Between hedges, saints, vines, flower meadows and a Hollywood swing. An enjoyable hike with winemaker and Bavaria ambassador Thomas Schenk through his Franconian homeland. Text: Florian Kinast, Photos: Thomas Linkel
Hiking Through Franconia’s Beautiful Wine Region
It’s an early, balmy June evening on the Lämmerberg. The sun is still high above the Pfülben, the neighbouring hill to the west. And right behind it is Würzburg. The picnic table is lavishly set. Plates with pickled olives, salads, cheese, bread and wine. Of course, there has to be wine. Thomas Schenk’s wine.
Thomas opens the dark-coloured “Bocksbeutel” (a specific type of wine bottle) and hands over a glass of “Silvaner” from the steep-sloping, south-south-west facing “Sonnenstuhl”. The first sip: dry, honest, and straightforward. A true Franconian, after all.
A few years ago, Thomas Schenk and his wife Caro lovingly created a small, romantic resting place harmoniously in the landscape at the edge of their winery – two benches, a table, and next to it a Hollywood swing nailed together from two Euro pallets on the branches of the large walnut tree.
An upbeat place, freely accessible to walkers, for a well-earned rest, and for anyone in need of taking five. For a view of the Marsberg directly opposite, across the valley. Below, Thomas’ hometown of Randersacker lolls in the heart of Franconia’s wine country.
Randersacker is a market town with three and a half thousand inhabitants. A suburb of Würzburg, known primarily (and ominously) from traffic radio announcements like: “... the A3, between Würzburg-Heidingsfeld and Randersacker, traffic jam due to construction work. In the opposite direction, three kilometres of slow-moving traffic”.
300 Years of Winegrowing Tradition
Thomas’ ancestors were already growing grapes here three centuries ago, but for a long time only as a hobby alongside their actual professions. Thomas’ grandfather was a master wainwright, and Thomas converted the old wainwright’s shop in the village, where his grandfather used to assemble his wheels, into a Heckenwirtschaft or something akin to a “winemaker’s tavern”.
Thomas regularly takes guests on wine walks
Twice a year, it opens for a few weeks for guests, in the spring and autumn. On the stone wall, you’ll find the board with the range of offers. The “Schoppen Rivaner feinfruchtig” costs just four euros, while the farmhouse bratwurst with cabbage and bread costs eight-fifty.
The tavern below Thomas’ apartment is not only a meeting place for locals, excursionists and holidaymakers for cosy evenings; it also marks the start of the wine walks on which Thomas always takes his guests through the countryside around Randersacker, as he did this afternoon.
With a well-filled backpack, we walk a little way along Ochsenfurter Straße, into Maingasse, past the square with the beautiful name – “Tanzplan” – the town’s traditional dancing and festive square. It’s called that because they used to gather there whenever there was something to celebrate in the village. Half-timbered houses, archways, cobblestones. Old village charm.
The Holy Trinity of Wine!
Continue up the steep steps to the mountain chapel. Above the entrance, there is a sculpture of St. Urban. Next to the little church from 1903, which still serves as a destination for processions on feast days, the story of the patron saint of winegrowers is written.
It can be read that, in the end, it took three of them for an Urban to become a wine saint. First: Pope Urban from the 3rd century, whom they maltreated with lead bullets, whereafter subsequent portraits of him stylised the bullets in front of his body as grapes. Whether bullets or grapes – it’s all about the wine!
Secondly, the French bishop Urban, who 200 years later found refuge behind a vine during a chase and remained undiscovered. And thirdly, the missionary Urban, who made wine on Lake Constance in the 7th century. Three Urbans, one saint.
We continue along the “Rose and Wine Trail”, which leads over from the Teufelskeller. Like “Pfülben” and “Lämmerberg”, “Teufelskeller” is a vineyard name. To the left and right of the path are vines of various varieties: ten rows of Pinot Noir, seven of Müller-Thurgau.
Seven Hectares of 6,000
While adopting a comfortable pace, Thomas tells us about the origin of the names. The “Teufelskeller”, for example, is named after the Würzburg patrician family Deuffel. The “Pfülben”, which curves upwards like a beautiful, open eiderdown on the northern edge of Randersacker, can be traced back to the Middle High German word “Pfülwe”, which means something like an open cushion.
