Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Germany Trip: Days 1 & 2

And so it begins. The focus of this German Wine Institute trip to the Franken and Rheingau was Landmarks of Culture. Thus our visits were designed to highlight "locations which document the history and tradition of viniculture, the achievements of the wine industry and the cultural artifacts hereto. At these locations one can find entire villages and wineries with exceptional traditions of wine making, extensive cellars, gigantic wine barrels for decorative purposes and everyday tools, all of which are well worth inspecting." 

Most of day one was spent on the plane. After arriving at the Frankfurt airport and finding the designated meeting spot (conveniently labeled as "meeting spot" on the airport signage), we boarded our bus and headed toward the Franken (Franconia). 

As few Franken wines are imported into the US, it was a region I did not know well. So, I did a bit of research. Before the reunification in Germany, the Franken was the easternmost of Germany's wine-growing regions, with most of its vineyards planted on hilly slopes of the Main River and its tributaries. Würzburg is the principal city of Franken and home of the famed vineyard, Stein. Traditionally, most Franken wines are bottled in a squat bottle called a "Bocksbeutel."  Silvaner and Müller-Thurgau are the main varieties planted. 2010 was a difficult vintage for this region and many others in Germany. Crops were small with most down 30%. Sadly, some growers also reported that due to frosts, they expect their 2011 crops to be reduced as well, some up to 50%. 

Our destination that night would be our "home" for two nights, the small town of Frickenhausen. 

We quickly checked into our hotel and headed out to dinner at Ehrbar Fränkische Weinstube.
After all, we had a date with a queen. The Franconian wine queen to be precise: Sabine Ziegler (note the tiara). It turns out that each of the German wine regions has a queen, who can later go on to compete for the national title. The winning queen then serves as an ambassador of German wine-growers and their products in the course of some 250 appearances in Germany and abroad during the coming year. The competition includes a rigorous oral examination with questions about viticultural and winemaking techniques, as well as wine labeling, packaging and marketing. In addition, each contender in the most recent competition was asked to assist – in English – a “confused foreign tourist” visiting German wine country. Dinner was lovely, if a bit hazy due to jetlag. Notably, we had our first white asparagus of the trip! As it was the tail end of the season, we were able to enjoy this treat daily!

Friday morning we were up early for breakfast and in my case a walk before heading out to a visit at the winegrowers’ cooperative Divino Nordheim. Established in 1951, this cooperative has 220 members with 270 hectares of vineyards. Their newly redesigned headquarters is clearly designed to attract the many tourists who come and camp in their caravans along the river. My favorite part of this visit was their aroma bar. Featuring scents in black glasses, it allows the public a chance to smell the scents so often used to describe wine: from green apple to vanilla and more. 

Next up was a visit at Horst Sauer, German Wine Producer of the Year in 2010. They produce 140,000 bottles annually of primarily Silvaner, Müller-Thurgau, and Riesling. They also have one of the highest export numbers of all Fanconian wineries, with 20% of their production exported. Horst Sauer makes the estate's noble sweet wines, while his daughter, Sandra, makes the dry ones. Their most famous vineyard is the  Escherndorfer Lump., which has a steep slope to the south. Sauer spoke at length about his desire to make wines that satisfy his many fans and his hope that they feel the wine, not just drink it.  To quote "If someone is asking me, how to make big wines, I do not tell him about acidity, ingredients and sugar. I tell him about the nice hours you can share with people while drinking it." Given the high-acid year, it is not surprising that I found the 2010s we tasted young and needing some time to integrate. 

Cellar images from their website:

After lunch nearby in Eschendorf, with more white asparagus(!), we made a quick stop at the hotel to change before heading to Wurzburg. There we began with a visit  at Staatlicher Hofkeller, which is ono of the DWI's landmarks. The cellars there have record proportions: they extend beneath the Würzburg Residence over an area of some 4,557 sq. meters. The building above is one of the most exceptional of all baroque palaces in Europe, and particularly renowned for its cabinet of mirrors and magnificent, self-supporting staircase with ceiling frescoes by the Venetian artist Giovanni Tiepolo.

Ceiling fresco-iphone photo
The building was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1981. The beginnings of the estate can be traced back to 1128, thus making it the oldest documented wine estate in Germany to have always been owned by the current sovereign, in uninterrupted succession. In 1814, the vineyards were transferred to the Bavarian crown and the estate was renamed “Königlich Bayerischer Hofkeller.” When the Bavarian monarchy was abolished in 1918, the estate was turned over to the newly created state of Bavaria and renamed “Staatlicher Hofkeller Würzburg.” 
With 120 hectares of vineyard holdings throughout Franken

After a quick dinner, we walked across the courtyard for the highly anticipated, at least by me, Mozart Festival Würzburg: Mozart-Night with Prager Kammerorchester. For 90 years Germany’s oldest Mozart festival has taken place in the Würzburg Residence.  For four weeks thousands of visitors from Germany and all over the world enjoy the music and the stunning architecture of the Würzburg Residenz in 50 concerts.The Mozart was simply wonderful. After an intermission we were offered the choice of two additional performances. Our choice, featured the glass harmonica. Yes, I had never heard of it.

From wikipedia:

The instrument's popularity did not last far beyond the 18th century. Some claim this was due to strange rumors that using the instrument caused both musicians and their listeners to go mad. It is a matter of conjecture how pervasive that belief was; all the commonly cited examples of this rumor are German, if not confined to Vienna. German musicologist Friedrich Rochlitz in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung:
"The harmonica excessively stimulates the nerves, plunges the player into a nagging depression and hence into a dark and melancholy mood that is apt method for slow self-annihilation. If you are suffering from any nervous disorder, you should not play it; if you are not yet ill you should not play it; if you are feeling melancholy you should not play it."[14]
Indeed either jet lag or insanity caught up with me as after a few moments, I headed out for a very wet walk through Wurzburg. Upon my return, I found the rest of my group outside, as they had decided that it would not be their new favorite instrument. Without a doubt, it was time for some sleep.  

Next up: more travel, some thoughts on the 2010 vintage and better pictures as the cd from the DWI has just arrived. 

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