Last night, a dazzling fireworks display in a seven-hundred year old town square capped off 2 ½ days of serious eating and drinking in the tiny wine town of Retz, Austria. By my decidedly unprofessional estimation, there were more than a couple thousand party-goers belting back “new wine” and scarfing everything from “chile con carne” (note the quotation marks…..this town on the Czech Republic/Austrian border is about as far from Chile Con Carne land as it gets) and pommes frites to hot dogs, “American donuts” and pfandel, a concoction of cubed potatoes, ground meat and assorted veggies cooked together with ample fat in a hot skillet. (In Austria’s Tyrol region, the same hodgepodge is topped with a fried egg and called Groestl.)
The occasion was the annual Weinlesefest (translated from German loosely as harvest) which celebrates the Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay grapes that make this region famous. (The area is officially called Niederosterreich, or Lower Austria.)
Fittingly, the “centerpiece”of the affair was the Wine Fountain that turned the massive stone fountain in the center of the square into a gurgling dispenser of local wines. Revelers (who paid 3 ½ Euros to enter the square) were invited to fill their cups at the fountain for free. Amazingly, we saw no intoxicated people (some very happy people, yes); no broken glasses and no outrageous behavior.
There was plenty of eating, imbibing, singing and dancing (to live rock bands on a huge stage set up in the cobblestoned hauptplatz (town square) on Friday night and all day Saturday. (Folks paid 5 Euros for a very nice wine glass and carried it around from booth to booth filling it with the wine of each family-operated winery.) But the big day was Sunday, which dawned bright and sunny and a remarkably warm (for these parts) 65 degrees.
Throughout the day there were tractor pulls, an auto show, an earnest parade of wagons and farm machinery festooned with fresh flowers and overflowing with the pumpkins and squashes that the town is known for. (More on the famed squashes later this week.) A suckling pig sizzled on a spit in the center of town; a “fashion” show displayed the traditional garments of the area (such as lederhosen); and an arts and crafts program kept the kiddies happy.
Later this week I’ll write about the spectacular biking we’ve done in this picturesque region and the equally spectacular food and wine we’ve enjoyed.