The view to the right extends over the vines to the Main. In front of the horizon, a horizontal line in the landscape: the A3. The Steigerwald forest shimmers green at the far end. Thomas talks about the history of Franconia’s wine country.
Before the Second World War, the area under cultivation still consisted of almost 40,000 hectares, followed by a significant decline due to lack of profitability. Today, wine grows on 6,000 hectares between Bamberg and Aschaffenburg. And Thomas owns seven of them.
The Vineyard as an XL Playground
As a child, when he had to help his parents with the grape harvest, he admittedly knew little about it, he says, as the path bends around a slight left turn and towards the north, past a weathered hunter’s stand. “For me, it was sheer drudgery, I had no connection to it and couldn’t understand what was so great about winemaking.”
Thomas’ love of wine making only grew over the years
The vineyards were an exciting adventure playground for him, where he could romp around with his friends. In quarries, in holes in the ground, behind the hedges, and around the walls. In a state of coexistence with partridges, pheasants and hares. “We built huts, we lit fires, we had tonnes of fun. Beautiful memories,” he says, “that will always be with me here.”
To the side of the path, a piano suddenly emerges against a natural stone wall. A neighbouring winegrower had parked it there several years ago. In the past, you could still play on it, says Thomas. Today, it is weathered, warped, and the keys are ruined. A few notes still work: an f, an a, a bizarre cacophony in the midst of this enchanting scenic composition.
Winemakers With Ethos
Thomas’ love of winemaking did not necessarily come naturally. He only came to it over the years when he studied viticulture in Geisenheim, before returning and taking over his parents’ winery. He began to manage it ecologically and sustainably. He joined forces with a dozen other winemakers to form the “Ethos” group.
This is about not using herbicides and insecticides, it’s about greening the vineyard edges to create a habitat for insects. “However, at the end of the day, it’s about nature and, therefore, also about us humans,” says Thomas. “And it’s about the future of tradition.”
Following the Trail All the Way to the Finale
A little further on, a banker from Munich recently bought a hectare of vineyards with his French wife. Sometimes making wine is also about fulfilling life’s dreams and self-realisation.
The path narrows to a trail through wild undergrowth and copses, and the final few metres lead up the Lämmerberg. To a panoramic delight. To a rest area. To a setting beyond words.
Often, Thomas and his Caro are there themselves, on evenings like these, sometimes alone, sometimes with their visitors. At times, it is passers-by who happen along this route and stop for a moment to take it all in, first in amazement, then with hesitation and finally with delight.
And, now and then, they are regulars like the students of Würzburg University, whose mighty campus is just two kilometres away, there on the other side of the Lämmerberg.
Recently, Thomas received an email from a student with a big thank you. As he put it, he only managed to pass his big exams because he always found so much peace and quiet here in this unique place, which allowed him to study. Such a result can, if you will, be seen as a successful harvest of the work in the vineyard.
The barrenness of the soils drives the vine roots deep into the stony subsoil
On the Marsberg opposite, Thomas has planted half a hectare of Cabernet Blanc on shell limestone. Randersacker is the stronghold of shell limestone, which is not only suitable as a subsoil for vines, but also as a building material.
Shell limestone from Kirchheim, less than ten kilometres to the southwest, can also be found in the structural design the Berlin Olympic Stadium. Until the 1950s, they mined vast quantities here. Hence the many quarries where Thomas used to play so often.
Slowly, twilight begins to set in. On the right, the ridgeway continues to Würzburg, while for us, it meanders left on a small loop back towards Randersacker. Behind a bend, a beautiful view opens up once more: down to the Main and the barrage, and in front of it the green river meadows. In summer, celebrations and festivals take place here, a natural stage if you will for cultural events and concerts.
360° panoramic view of this beautiful resting area on the wine trail
A Small Baroque Masterpiece
A final view of Randersacker and its church of St. Stephen with one of the most beautiful Franconian village church towers.
The garden pavilion by Johann Balthasar Neumann is also hidden below in the maze of houses. This is the smallest building of the great baroque master who built the “Würzburg Residenz” – a palatial masterpiece – which later became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Opposite the pavilion in the square named “Place de Vouvray” in honour of the French twin town is a cheerful fountain: A golden vat. Fine wines.
The last stage ends in front of Thomas’ house. He never wants to leave here again, he emphasises. This is where he has his land and his vines. His home and his family. Wine and a walnut tree. Followed by a glass of exotic fruity Bacchus.