A Straußenwirtschaft1 is a place where a vintner sells and serves his own produce during a limited period of the year. Straußenwirtschafts are very popular and can be found in practically every wine-growing region in south-west Germany and Austria.
History and Tradition
In the early days, vintners had to get their wine barrels empty of last year's remainders, so shortly before the next vintage in autumn, they invited neighbours and guests into their living room to finish off the wine. As time went on, there wasn't enough space, so cellars, barns and/or patios were equipped with tables and benches to fit the needs of hosting lots of people. Nowadays, you can even find extensions built especially for this purpose.
It is said that the Straußenwirtschaft is based on the so-called Kranzwirtschafts. Vintners were given permission to run a sort of gastronomy (selling wine and homemade food on their grounds) by Emperor Charlemagne in 791. This authorisation was displayed by hanging a wreath of vine or ivy above the door.
The Strauß ('bouquet') after which they are named today and which is hung above the door to indicate that an establishment is a Straußenwirtschaft and that it is open, consists of either a small bunch of flowers or a bushel of fine twigs, looking like a Besen ('broom').
Straußenwirtschafts usually don't have to be licensed or pay trade taxes, but there are strict rules to be abided by:
The opening time is limited to a maximum of four months per year; these can be broken into two periods. The planned service times have to be announced at the trade control office in advance.
Vintners are only allowed to sell their own produce and only on their own ground. Wine and Federweißer are the main products. One alcohol-free beverage must be offered, but it has to be something other tap water.
Food has to be simple: bread with lard or cheese to go with the wine, or onion flans served with the Federweißer are most commonly available. Other small, warm dishes like sausages and sauerkraut are allowed.
The number of seats is limited to no more than 40, although nobody has been known to count how many people actually squeeze themselves on the benches or stand while eating and drinking.
Throughout the late summer and early autumn months, many Wein or Winzerfest ('wine feasts') are celebrated in the Straußenwirtschafts and the villages of the vine-growing areas, often with parades, music and entertainment. If the place boasts of a Weinkönigin2, she will generally host those feasts. You can't book places in advance — the motto is first come, first served. Some vineyards offer guided tours through their cellars with a wine-tasting afterwards. However, these have to be pre-booked, especially when going with a group — which is much more fun than going by yourself or with just your partner, anyway.