Our winery is located in Franconia, and Franconia has a very special identity among German wine-growing regions.
When people think of German wines, they probably first think of Rieslings from the Rhine or the Mosel, often in their fruity versions with some residual sugar. Franconian wines are completely different. This has to do with the grape varieties, the geographic location, the rocks in the subsoil, but also with our cultural tradition.
The most important grape variety in Franconia is Silvaner, and this also applies to our winery. Silvaner comes from Austria, where it is believed to have originated in a spontaneous crossing more than 500 years ago. In 1659 it was verifiably planted for the first time in Franconia, at that time still called "Österreicher", then later "Sylvaner".
The fact that Franconia's most important grape variety comes not from the Rhine, but from the Danube, is also fitting in terms of geography. Shielded by the low mountain range of Spessart in the west, Franconia has a much more continental climate than the Rhine region. This generally means less rain, sunshine in summer and colder winters.
Geologically, Franconia is divided into three parts. The so-called Franconian Trias means that in the west Buntsandstein, in the middle Muschelkalk and in the east Keuper can be found. Our „home“ site, the Gambacher Kalbenstein, is located directly on the sharp border between Buntsandstein and Muschelkalk, which can also be seen in the different coloring of the subsoil.
Aromatically, Silvaner is far more restrained than Riesling, for example. But with proper attention, it is not only capable of producing great wines. It also lets the terroir shine through like hardly any other grape variety.
Geologie ist die Wissenschaft vom Aufbau der Erdkruste und den Eigenschaften der Gesteine. In unserem Hausberg, dem Gambacher Kalbenstein, ist die Humusauflage so dünn, dass die Gesteinsschicht bereits nach wenigen Zentimetern beginnt. Die Wurzeln der Reben können in höherem Alter aber bis zu 15 Meter tief in den Boden und in die Felsspalten eindringen. Kein Wunder also, dass uns als Winzer diese unterschiedlichen Gesteine besonders interessieren. Often geology can be quite complicated, because foldings or volcanic activities mix up the original layers. Fortunately, the principles in Franconia are relatively simple. Franconia means Trias, a specific period of the earth's history. During this period, three types of rock were deposited one after the other. So at the very bottom is the oldest type, and at the very top is the youngest.
The oldest type of rock is called Buntsandstein (= red sandstone). The time of Buntsandstein began 250 million years ago. The climate was hot and dry, and rivers transported sandy material into the so-called "Germanic Basin". Here it sedimented. Thanks to oxidation, the particles were covered with a kind of reddish iron skin. In this layer there are hardly any fossils.
The latter changes with the next phase. About ten million years later, the sea flooded the former basin. In the warm and fertile climate, many animals thrived on land and in the water. The sea periodically retreated and then flooded the land again. In this way, large quantities of marine animals such as mussels and snails died on the reefs. Their shells form the Muschelkalk (= shell limestone), the layer above Buntsandstein.
Another ten million years later, the ocean basin as a whole had become shallower. The tropical climate provided a dense floral cover of ferns and horsetails. When sea level rose again, this vegetation was flooded and with it small mollusks and crabs that lived in the brackish water. This youngest Triassic depositional layer is called Keuper.
Because there are two more layers in the Trias above the Buntsandstein, it shouldn‘t actually appear on the earth's surface. In fact, however, this is the case, as one can see in the Kalbenstein. Two processes are responsible for this.
One of them has to do with the Rhine, which shows that after all we are not completely unaffected by processes in the Rhineland. When the Alps unfolded about 30 million years ago, the Upper Rhine Graben collapsed due to the pressure. This pressure also weighed on the Triassic strata package from the west. The result was that the Trias became lopsided. The erosion that has taken place since then due to wind and surface water (that’s the second process) gradually wore away the upper layers. As a result, in the west of Franconia the Buntsandstein came to the surface, around today's Würzburg it's Muschelkalk, and at the Steigerwald Keuper.
Large rivers like the Main were also able to cut up to 100 meters deep into the subsoil. This happened about 2.4 million years ago, so quite recently in terms of geological history. On the slope of the Gambacher Kalbenstein, on which the Main gnawed at high velocity, we therefore see several strata on top of each other.
The exciting thing for us is that we have plots in all three Triassic formations. In the lower part of the Gambacher Kalbenstein, close to the river, there is Buntsandstein (where our Sylvaner Buntsandstein comes from), further up Muschelkalk
(for example our Sylvaner Muschelkalk, but also for Sylvaner Himmelslücke and Rosenrain). In Casteller Kirchberg, we get Sylvaner CK from our very first plot on Keuper soil.
In fact, we have an exception to the rule at the end. For not all of Weinfranken is dominated by the Trias. Similar to the small Gallic village in Asterix, there is an area in the far west beyond the Spessart, where even the much older primary rock came to the surface due to the inclination. There, we get a wine from the Wasserloser Schlossberg that still comes from Franconia, but geologically (and perhaps also taste-wise) is more reminiscent of the Rheingau.