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  • Writer's pictureMeirion Harries

DAY FORTY ONE Frankonian Wine

The ride this morning along the banks of the River Main from Schweinfurt south to Wurzburg was an idyll. This is the wine country of Franconia. If you imagine a huge W written by the sharp bends of the river where each line is about 50 miles long and flanking each line are gentle hills covered in vines, then you have a picture of Franconia.

the 'W' of the River Main in Franconia (c)wikicommons

This beautiful, understated part of Bavaria provides wine that we rarely see in England. This is not Reisling country: here they grow a range of vines. Pre-eminent is the ancient Silvaner which came to Franconia in the second half of the seventeenth century, after the Thirty Years War. The other two main varietals are later: Müller-Thurgau, a varietal created in 1882 at the Geisenheim Grape Breeding Institute by Professor Hermann Müller; and a new varietal developed in 1933 by Peter Morio, who modestly called his varietal Bacchus – a grape which grows well in southern England.

The day was so beautiful that I persuaded the Race Marshal to bomb us down to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, at the southern end of Franconian wine country. This fantasy of a place is reason enough to come. With its cobbled streets and turrets sitting 300 feet above the River Tauber, it is the most famous medieval town in Germany. There was outrage in America when it was attacked and after that first raid, a strong lobby stopped any further damage.

(c)Walt Disney

Walt Disney is said to have modelled the backdrop for his 1940 animated fantasy Pinocchio on the town. It's nice to think that we will be having lunch in this “metaphor for mid-century American child-rearing", as Nicolas Sammond, Associate Professor of Cinema Studies at the University of Toronto, put it. In his view, Pinocchio is "ultimately an assimilationist fable" relaying middle class messages of self-denial, thrift, and perseverance, a warning that "the pleasures of the working class, of vaudeville, or of pool halls and amusement parks, lead to life as a beast of burden".

But not for the town or the Disney backdrop have we come to Rothenburg – but to visit the vineyards of the Glocke Winery. Here they maintain the 1,300 year old Franconian tradition of wine making: Charlemagne is known to have drunk wine from this region in 777 AD. Glocke grow historical grape varieties on steep limestone slopes in what is a unique micro-climate around Rothenburg.

Their wine is made in wooden barrels in deep cellars from grapes harvested late. Then they bottle the wine in the traditional Bocksbeutel. For all the world, this is the Mateus Rose bottle and its origins are the same - a 'field bottle', made this shape to stop it rolling away. The name lacks romance: a dictionary published in 1690 defined Bocksbeutel as a "ram's scrotum", which is, as you know, of similar shape.

After a little tasting session in cellars lined with ancient wooden barrels, not an aluminium tank in sight, we headed up to the Glocke restaurant. Here an opened Bocksbeutel was keeping company with our Kochkäse - a sour-curd cheese made from dried quark stirred into a boiling vat of milk with butter, baking soda, caraway seeds, and salt.

The very necessary walk after lunch took us round the fourteenth-century town walls and down to the Ratsherrntrinkstube, the so-called Town Councillors' Tavern. It was here that in 1631 wine saved Protestant Rothenburg from destruction by a Catholic army. The Mayor, Georg Nusch, offered the Catholics a wager - the fate of the town against his ability to down in one the Meistertruck, a three and a half litre tankard filled with Franconian wine. This offer clearly pleased the Catholic general, who accepted the bet. And lost. Georg did indeed down the Meistertruck and so saved Rothenburg. As we stood there musing on this story, the clock on the Ratsherrntrinkstube struck the hour and, somewhat jerkily, a little wooden Georg Nusch reenacted his triumph.

Georg Nusch's triumph -

A 15 minute tour of Rothenburg -

In the vineyards with Sabine Ziegler, former Wine Queen of Franconia -

And here is the rousing Frankenlied -

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