The majority of Franken’s vineyards can be found surrounding Würzburg, the region’s most important city. The city was one of the principalities of the Holy Roman Empire and despite being destroyed during WWII, it is clear that the city prides itself on a long and rich history. This is evident in the wine domains based in the city as well, namely Juliusspital, Bürgerspital and the Hofkeller Würzburg. The first domain has been briefly mentioned in a previous post, but as I have little to no experience with wines produced by the other two domains, I will focus instead on one of the rising stars in Franken, Weingut Am Stein.
The domain has been in the Knoll family for five generations and is currently in the very capable hands of Ludwig and Sandra Knoll. It is located on the Würzburger Stein, without exception the most famous vineyard near the city. At 27ha it is also one of the bigger private domains in the Maindreieck. The family Knoll is lucky enough to own parcels in the best terroirs the region is blessed with, Würzburger Stein, Stettener Stein and Innere Leiste. Vineyard work follows biodynamic principles since 2007, and throughout our visit we frequently saw proof of the dedication to good vineyard maintenance and compost management. I will have a lot more to say on biodynamic viticulture in future posts, but I’ll just say here that I do not doubt that Deutsche Gründlichkeit and organizational skills have something to do with the successful implementation here.
The Würzburger Stein is located right behind the domain. 85ha large, and at 8km length and 300m height it is a sight to behold when you drive up to the domain. We tried to take a quick walk before supper one evening to get around a bit, but we underestimated the distance as well as the steepness of the vineyards. The soil here consists of muschelkalk, a mix of chalk, marl and most importantly, fossil shells. The vineyard is faced southwards, providing ample warmth. Given the relatively thin topsoil this means that you get a lot of sun during the day and that warmth is held within the soil throughout the night.
The Würzburger Silvaner Ortswein 2013 shows this in the glass. Dominating minerality on the nose and a juicy, open sensation in the mouth, it is ever so slightly sweet in the finish. The Würzburger Stein Silvaner 2013, classified as Erste Lage continues on the same sensation and despite starting of a bit richer and riper, it feels more in balance, more elegant.
Innere Leiste is located on the other side of Würzburg, starting at the Marienburg Keep and stretching out further south. Whereas the Würzburger Stein is more exposed to the sun, the climate here, even though it’s only about 10km away, is cooler and more shielded from harsher weather conditions. This also shows in the wines; whereas Würzburger Stein wines are mineral but rich and full-bodied, wines from Innere Leiste are more gentle and discrete, showing a bit more finesse.
The Innere Leiste Silvaner 2013 was one of my favourite wines, soft-spoken on the nose, a little bit spicy but well-supported by minerality. Depth in the mouth, beautiful freshness and a soft but at the same time a firm finish that was not too overbearing but instead highlighted the wine’s elegance. The Innere Leiste Riesling 2013 is richer in style, a nose that aims more towards accentuating fruitiness. At first this continues on in the mouth, but it is offset by a lovely mineral acidity. These are no extravagant, over-concentrated or too exuberant wines. They are open but sophisticated, elegant but present.
The flagship wines of the domain can be found on Stettener Stein. Located about 20km further north, the vineyards are located about 80m above the river Main. The climate here is comparable to the Würzburger Stein, but as the slopes are much steeper (80% in some places) the vines are forced to go much deeper, placing the focus more on minerality and acidity. The entire Stein is designated Erste Lage and the best parts are Grosses Gewächs as well. The family Knoll was essential in promoting the inherent qualities of the Stein, and this is of course evident in their wines.
The Vinz Silvaner Alte Reben 2013 is without a doubt my favourite wine produced by the domain. 40-year old vines, 60% élevage in stainless steel and 40% in big casks as well as in concrete eggs. To top it all off, spontaneous fermentation! Abundant minerality on the nose, spices, lime and even a little bit of saltiness. The minerality dominates throughout the mouth but it stays open, going wide and long. The finish comes on a bit strong but compensates this through its length. At dinner we were served the 2011 vintage which was a bit more in balance. The soft fruit was given a chance against the minerality and the crunchy acidity was much more supportive. This is without a doubt a wine with enormous potential given a couple of years.
I usually have trouble finding and appreciating well-balanced sweet wines, but the Stettener Stein Silvaner Auslese 2013 is an exception. Concentration on the nose, ripe fruit and honey. In the mouth it is remarkably fresh and, more importantly, mineral. At first you don’t even realize that it is a sweet wine until you get to the finish where you again get a delicate sweetness that keeps on lingering. Just like with the Vinz, you have dominating acidity in the wine’s youth, but I am confident that it will be even more balanced with time. Already, it’s a pleasure to drink.
We spent an entire day at Weingut Am Stein on a trip organized by the Belgian importer, Vinikus and Lazarus. What really impressed us was the dedication the entire team showed towards making the best wine possible, while staying true to the traditions of Franken. The restaurant, Der Reiser, located on the domain was the perfect way to discover how Franken wines would pair with more or less typical regional dishes. I personally find that a dinner is the best way to really form an opinion on a wine. You can fall in love with a wine at a tasting or during a tour all you want, it is only when you get the opportunity to enjoy the wine at length that you can really find out what it is capable of. The older vintages of the Am Stein wines re-affirmed my opinion that these are great examples of terroir, a pleasure to drink straight away and a rewarding experience if you have a couple years of patience. If you really want to understand what Silvaner means in Franken, Am Stein is the place to be!