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Delhi Wine Club
Visiting Wineries of Franconia

Posted: Tuesday, 21 September 2010 11:31

Visiting Wineries of Franconia

There are around 7000 growers in Franconia. In many villages, there are wineries within the house, some fermenting only for their own use while many others making wine for sale to friends and within their village only. During his 3-day visit last month, Subhash Arora managed to visit five wineries, each with an illustrious past, successful present and promising future in the well-known Bavarian wine region.

Schloss Hallburg Vineyard
1.  Weingut Graf von Schönborn
Schloss Hallburg, Volkach- Franken
Contact: Georg Hünnerkopf, Winemaker and Estate Manager

In Würzburg, it may be difficult to find a local person who has not heard the name of Schönborn. One of the most beautiful and impressive edifices, Schönborn castle in the heart of the city known as Residenzplatz and  apparently 99 such buildings and monuments are linked with the name through the local history of Bishops, Noblemen and Counts. Paul Graf von Schönborn, the direct descent also owns the winery Weingut Graf von Schönborn, which uncorked one of the 1915 Silvaners at the famous tasting last year (read about it in our 404th edition)

For centuries, several important political positions in this region have been held by direct descendents from the Counts von Schönborn. Due to their economic power and construction and their active participation in the cultural life of the area they also influenced the cultural life in Franconia.

Georg Hünnerkopf, winemaker and General Manager working with the Estate since the seventies, has been practically running the whole operation since the early eighties. Everyone’s eye is their vineyard site, Schloss Hallburg where grapes have been grown continuously for 700 years.

The Estate is a member of the 100-year old Association of German Quality Wine Estates, VDP (Verband Deutscher Qualitäts- und Prädikatsweingüter) which reflects the highest category of quality wines produced in Germany. It has 35 hAs of vineyards and produces about 220,000 bottles every year (18,000 cases). They specialize in the signature grape Silvaner, with 35% of their production. Riesling and Pinot Blanc are 15% each while 20% of the other grapes being also white. A small- 5% production is Pinot Noir. The balance 10% is red grapes, mostly used to make pink wines.

Georg Hünnerkopf proudly admits that if it were possible, he would grow 100% Silvaner-with the proper soil and location, it gives the best white wine in the world, he says. Unfortunately, if the selection is not proper, quality grapes cannot be produced either and not all sites are best for the varietal. Therefore, proper site selection is crucial for the grape quality to be excellent.

Schloss Hallburg is the quality wine estate with a castle by the same name, where a very popular restaurant named after the Schloss, with excellent food and ambience, is being run by a former Franconian wine queen. It is situated approximately two kms from the town of Volkach, around which the wine area Maindreieck is located (detailed already in delWine) in the heart of the picturesque Franconian region.

Historically, grapes have been grown on this vineyard site since1284. As Georg explains to me, Jancis Robinson MW who visited the region last year for the historical Silvaner celebrating was extremely impressed by the history of continuous grape growing at this site- perhaps one of the rare examples of its kind in the world.

The wines have recently started to be exported to India through a German exporter and should be soon available with registration process reportedly completed in Delhi for retial and restaurant sales.

2.  Gutsverwaltung Schloss Frankenberg
Weigenheim/ Mittelfranken
Contact: Baron Carl Freiherr von Lerchenfeld, Direktor

If Riesling is the king of wines, Silvaner has to be the queen of wines, says Baron Carl Freiherr von Lerchenfeld who has been the owner of this magnificent old property that was gifted to him by his grand-father. Just like it had been difficult for the former Indian Maharajas and Nawabs to maintain their ancestral palaces due to heavy taxes and maintenance expenses, it would be an ongoing headache to pump in money continuously into the estate every year.

Therefore Baron von Lerchenfeld Baron sold the property including the winery a couple of years ago to a businessman and developer, Roland Belz who owns a company called ‘Aaglander’ which owns hotels and resorts. The new owner is refurbishing the property at a fast pace and is planning to spend an estimated $20 million on improvements and change the property into a winery resort with all the modern facilities including an AAGLANDER, says Baron who continues to be the winery estate manager.

