The intangible cultural heritage of the Wiener Heurigenkultur

Wiener Heurigenkultur is a practice that involves the tradition of going to the Heurigen, which resemble wine bars and are mostly ran by families. Apart from drinking wine at the Heurigen, the practice also involves singing or listening to traditional Viennese music – the so called Wienerlied and Schrammelmusik – and speaking in the local Viennese dialect. With its 637 hectares of vineyards and about 100 Heurigen places, the Wiener Heurigenkultur does not only shape the cityscape, but is also an important part of the local collective identity. In 2019, it was put on the Austrian immaterial cultural heritage list by the Austrian UNESCO mission.

Economic terms such as sector, product and industry seem very unusual to the notion of cultural heritage. Although cultural heritage, museums and archives play an important role for the local economy, the social and cultural value of heritage seem more prevalent. Wiener Heurigenkultur is a cultural practice, it is intangible cultural heritage and therefore may not be put into a mere economic context or labeled as a product or service. Nonetheless, there are some products and services involved such as the consumption of wine, food, music and touristic experience. In addition other sectors are involved besides the cultural and creative one, such as agriculture, tourism and gastronomy. The tradition is locally embedded and characterised by its uniqueness and high quality. These aspects generally characterise the sector of cultural heritage: uniqueness, a high level of local embeddedness, local actors and often small scale niche products. As heritage is usually regarded as a public and merit good, the sector is highly institutionalised and publicly funded.

Our approach

As we are interested in analyzing and understanding how this practice works, its contextual embeddedness and its specificities, a number of interviews were conducted with actors directly involved in the (re-)production of the Wiener Heurigenkultur such as Heurigen owners and producers of wine, or musicians playing traditional local music. Other interviews were conducted with actors located in the distribution phase such as a commercial photographer for the wine bottles, or the organiser of a wine fair. Finally, we also conducted interviews with indirectly involved actors, which may seem invisible at first glance but who play an important role to the constitution of the entire network; these include professional associations, supranational entities in the cultural sector, public entities, politicians and archives. All interview partners are located in and around Vienna.


The innovative approach of the production network applied to the intangible cultural heritage sector has enabled us to observe the existence of a range of different phases and actors involved in the practice, organized according to a specific governance model and its spatial footprint.

Creation of cultural heritage takes place in the past and in the case of Wiener Heurigenkultur, its roots go back to the Roman Empire. Many Heurigen places have also been created in medieval times. Hence, it is rather about reproducing, safeguarding and developing certain traditions than actually creating new ones. Applied to the present CICERONE production model, the (re)production phase involves the tradition of making wine and other resources such as bottles, packing material, brand, pictures etc. Important to notice are also indirectly related tasks that may not be that visible at first glance: the administrative and institutional work done by e.g. associations, archives, researchers, policy makers or local politicians. Their tasks are highly relevant for safeguarding the Wiener Heurigenkultur.

In the exchange phase, it is foremost the civil society, but also the Heurigen owners and musicians that play a role. The term civil society fits better than the term consumer because immaterial cultural heritage is something that is not only consumed but actively reproduced and carried by a local community. By going to the Heurigen, drinking wine and singing traditional songs, the tradition of Wiener Heurigenkultur can be maintained.

The spatial footprint of this practice is regionally oriented. Most activities happen in and around Vienna: the wine is locally grown and processed and most other related resources like bottles and packages are supplied by national companies. The only phase that reaches a more global level is the distribution phase, when wine is shipped to other countries or when tourist marketing is done on an international level.

The governance of this practice is rather equally distributed as there are about 100 businesses and many of them are still run by families. In the past few years, one can observe a concentration process taking place and the number of Heurigen has drastically declined – in the 1950s there were more than 500 Heurigen places in Vienna. There are different reasons for the disappearance of Heurigen places, such as too much bureaucracy, missing heirs, a lack of staff, or developments related to the real-estate market as the economic value of Heurigen is significantly rising and owners can be tempted to sell their properties. To that end, there are actors such as the chamber for agriculture, citizens, politicians and associations that play a supporting role in actively protecting heritage and the Heurigenkultur.

