In late September, the region was harvesting three main varieties of grapes that grow in the steep river valleys around Würzburg — Müller-Thurgau, Silvaner, and Bacchus.
Derek’s colleague invited us to join-in at a hobby vineyard owned by his relative, where 28-rows of white grapes were ripe and ready for pickin’. We learned that while other produce is harvested, there is a special term given to the collection of grapes for wine-making—-Weinlese, which means selection.
After introductions were made, we received our tools and shown how to identify good grapes. We inspected each cluster by the handful, distinguishing between a dry, dusty grey mold that benefits flavor and fermentation, and discarding anything with blue-green mold.
When in doubt, we were told to smell the grapes! At first it wasn’t easy to tell… they all smelled pretty sour. But eventually we developed a sense of what we were after.
3 hours later, when the last barrel had been emptied, we were treated to a traditional lunch and offered a mug of Federweißer, young wine in the earliest stage of fermentation.
Federweisser is pale and sweet: a cloudy grape juice filled with active yeast . It goes hand-in-hand with a slice of zweibelkuchen “onion cake”, another specialty of the season. Drinking and eating too much of either will definitely give you a full-day bloat!
After months of controlled fermentation, most of the sugar from the grapes is absorbed by yeast. The filtered by-product is alcoholic wine, and is usually trocken or “dry”. Our pick will yield about 3500 liters of Müller-Thurgau and will be ready next April!
Why great wine comes from Würzburg.
If you are drinking Franconian wine, it is likely that it was cultivated near Würzburg. The mild climate and mineralized soil have given way to a 1000-year tradition of wine-making. Lime is a main component of the soil, called Muschelkalk. Geological data and the density of lime found in the soil suggest that an inland sea covered central Germany 50-100 million years ago during the Triassic period. The lime is the remains of prehistoric sea creatures. Silvaner, in particular, produces a superior flavor wine when grown in lime-rich soil.
Quality Franconian wines are light and fresh in flavor and packaged in a tear-shaped bottle of green glass, called a Bocksbeutel. The shelf life is 1-3 years. It looks like this.
At the Weingut
Afterwards, we visited the processing facility where the grapes are fermented. The facility is also owned by a relative, so we got a nice tour!
Our grapes had already arrived and were waiting to be crushed. For white wines, a centrifuge separates the skins to be discarded. (For red wines, the skins of red grapes are used as dye .) The process of straining solids continues (skins, bugs, and other stuff) before the juice is partially sterilized and yeast is introduced. The yeasted grape juice is held in temperature controlled tanks for approximately 7 months. Sugar content is measured at intervals and fermentation can be halted when the wine reaches süß “sweet”, halb-süß “semi sweet”, or trocken “dry”.
This time of year is very busy at the Weingut. Grapes from vineyards throughout the region must be processed almost simultaneously at the moment of ripeness. Dry weather in the final weeks of growing will result in more flavorful wine. Wine made from grapes that are saturated from rainfall will have a diluted flavor. Weinlese were taking place all week, and he didn’t expect much sleep. It was wine holiday! 🙂
Also, thanks to Derek’s colleague for sending us a few of the photos.