Thomas Schenk does not just produce seriously good wine. He also does it in a way that is as responsible and sustainable as possible, as we found out when we called in to see him
Winemaker Thomas Schenk
The River Main winds through the valley in a broad loop. The half-timbered buildings of the small town of Randersacker are clustered along its banks. Above it, the vineyards stretch upwards on hills so steep you find yourself looking for the nearest cable car.
Thomas Schenk laughs. “Vineyards with a 70 percent gradient are just part and parcel of winemaking in Franconia,” explains the young winemaker from Randersacker. “In other regions, the vines grow on flat land, and they can work with machinery. We can’t do that on our steep slopes.
We do everything by hand, investing love and a lot of time. And you can taste that in our wines.”
Thomas Schenk is in his early thirties and runs the Weingut Schenk, a family winery. Over his seven hectares, he grows varieties such as the Silvaner, found extensively throughout Franconia, and also Riesling, Spätburgunder and Scheurebe. Unlike his grandparents, however, who operate a winery as a sideline and sell their wine in bulk, Thomas has set himself some high targets.
Code of ethics for vines and employees
Not only does he want to make really good wine, but to do so as responsibly as possible. “Vines have been growing on the slopes around Randersacker for 1,250 years,” says the young winemaker.
“I definitely don’t want to be the last person to make a living here from making wine. So I have to work out how we can produce wine sustainably. How winemaking can continue to thrive in the future. It’s not just about the environment, but also about our families and our village communities.”
On the search for answers, Thomas has joined forces with twelve young winemakers from all across Franconia to form a group known as “Ethos”, which has developed its own code of ethics.
“Our wines are not off-the-peg"
They feel that vineyards should not be seen purely as usable area but as an entire ecosystem, whose biodiversity must be preserved. “In practical terms that means, for example, that we don’t use any herbicides or insecticides on the vines, but instead work with biological methods,” explains Thomas.
“These biological methods only work when they are applied across the board, which is why I’m organising their application for all my winemaking colleagues in Randersacker.
What’s more, we are planting the edges of the vineyards to ensure there is always something flowering there – wild poppies, clover, mallow – and to create a suitable habitat for insects. We are also committed to preserving our steep slopes, which are part of our Franconian cultural heritage.”
Earthy Silvaner, dirty fingers
After training as a winemaker, Thomas studied viticulture and has been running the family business since 2015. His parents and his wife work alongside him and he hires plenty of temporary help for the vineyards – pensioners, students, housewives, even a Syrian family.
“They have all long since become our friends. As an “Ethos” winemaker it is important to me that our employees feel comfortable and are paid a fair wage. And that the village community is on board. We donate to charities and play an active role in village life.”
Wine is made in the vineyard
As a winemaker, Thomas Schenk is one of the purists who make wine in the vineyard. “That’s precisely where it gets exciting. It’s all about nuances and trends. You have to be able to guess what’s going on in the soil and the leaves,” enthuses the young man, who is passionate about the Silvaner grape. “The Silvaner doesn’t pander to the palate with fruitiness and a sweet-sour interaction, but stands by its earthy, austere taste. I like that!”
Like all wines made by Thomas, the Silvaner bottles also stand out for their unusual labels: they depict the rather dirty fingers of a worker positioned as if they are holding onto the bottle. A design that was a deliberate choice of this young winemaker. “Our wines are not off-the-peg. I prune every single vine myself. Getting your hands dirty is unavoidable when you work on such steep vineyards. Why not show that to the customer?”
More about Thomas' wines and his philosophy at weingut-schenk.de
... from Thomas
Würzburg Residenz and courtyard garden
The district of Mainfranken is full of culture. In Würzburg there is the Würzburg Residenz, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, behind which you can find a secret gem – the courtyard garden. This is a beautiful Baroque garden, where you can sit on a bench and enjoy some heavenly peace and tranquillity – in the heart of the city!
We serve wine in our winery in spring and autumn. In Franconia, we call these seasonal wine bars Heckenwirtschaft, or hedgerow inns. We serve glasses of our wine and offer something to eat on the side. We only work with regional partners here. From the local butcher to the cheese dairy and even the mineral water – all our products are sourced from a radius of less than 50 kilometres, preferably from small producers.
You will always find a couple of genuine Franconian classics on the menu, which go well with the Silvaner – Bratwurst sausages of all complexions, “Blaue Zipfel” marinated sausages and other Franconian charcuterie. The walls of our Heckenwirtschaft are over 300 years old and were built from the stones dug up in our vineyards. They are immensely warm and comforting.