The under-appreciated Franconia and its pearl, the Silvaner grape

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Rheinhessen, Palatinate, Mosel – anyone naming German wine-growing regions will mention these. But another region better known as the home of soccer legend Lothar Mathäus and for the locals’ seeming inability to properly articulate their Ts and Ps is, however, seriously underappreciated: Franconia and its Silvaner grape.

We met with a young winemaker, Andreas Weigand from Iphofen/Würzburg, to sound him out about what he does at his Weigand vineyard and why the Silvaner gets so little love.

Journalist: Hello Andreas, it’s great that you can tell us a bit about Franconian wine. Let’s start with a simple question: What kind of wine do you make in Franconia?

A.: If you look at how vineyards are distributed in Germany, you immediately notice that Franconia lies somewhat outside of the large regions of the Palatinate, Rheinhessen, Nahe, Mosel, Ahr, and Baden, which are all connected. The world of wine does often talk about Franconia; we are somehow on the radar, but nobody really knows anything about Franconia.
Yet Franconia as a region is wonderful. There are three different soil formations on the small area we farm here (6,000 hectares, compared to total Germany 100,000 hectares and France with 1,000,000 hectares). Steigerwald, where I come from, has Keuper soil, which makes the wines spicier and more herbaceous. The Main Triangle in the corner around Würzburg is distinguished by shell limestone, which gives a somewhat floral and bloomy flavor to wine. The Main Rectangle, Bürgstadt and toward Aschaffenburg, is marked by mottled sandstone and lets excellent Pinot Noirs flourish. Franconia is distinguished by the outstanding and, in my opinion, underestimated grape variety Silvaner.

Journalist: Interesting! What is it that makes the Silvaner and you Franconians so special?

A.: Since I dedicated my Bachelor thesis to this grape variety and grow over 65% of it myself in our vineyard, I can report quite positive experiences. First of all, Silvaner was the most grown grape variety in Germany until about 1965. A change in customer tastes toward fruitiness and sweetness, attributed to the American influence and to the benefit of Rieslings, pushed Silvaners aside, currently leaving them with only 5% of total vineyard area. Today Silvaner is grown primarily in Franconia (over 25% of Franconian vineyard area) and in Rheinhessen, but there only as a small and marginal grape variety.
The reserved aroma of Silvaner is ideal for producing multi-layered wines. It is less fruity than, for instance, a Riesling and more authentically reflects the soil in which it grows. Silvaners from Steigerwald, like ours, are always edgier and spicier than Silvaners from Würzburg. Silvaner is not always Silvaner.

Journalist: What else do you grow in your region?

A.: In addition to Silvaner, in particular Scheurebe, Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Noirs are also grown. And from years past, lots of Müller-Thurgau, considered a bread-and-butter wine, yielding much without much work. But this grape variety is being suppressed by the Silvaner, which we don’t mind. In addition to Silvaner, it is nice to have the grape varieties mentioned above since they all bring something special to the table.

Journalist: Your bottles are very different from those of other regions; What is the story behind that?

A.: Yes, our Bocksbeutel canteen bottle. It is actually something special to have such a bottle. As mentioned, we are a small region and as such the only ones in the world who can use the Bocksbeutel. Previously a sign of quality, today unfortunately no longer a major player due to the mass wines of the 1990s. Meanwhile, some things have happened in regard to bottle design and perhaps some good wines will help restore the image of the Bocksbeutel. But what’s much more important is the content of the bottle – often forgotten with the Bocksbeutel, since the shape of the bottle is often more discussed than the wine.

Anyone perusing the wine shelves and who likes fresh, lively wines, should reach for a Silvaner. Because the Franconian wines are indeed underestimated.

Thank you Andreas of Weingut Weigand for your time and knowledge.


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