cellar lanes, © Niederösterreich Werbung / Michael Liebert

History and origins of the cellar lanes

Historic facts about the ‘chimney-free villages’.

The history of the Weinviertel cellar lanes is relatively recent. It is not clear when cellar lanes first started to establish themselves, particularly as their emergence differs from region to region.

In the Middle Ages, villages only had cellars belonging to the feudal lord, as well as tithe cellars where the tithes extracted from the winegrowers were kept. At this point the first cellar lanes had yet to appear. The oldest dated cellar found in a cellar lane dates back to the seventeenth century, which suggests that cellar lanes had yet to establish themselves even at this relatively recent point in history.

On the outskirts

As with the mediaeval tithe cellars, the cellar lanes were located close to the vineyards, so that the distance between the vines and the pressing house or cellar was as short as possible. As a result, the majority of them are located outside a town or on its outskirts. Ideally the cellars were dug into the loamy soil of the vineyards, or directly into natural hollows. A number of political developments and reforms gave impetus to the construction of wine cellars and cellar lanes, as increased demand meant that growers needed more storage capacity. These seismic changes included relief for farmers introduced in the eighteenth century (the abolishment of serfdom), inflation and, above all, the end of manorialism in 1848. A significant proportion of the cellar lanes that are still around today were built in the second half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century.

Relocating wine production

As the wine industry began to modernise in the 1950s, growers began to relocate production away from the cellar lanes, since the pressing houses and cellars were no longer fit for purpose. Many cellar lanes fell into disrepair over the decades that followed. Some of the buildings were used as general storage for equipment, while other pressing houses were converted into second homes. Over the past ten to twenty years people have come to appreciate the cultural importance of these cellar lanes. Numerous projects and initiatives have helped to turn cellar lanes into cultural and tourist attractions.