The Main vein (Franken, Germany – Day One)

Ask most Germans and they will agree that Frankfurt is a pretty boring, mostly functional/financial city, and serves as mostly a transportation hub to Europe and the world. So it was with no regret that I left after only one day in Frankfurt for Franconia, one of the most traditional regions in Germany. Thankfully the weather started to get a bit warmer, but still didn’t get to zero degrees. Today it snowed again, which made this region look gorgeous with forests and vineyards covered in white. The Franken region in northern Bavaria sits on the banks of the Main River, which used to be much bigger several million years ago. As such there are large deposits of alluvial soils and limestone in different areas, and make the cultivation of grapevines on the mostly south-facing banks perfect for a range of varieties, including riesling, sylvaner, muller thurgau, spatburgunder, weisburgunder and more. The region is very large, and there are three major areas for viticulture; the Mainvierick (Main Square) in the west; the Maindreieck (Main Triangle) and the Steigerwald.

Escherndorfer Lump vineyards of Weingut Horst Sauer

Like many in the German wine industry, the family of Horst Sauer has been growing wine grapes for many generations, with their vineyards in Escherndorf part of the Maindreieck part of Franken. This area has long had a reputation for the quality of their riesling and silvaner, with the Escherndorfer vineyards having Grosses Lage status in the VDP system. It wasn’t until the 1970s that Horst decided to start making wine under his name from his own fruit, and has received much praise from his peers and critics alike. Most wineries in the Franken sell at least 75% of their production within Germany, and a large proportion of this direct to consumer. Horst Sauer wines are no different, with loyal customers calling constantly to find out when the new vintage will be released. The winery is built into the hill and uses gravity to minimise handling the fruit and juice, and the wines are fermented predominantly in stainless steel tanks. The limestone in the soil, famously found in Burgundy, adds an interesting and unique dimension to the riesling and silvaner varieties. Before coming to Germany I’d rarely tasted silvaner, and don’t think I’d ever tasted muller thurgau, but of course I had heard of them through my studies. It was good to start with wines made from these varieties then, particularly as they are very important for the Franken region. Click here to read my thoughts on the tasting.

Weingut Horst Sauer

Way down south-west about an hour from Wurzburg, is the Maindreieck area of the Franken, which as you could imagine has a distinctly different terroir, with different soil types and microclimates  The area is famous for the quality of its red wines, dominated by spatburgunder, but also the rare and difficult frueburgunder (young burgundy). It is here that Rudolf Fuerst has carved out a reputation as one of the best producers of red wine in the country, but doesn’t seem to get the same attention as his contemporaries in Burgenland. The soil types here are richer and deeper than in other parts of the Franken, varying between red sandstones, marl and gypsum. This makes it ideal for cultivating the red varieties in such an extreme climate, and contributes to their depth and consistency. Rudolph de-stems his red fruit and leaves the berries to soak for at least a week under reductive conditions to gently capture the subtle aromas. The must then begins a gentle fermentation with pigeage and pump-overs to extract the subtle tannins, before gravity-fed racking and completion of fermentation in barriques. This non-oxidative gentle handling protects the delicate aromas and tannins, and ensures that they are in the best condition by the time they are bottled. I joined a lovely group of Irish trade visitors for a tasting with Rudolf, but joined them when they were moving onto the reds. The winery also produces some exceptional riesling wines, which I went back to after tasting the reds once the rest of the group had left. Click here to read my notes.

Centgrafensberg vineyards

Wurzburg, the historic centre of the Franken region houses a number of old traditional wineries. On the south-facing hill is where the majority of vineyards are found, as well as a number of wineries, including Weingut am Stein. A very successful winery in the domestic market, they produce a number of varieties in several ranges. Wine tourism is an important business in a number of German wine regions, particularly as a large proportion of the wine is sold direct to consumers. As such Weingut am Stein has a world-class modern vinotek, as well as a well-regarded restaurant. I visited without an appointment as they are open to the public, but happened to visit whilst they were hosting a large group of trade customers. They were nice enough to show me some of the wines, almost all of which are sealed under screw-cap, and many of which use the traditional bocksbeutel. The Weingut am Stein wines are all very good representations of their variety and region, showing good purity, freshness and approachability. They aren’t exceptional quality, but the Franken region does not produce a lot of outstanding wine. Click here to read my tasting notes.

Weingut am Stein vinotek

Click here to see more photos from Day One in Franken, Germany.

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