Seasonal Wine Taverns
Bouquets, hedges, brooms
The Straußwirtschaften are an indispensable part of German wine culture and a centuries-old tradition. They can be found everywhere in the wine regions - sometimes in the garden of a winegrower's courtyard, sometimes in a rustic barn and sometimes as an elegantly furnished parlour or even in an old cross vaulted cellar. There is probably no other form of catering that is as quaint, down-to-earth and at the same time contemporary and modern as the seasonal wine taverns of German vintners.
"Anyone who travels in the German wine regions should definitely visit a Straußwirtschaft," recommends Ernst Büscher from the German Wine Institute (DWI) in Mainz. "Here you can taste wines directly from the winemaker, and get to know the culinary specialties of the region," said the expert. In such an informal, sociable atmosphere, you quickly connect with the winegrower and the people from the region and learn a lot about wine, the country and people.
Brooms, hedges, bouquets - the name for the seasonal wine tavern is very different from region to region, however, the origin is common to all: as a sign that the tavern was open, the winemaker hung a bouquet, broom or wreath on the gate. In western Germany, the taverns are still called Straußwirtschaften after Strauß meaning bouquet or bunch. In Baden and Württemberg they are called Besenwirtschaften or Besenschänken, Besen meaning broom or brush, so here, brushwood above the entrance was the invitation to enter. In the Lake Constance region the name Rädle or Rädlewirtschaft is common, and in Franconian the name Heckenwirtschaft is common, but this has nothing to do with hedges (Hecken): the term comes from the Franconian "Häckers" - and simply meant the winemaker.
"The food in the wine taverns is usually kept simple, as stipulated by the law on restaurants, in which the tavern is regulated," explains Büscher. Regional dishes in particular are offered, which are not always served warm. In addition to the Vintners Platter and cheese plates, each region offers their own local accompaniment. In Rheinhessen and the Rheingau, this is often hand-made cheeses with onions, spices, oil and vinegar (Handkäs' mit Musik or Spundekäs), in the Pfalz it is liver or blood sausage, and in the Baden region sometimes an ox-tongue salad.
Steak, fried potatoes and Flammkuchen (thin pizza with fresh cheese and onion) can be found almost everywhere, but more recently many wine taverns have extended the culinary offerings: from an asparagus menu in spring, to salmon trout fillet, to grilled dishes and game to an autumn menu that would satisfy any gourmet.
To this day, the Straußwirtschaften have for the most part retained their individuality and this applies above all, to their opening times: whether on a daily basis, only at the weekends or only for a few weeks at a time - the range of hours is as great as the number of taverns. Therefore, it is highly recommended to look at the opening times before visiting. Simply check the regional internet portals - or do it the old-fashioned way: stop wherever the bouquet, broom or brushwood hangs on the gate.
1,200 year-old tradition after Charlemagne
The tradition of Straußwirtschaften is more than 1,200 years old and probably goes back to Charlemagne. According to legend, in a decree from 812, the winegrowers were allowed to operate "wreath inns" - in other words, inns that were identified by a wreath made of vines or ivy. This ordinance was called Capitulare de villis vel curtis imperii, but it became famous not for the Straußwirtschaften, but as a decree with detailed regulations on the administration of crown estates. Nevertheless, winemakers in all parts of Germany still rely on this long tradition of being able to serve their own products from the winery or yard.
To this day, a Straußwirtschaft still refers to a seasonal wine tavern where a winemaker can serve their self-produced wine on their own premises. Its name comes from the bouquet (Strauß) with which the winemakers used to signal that they were open: if the bouquet hung at the gate, you were welcome to enter. To this day, winegrowers in all thirteen wine-growing regions of Germany follow this lovely tradition. It is particularly widespread in the west and south, unsurprisingly, as Charlemagne issued his decree from his imperial palace in Aachen.
State restaurant laws regulate wine taverns today
There are at least a few hundred Straußwirtschaften still today in Germany, however this can only be an estimate. The reason lies in their individual character and in the German restaurant law, which gives the Straußwirtschaften great freedom. According to the law, such a tavern has to notify the authorities just two weeks in advance, then it can usually remain open for a maximum of four months, either continuously or in two periods of the year. This explains the seasonal nature of these wine taverns.
As a result, small businesses are usually open for one to two months in spring and again in autumn around the time of harvest, i.e. in September and October. However, there are different rules in the respective regions, because the federal states are responsible for the regulation of restaurants. In spring 2012, for example, the Hessian state government gave the Straußwirtschaften greater leeway and abolished restrictive regulations, such as the limit of 40 guests.