Aaglander- carriage and wine

Leaving the winery on the Aaglander for the vineyard visit with Baron Carl von Lerchenfeld
Aaglander is also the name of the patented carriage (buggy) of the design used in olden days-a couple of centuries ago and driven by horses, except that this is a very luxurious version with GPS, heated seats and a patented steering system that looks like solid horse reins and operates the way you would ‘steer’ the horse. One can travel through the vineyards at a leisurely speed, or visit old cities, golf courses etc.

There are only 35 of them in Germany of this contraption which costs a pretty packet ( I believe about € 100,000) and makes for a unique experience as I had, riding through the hilly vineyards of Schloss Frankenberg. You need a motor driving license since the carriage is licensed to be driven on the roads-although it is designed to drive at a max speed of 15 km/h- so one can get lost in time and have a luxurious relaxed moments.

In order to capture the mood of the nature and the season, the winery has introduced three different wines also with attractive, contemporary labels- ‘Sommerregen’ 2008 (summer rain)- Silvaner Trocken;  ‘Abendstimmung’ 2008 is for the evening mood and is a Dornfelder red with alcohol level at 13.5%. ‘Landpartie’ is a picnic wine, a fun wine with low alcohol of 12% and made from Müller Thurgau.

I tasted 12 wines out of which the tradition wines seemed like very good values, with Domina 2008 and Bacchus 2008 being my favourite red and white wines. The former was very perfumed and complex and a flavour full of black and red cherries with juicy tannins and aftertaste. Bacchus was also very aromatic, with fruity flavours and crisp and long ending- at low alcohol of 12%, it was a delicious wine. Similarly, Nucleus 2008 made from Kerner was very low alcoholic wine with only 9.5% alc content. Baron explained to me that it needed at least 5 years before it would be ready to give its best.

The winery produces three levels of wine-Gutsweine (basic), Traditionsweine (traditional) and Schlossweine (single vineyard or special wine). Interestingly, the basic wine is made in the Bordeaux bottle whereas the traditional wine uses the typical Franconian rounded and flattened bottle- bocksbeutel. The top level Schlossweine uses a Burgundy bottle. The entry level wines- used by restaurants as house pour sometimes, are in 1-liter Bordeaux type clear bottles.

As the Baron explains, the yields vary for different qualities beside the grape quality- the basic one uses grapes with 65 hL/hA while the traditional wine limits the yield to 50 hL/hA. It is the top level wine with 35 hA/hL limit that gives wines of concentration.

The Resort coming up with all the modern amenities will be ready in 2014 and would be an excellent venue also for conferences and weddings. Explaining reasons for his selling out, the Baron says, ‘the property here is so beautiful that I wanted to make it into a great tourist destination. I did not have the financial resources so in that sense it is a dream come true for me.’

I told him it would be my secret dream to have some event management company in India get excited about the location as it would be a heavenly spot and a unique concept to organise a big fat Indian wedding. With the galloping number of HNIs (High Net worth Individuals) it would be a dream wedding waiting to happen! In any case, I am drooling to go back to this wine paradise in 2014 when the resort opens.

3.   Staatlicher Hoftkeller
Residenzplatz , Würzburg

The winery is located in the basement of the famous Würzburg Residence, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage property, built by Prince-Bishop Schönborn, an ancestor of the current owner of Graf von Schönborn. The winery has been in existence since 1128. It was run by the Bishops until 1804, indeed as a majority of them were until then. Through a decry Napoleon forced the church to part with the winery and it came into the lap of the State. Therefore, it has been a state- run winery (imagine the Delhi Government running it!).

It is a living monument since it has some of the most beautiful cellars one may find in Germany and possibly the whole of Europe. A visit to the winery should be in every wine lover passing through Germany through Frankfurt, about 120 kms away-one can reach it within an hour and a half. Not only it is filled with old and ornate equipment and has underground infrastructure, real wine of quality is being produced here.

