An invitation from one of the expat groups landed in my inbox offering an opportunity to play Vintner for a Day, harvesting grapes in the vineyards of Manuel Nössing. Of course we went.

Our Vintner, exuberant at all of the volunteer labor who turned out at 0800 on a Saturday morning, about 40 of us in total. Manuel began his Vintner career as a hobby but has now taken on the grapes full time.

Our path to the grapes took us through old Kellergasse of Strebersdorf (now incorporated into Vienna’s 21st district), with the press houses in various states of being, the vineyards growing above them.

Views from the top of Jungenberg, the easternmost (and last) peak of the alps! Not a shabby volunteer work environment, was it?

A “short walk” later (all uphill) we reached the first of the two vineyards we would help him harvest three long rows of Veltliner grapes, a grape common to Austria, Slovakia and CZ. Manuel instructed us on harvest techniques, including removing grey rot, the blech.

Gloves, cutters, and buckets were passed around and we buddy-systemed along the rows to make sure no clusters were missed.

I had a great Buddy.

Manuel mentioned that a bucket can be filled in 5-10 minutes if one is skilled at harvesting grapes. My first bucket at the 10 minute mark suggests I am not skilled; though, in my defense, not only was I trying to do a good job I was also rather busy repatriating the numerous ladybugs that hang out inside the clusters.

And sometimes I had to wait for the grasshoppers to move, too.

All told, the 40 of us harvested three bins of grapes in the first vineyard, in little more than an hour–enough to produce approximately 900 bottles of wine!

Manuel has 20 vineyards in total; the second (and final) one we harvested held Gemischter Satz grapes. Gemischter Satz wines, we learned, are more regulated in Vienna than in other parts of Austria. The different grapes must all be grown in the same row, and there must be at least three different varietals involved in order for the wine to be Vienna-caliber Gemischter Satz. Now you know.

Two different vines of Gemischter Satz grapes.

In return for our volunteer efforts Manuel provided lunch and each participant with a bottle of wine. Unfortunately, though we knew we would be working in the vineyards, we hadn’t anticipated the hiking required to reach the vines and so Tony hadn’t thought to bring his hiking poles. By the time we reached the second set of vines his ankle was causing him serious discomfort, so we harvested just a couple of buckets each before thanking Manuel for the experience and hobbling back into the village, missing what we heard later was an exceptional harvest lunch of pumpkin soup and roast salmon. And outstanding Gemischter Satz.

We made do with lunch in the village Gasthof. But one can never go wrong with Backhendl.

Would we participate again if offered the opportunity? Absolutely. More importantly, though, we now have a serious appreciation for the effort that goes into each glass of the fermented grape juice that we enjoy.