Winemaker Ilonka Scheuring brings a breath of fresh air to the industry. With individuality, an eye for detail and a lot of expertise, she makes wines that not only taste good, but are also sustainable. Text: Ornella Rosaria Cosenza, Photos: Bernhard Huber
The Young Franconian Winemaker Ilonka Scheuring
Ilonka Scheuring sticks out. Wearing bright pink rubber boots, her trademark, she roams through her vineyards near Margetshöchheim in Franconia. Ilonka not only makes outstanding wine with names like “Femina Glut” or “Drei Aged Sweet”, the winemaker also attaches great importance to resource-conserving and environmentally friendly wine production.
And that already starts in the vineyard. “Steep slopes characterize the landscape throughout the Würzburg region and we preserve our cultivated landscape. In addition, our slopes are an important habitat for plants and animals. We promote this biodiversity through flower strips and natural greening.”
Together with twelve other Franconian winegrowers, Ilonka is a member of the ETHOS Group. The mission statement: Bringing ecology, economy and social issues into harmony. The group adheres to its strict code in order to sustainably cultivate the Franconian wine cultural landscape.
But back to Ilonka: her parents started growing grapes in the region some 38 years ago, she tells us as she hikes up the steep vineyard. Today Ilonka continues to run the business as its owner. She takes care of everything herself, from paperwork to the grape harvest.
It is a very mild, sunny day at the end of September. Ilonka and her staff are busy picking the last grapes. “This year we started harvesting on the 3rd of September because the summer was so hot,” she says. In comparison: only about 20 years ago, the grape harvest fell in October. Meanwhile, this date keeps moving earlier and earlier, people were even already harvesting in August.
Working Where Others Go On Holiday
While Ilonka gathers the shimmering green grapes by hand into her grape harvest bucket, she talks about her job: “What I enjoy most is that you produce a food that represents enjoyment, socialising, fun and the landscape.” The landscape at Stettener Stein, 80 metres above the Main River, is gorgeous.
“This is working where others go on holiday,” says Ilonka. And not only does it look pretty, but this steep Franconian slope with a gradient of 50 to 80 percent offers the best soil conditions for good wine, thanks to the shell limestone and the microclimate that prevails there.
Diversity Must Be Nurtured
The steep slopes characterise Franconia’s cultural landscape and make the wine something special. Preserving the cultural landscape and nature in the vineyard remains very close to Ilonka Scheuring’s heart. “You always have incalculable variables in nature. That is also important to me. To preserve the diversity of the cultivated landscape, we have many scattered fruit trees and meadows here.”
“To preserve the diversity of the cultivated landscape, we have many scattered fruit trees and meadows here.”
“Thousands of creatures live on a tree, whether it is alive or dead. If it wasn’t there, there would be less habitat,” says Scheuring. The creatures found in the vineyards are butterflies, spiders, snails and ladybirds and even more large and small creepy-crawlies.
You can also find them on the purple labels of Ilonka Scheuring’s wines. “We wanted to bring the vineyard to the bottle in this way,” she says.
Gym? No, Steep Slopes!
But now we come down from the mountain! Back to the winery. A large tractor stands in the driveway of the Scheuring winery. “The first time I drove a tractor was when I was six or seven,” Ilonka says in passing. Two large bins with mash are also on the premises. The vintner lifts off the tarpaulin and climbs onto the edge. It is Pinot Noir grapes that are made into red wine.
„There are just not that many women in this profession, even though there are more and more.“
“The mash stays in the crate for two to three weeks, it is poked with the pestle two to three times a day,” says Ilonka as she grips the pestle vigorously. “During fermentation, heavy parts are washed to the top,” so you have to “stir” again and again. Plus: “When the mash is already quite fully fermented, so rather towards the end, it becomes easier with the pestling.”
The work in the steep vineyards, the poking, the paperwork – Ilonka is on her feet from early in the morning until evening. “You don’t need a gym any more,” she says and laughs. The job is also physically demanding, but Ilonka lives and loves it with passion.
“The Mash Stays in the Box for Two to Three Weeks.”
The passion of the winemaker from Margetshöchheim – or “Maroggo am Main”, as Ilonka and other locals affectionately call the place – is easy to see in person. “I offer wine tastings and guided wine walks through the ‘Wengert’. Everyone is welcome there, from wine novices to wine connoisseurs.”
In spring and autumn, the winery’s Heckenwirtschaft, or “Hecke” for short, traditionally opens. In the cosy wine bar, guests can sample Ilonka’s assortment while enjoying Franconian specialities such as bratwursts with wine sauerkraut. “I like it very much when people come by. It makes for a very sociable atmosphere. You share a table with strangers and automatically strike up a conversation,” she says.
For those who want to explore the Franconian cultivated landscape on their own, guests have the option of renting a cart, which Ilonka stocks with glasses, wine and water. Insider tips for a successful route are of course included!
Goodness is so Close
Actually, Ilonka never has much free time. The vineyard, her children, her family and of course her goats all require her full attention. Ilonka, a power woman through and through, brings everything under control.
When she does have time to catch her breath, she is drawn to the Erlabrunner Käppele on the Volkenberg, less than 10 minutes by car from her winery. There she can take a deep breath, with a view of the Main and, of course, the vineyards.
Did she ever want to leave the small town of Margetshöchheim? “I was in South Tyrol and in New Zealand,” she says. Nevertheless, she has noticed how beautiful it is right on her doorstep.
For two years Ilonka attended the technical school for viticulture and oenology in Weinsberg, before that she trained as a wine cooper, and in 2010 she took over her parents’ winery.
The Art of Good Wine
More and more women are getting into the wine business. But it is still a male-dominated industry. “It happens from time to time that you are at a trade fair and someone asks you: ‘Can I talk to the winemaker’. “There are just not that many women in this profession, even though there are more and more,” she says.
Man or woman, what counts in the end is whether the wine is good or not. In any case, Ilonka pays attention to quality in all her wines, from Silvaner to Scheurebe and Riesling to Pinot Noir. With determination and nonchalance at the same time, she puts fresh touches on her wines, which are as individual and unique as her personality.
After a day at the Scheuring winery, one thing is certain: the art of good wine can be found where the winemaker wears pink rubber boots. In other words: These boots are made for winegrowing.
... from Ilonka
The Erlabrunner Käppele on the Volkenberg near Erlabrunn with a view of the vineyards and the River Main as far as Würzburg. The Volkenberg is home to a black pine forest, which at 400 hectares is actually Germany’s largest.
Wine festivals in the region: The Uferweinfest in Randersacker, the wine festival in Hammelburg and the Afterwork Party at Markus Meier’s in Ulsenheim.
Restaurant and café tips: the “Eis Stephan” ice cream parlour in Veitshöchheim (“They also make delicious cakes, we like to go there”), “Glouglou” in Würzburg (“A combination of restaurant and wine bar, you get really good products at the counter there”), and “Main Mäuerle” in Karlstadt, a mixture of café, wine & bar.
Insider tip for getting to “Maroggo” aka Margetshöchheim: “Travel by boat! The ‘Alte Liebe’ runs regularly between Würzburg and Veitshöchheim. You can reach Margetshöchheim in no time via the pedestrian bridge.”