Master Builders of the Old World and Pioneers of the New | Franconia | Germany / by Ingo Deckler

Translated from "Franken: Von Baumeistern der Alten und Pionieren der Neuen Welt," by Ingo Deckler, which was published in Wein Tourist Magazine, April Edition.

Sommerhausen - Viewed from the Vineyard

Sommerhausen - Viewed from the Vineyard



Sommerhausen—located in the southern triangle of the Main River — not far from Würzburg — is known for the medieval city wall surrounding the historic town center. Other special attractions are attributed to the many artisans and artists who have settled in Sommerhausen. A number of galleries and antique shops line the cobblestone streets and alleys. With just 50 seats, the Torturmtheater is known as the smallest theater in Germany and contributes to Sommerhausen’s reputation as an artist community.

Let us not forget the wine. The place name alone suggests an all the more evident advantage, when you consider that it is possible to look across the Main and see neighboring Winterhausen. It is more than coincidence that Winterhausen rests on the shaded riverbanks, while Sommerhausen is blessed with much more exposure to the sun. So it is not surprising that the majority of wineries have settled on the Sommerhausen side of the Main.

We find ourselves in the land of Silvaner. Just as it is true in other parts of the Franconian region, Silvaner is indisputably the leading varietal. In the limestone soils of the Southern Main triangle this grape grows quite well and results in excellent wines with unmistakable character.

What is commonly know as Silvaner is technically the Grüner (green) Sylvaner varietal. In Sommerhausen, on the other hand, Steinmann Viticultural Nursery is cultivating “Blue Silvaner” and contributing to the preservation of that historical variety. In 1964 the Blue Silvaner clone was propagated froma single specimen of this vine in a vineyard that was otherwise limited only to Green Silvaner. This Blue Silvaner clone “ST25” is the only one approved for cultivation and belongs to the Steinmann nursery, which is also registered for the conservation of the varietal. The Steinmann family with there Schloss Sommerhausen vineyard is also the largest grower of Blue Silvaner. The BDP operation is located at the historic Schloss (castle) Sommerhausen, now in its fifteenth generation, which has 25 hectares under vine.

Martin Steinmann also manages another, very special, "wine treasure". We are talking about a 40,000-bottle library of wines with vintages that span the last 40 years. The collection comes from the Koegel family of Wurzburg, who began amassing this considerable collection of exclusively German wines in the 1970s. It became necessary to find a new home for the collection. This is partly because of the loss of their Würzburg wine cellar and also because of the realization that this amount of wine could not be consumed in their lifetime. So the Koegels decided to donate the collection to a worthy cause. As curator of the massive amount of wine, Martin Steinmann had the entire collection moved to his cellar. Once there, he assembled the bottles into surprise packages for wine lovers. During the summer, he also organizes monthly wine tastings with the mature wines. The net proceeds from the marketing of the collection are donated to Wine Saves Lives.

A little further down the street is the Steinmann Winery that is owned by Artur Steinmann. You will find one of the most influential wineries in Franconia. As president of the Franconian Winegrowers' Association, Artur is leading the way regionally. As head and founding member of the vintners association Frank & Frei, he provides positive stimulation for the slightly dusty image of Müller-Thurgau and has been quite successful for the last twenty years. Aside from the winery, the winemaker’s family runs a hotel. Both the hotel and winery are located in what is known as the Pastoriushaus (Maingasse 8, 97286 Sommerhausen), and combines the old and the new world. This was the home of Franz David Pastorious, who was one of the first German settlers on American soil.

Castle Sommerhausen Tasting - Lineup of Rare Wines

Castle Sommerhausen Tasting - Lineup of Rare Wines

Pastorius migrated to the new world in August of 1683. In Pennsylvania, he organized the settlement of 13 weaver families from Krefeld, who are regarded as the first German emigrants to America. This section of Philadelphia, originally settled by these emigrants, is known today as “German Town.” The city seal, designed by Pastorius, contains a vine, which very likely gives recognition of his roots in Franconia.

Great attention was focused on Pastorius who co-authored a protest against slavery. This even earned him a place in the Capitol dome in Washington D.C. There is an image of him kneeling before Native Americans, which serves as special recognition of his work for peace and freedom in America.

Back in present-day Sommerhausen, on the other hand, there is still a lot to discover outside the town. If you are in shape for the climb, you can hike up to the Sommerhausen vineyards. If not, it is a short drive to one of the magical places in the Franconian region, which is known as terroir f. The local artisan population has outfitted this area with number of artworks involving the theme of wine. Here it is possible to take a selfie with a wine queen, but one that is made of clay. A metal field hand or a larger than life Bacchus are other works that can be admired. Alternately, you can simply enjoy the beautiful view that looks down the Main River Valley toward Würzburg.

Randersacker Seasonal Wine Tavern

Randersacker Seasonal Wine Tavern

Randersacker—What About the Bathtub in the Market Square?

Just a little further down the Main, between Sommerhausen and Würzburg, you will reach the renown wine village of Randersacker. They did not want to take attention away from the Contemporary arts, so they cleverly used the construction of the bypass road to redesign and upgrade the city center. In the village, your attention will be drawn to a golden bathtub in the central square. Balthazar’s bathtub is devoted to no less a figure than the great builder of the Würzburg Residenz, Balthasar Neumann. In truth, Neumann never bathed in this tub, but it is intended to draw attention to the building he designed. If a bathing Balthasar were in the tub, he would be looking directly at his baroque Garden Pavilion, which faces out toward the square. Today, of course, the tub attracts much more attention than the Pavilion. Nevertheless, the tub has achieved its primary purpose.

Let us not forget that Randersacker is a premium wine-growing town. Prominent Lagen (sites) like Teufelskeller, Pfülben or Sonnenstuhl have special meaning for wine connoisseurs. The Silvaner from local limestone soil is among the best in Franconia. So what could be more natural than to enjoy those wines locally? Many a Randersacker winery cultivates a tradition of Heckenwirtshaft. This is a tradition in which winegrowers open their front room to guests for a few weeks each year. In addition to the local wines, there is also always a hearty Franconian meal. The typical dishes are sausages (Bratwürscht) served either with bread and sauerkraut or boiled in wine broth as Blaue Zipfel. There is hardly a weekend without at least one open Heckenwirtshaft. In an extreme case there are plenty of wine bars and restaurants that are open year round.

Würzburg Rosenbach Palace - Wine Cellar

Würzburg Rosenbach Palace - Wine Cellar

Würzburg—World Heritage and Wine Culture

If you are already halfway there, then you must definitely make the trip to Würzburg and admiring the real masterpiece of the 'bathing' builder. The Wurzburg Residence, built according to the plans of Balthasar Neumann is a marvel of Baroque architecture and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Of great interest, is the interior design, which includes the prestigious ceiling fresco of Venetian artist Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. It is the largest contiguous ceiling painting in the world. It shows images of people and animals from all four continents. What? Just four? Yes, because Australia and New Zealand were at that time not yet been discovered. The residence actually houses both world cultural and wine culture, because the vast cellars are filled with the barrels of the State Hofkeller. Under no circumstance should the cellar tour and tasting be missed.

Würzburg has much more to offer in terms of wine, food and culture. So much so that it is beyond the scope of this article. For the moment we will leave it at that.

For more on Würzburg, See Ingo Deckler's article "Home of Dirkules, Silvaner and the Bocksbeutel."