The context

Wiener Heurigenkultur is an element of both local and collective identity and offers cultural hubs for music, literature and discussions. It also contributes to social cohesion by bringing individuals together and adds to the protection of nature, as legally vineyards cannot be turned into construction areas but need to be kept as gardens within the city of Vienna. Furthermore, there is significant cooperation with educational institutions, museums, archives, and festivals, which result in the creation of networks and connections between citizens and stakeholders. For all these reasons, we can argue that its social embeddedness is very high; it is an integral part of intangible cultural heritage, as practices and traditions can only be passed on and reproduced by a community.

The locally embedded production system also supports the local economy: although there are currently no concrete figures for employment or revenue available, our empirical research reveals that the Wiener Heurigenkultur contributes to employment, taxes and the support of local tourism. Most businesses are small scale, but there are also larger and successful companies with around 20 employees that sell their wine in international retail shops and win international awards.


The specific approach adopted by the CICERONE project allows us to suggest that the Wiener Heurigenkultur is not something that can be created and produced just as any other product or service, but it is a cultural practice that is inherited from the past and passed on from generation to generation by a local community. The various actor’s main activities do not only include the (re)production of the heritage but also its protection and safeguarding. There are legal frameworks to safeguard all categories of cultural heritage and there are international, national and local actors and associations to protect it such as UNESCO or regional interest groups. In the present case of the Wiener Heurigenkultur there are associations like Wiener Wein, Der Wiener Heurige but also archives such as the Wiener Volksliedwerk and district museums. There are professional collaborations among Heurigen owners and wine makers who established the label “Wiener Top-Heuriger”, which is a self-regulated quality certification for local wine. The city of Vienna proudly supports the Wiener Heurigenkultur and even produces its own wine. Local politicians officially appreciate and protect certain practices to show their political values. The Wiener Heurigenkultur is characterized by its specific territorial and cultural origin, its historical tradition and regional uniqueness. Actors of the Wiener Heurigenkultur make an effort to achieve high quality and create an excellent reputation within their network. Relationships between the actors are long lasting and based on trust, tradition and quality.

It is apparent that the creation and production of cultural heritage, and especially intangible cultural heritage, is also a political process; it shows power relations and hierarchies within a society at a given time. Selecting, acknowledging, interpreting and protecting heritage is mostly done by an elite and autochthone majority group within society. Which practices and artefacts are appreciated and officially acknowledged to be passed on to future generations and who gets represented respectively, is left out?

The CICERONE project has showcased that, although cultural heritage can have an economic impact, such as for example provision of employment, contribution to taxes and to sustainable local economy for small businesses, the economic contribution of heritage is not the only argument for protecting it. On the other hand, there are related industries like cultural tourism, agriculture and hospitality that benefit from cultural heritage, but the economic exploitation of heritage can threaten its existence such as for example through excessive tourism, loss of authenticity, or citizens moving away from heritage areas and selling their properties.

Cultural diversity and uniqueness are crucial to Europe’s rich sector of cultural heritage. Policy implications should always consider the involvement of different actors on different levels. As local associations and representative authorities act as key stakeholders, they must be involved in policymaking. Also, the inclusion and acknowledgment of cultural practices and artefacts of different groups within society, is a step towards the support of cultural diversity.

Written by Olga Kolokytha and Raffaela Gmeiner

This blog relates to a case which is part of the report “Production networks in the cultural and creative sector: case studies from cultural heritage, archives and libraries”. This full report can be access here.

This report is part of work package (WP) 2, which constitutes the empirical backbone of the CICERONE project. WP2 contains case study research that focuses on networked production in eight cultural and creative industries: 1) architecture, 2) archives (including libraries and cultural heritage), 3) artistic crafts, 4) audio-visual media (film, TV, videogames, multimedia) and radio, 5) design, 6) festivals, as well as performing and visual arts, 7) music and, 8) publishing.  The purpose of the case study research is to understand key linkages and mechanisms within real-life production networks in the cultural and creative sector (CCS) and the relationships of these networks to context-dependent variables.

The rich empirical case study findings are used by the CICERONE project to 1) assess which quantitative data are available for mapping these networks – and which not -, and how this data could be augmented with qualitative data as to enable a more accurate measuring of the societal impact of the CCS; and 2) construct a typology of production networks across the CCS (re-reading the current industry-based conception). This typology is then used as the basis for the construction of a policy framework which departs from the concept of production networks instead of separate sectors or industries.

All empirical analyses and findings, and their implications for CCS policy support, will eventually be communicated through an interactive CCS observatory. This observatory, then, is to facilitate ongoing debates on the economic as well as sociocultural potential of the CCS.

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