, one had fermenting tanks, one with barrels full of wine, one was a room with a giant table, a fireplace and a cool midlevel looking chandelier and another had bottled wine just waiting to be tasted. Eventually, we reached another flight of steps leading back outside and I was surprised to find that we had basically walked through the entire hill.

  After entering the cellar at a completely different spot, we came out of the ground using the door through the second house on the left.

We then got to taste test Sturm, which is wine stopped early in the fermentation process. Sturm is one of Austria’s specialties. It is low in alcohol content, looks a little foggy, and can either be sweet or sour. While we drank we watched the grapes we picked go into the cellar.

After test-tasting we thanked both Josef and the grandfather and headed to the train station. To our surprise it was already 5 in the afternoon! We were all exhausted, but full of delicious food, Sturm, and the satisfaction of a hard day’s work.