The owners (the state government) have pumped in a lot of money on the vinothek, which is extremely modern and where the wines made by the company have been decoratively kept on 4 huge slabs of different varieties of stone found in the region.

Although wines can be tasted at the modern vinothek, the regular tastings conducted in the winery during several times in a day and are very popular with domestic and international tourists alike. The basic tour of the winery during several times in a day costs only € 6 and includes a glass with 100 mL wine for tasting. Indian bureaucrats ought to visit the winery with their children-if they are under 16 they are allowed FREE. Of course, they do not get the wine to taste!

There are several tastings throughout the year costing up to €79. The most recommended visit is every Saturday night from 8-11 pm. A visit to the winery lit beautifully in candles, and a tasting of 6 wines with dark bread costs only € 22 and is worth every cent. A visit to the vinothek is also recommended.

4.   Weingut Bürgerspital Würzburg
Theaterstrasse, Würzburg
Contact: Axel Schmidt

There are two major foundations in the city which were built centuries ago to help the poor, destitute, old and homeless-through profits generated by the sale of wine produced in their winery. Bürgerspital and Juliusspital are the two spitals (foundations) also running the wineries Weingut Bürgerspital and Weingut Juliusspital very successfully even today. It may be reassuring to know that every time you drink a glass of wine from these two wineries, you are actually helping the destitute, old and homeless!

The foundation was established in 1316 with a hospital for the sick and travellers. With 110 hAs under its umbrella it produces around 800,000 bottles a year- with Riesling and Silvaner being around 30% each. Müller-Thurgau has been gradually coming down and is now at around 14%. A member of VDP, it makes excellent Rieslings ‘Grosses Gewächs’ –classified by the VDP as first quality dry Riesling, from the grapes grown at the Stein vineyards- which are the biggest single vineyard site in Germany according to Axel Schmidt who did the tasting.

Out of the 5 wines tasted in the short time, I found both the Silvaner and Riesling 2009 as excellent wines with complex flavours and both very fresh, zingy and crispy. The vintage 2009 was excellent for white wines in this region and these wines both from the Stein Hagemann vineyard showed what a good winemaker can do to the grapes in an excellent year.

5.  Weingut Am Stein
Owner-Ludwig Knoll
Contact: Ludwig or Sandra Knoll

Ask any wine journalist or a connoisseur who has a knowledge of Franconia and he would strongly recommend visiting this family winery nestled on the side of city’s most famous vineyard- Stein. It is a ‘must-visit’ winery not only for its delicious, quality wines that one can taste in its modern tasting room but also because the quality has improved a lot over years- since the current owner Ludwig Knoll took over the winery from his father in 1990.

The winery is well worth a visit-also to eat at their restaurant and if one can get a room (there are 3 rooms available for rent), the location is heavenly. The range of wines is wide-starting from the Young Wild collection of vibrant wines for the youth to the traditional ‘Soil Resources’ series in the Franconian bocksbeutel  bottle. ‘The Masterpieces’, however were the Grosses Gewächs- the First Growths as classified by the VDP-of which the wine estate is a member.

The tasting room is an architectural marvel-also providing a beautiful view of the whole city of Würzburg while enjoying the wine. The architect has given attention to minute details including even the toilet from where one can have a solitary view of the city in privacy.

The labeling is very modern and innovative too. In short, the winery with 24 hAs of vineyards, producing 190,000 bottles (about 16,000 cases) and also specialising  in  Silvaner with 28% of its total production accounting for the signature varietal of the region-Müller Thurgau 18%,  Riesling 15% and Pinot Noir 12% being the other main varieties, is one of the three top wineries of Würzburg.

Subhash Arora

Disclosure: The trip to Franconia was organised with the help of Frankenwein, the Association of producers. Hospitality in the city of Würzburg was extended by the Frankenwein and the wineries visited. I am thankful to all those who gave their time-including the Franconian Wine Queen Melanie Unsleber who took me around the wineries and other places of interest on my last day in the city.


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