Staatlicher Hofkeller Würzburg:A Labyrinth of Cellars Beneath the Residence
These cellars have record proportions: they extend beneath the Würzburg Residence over an area of some 4,557 sq. meters (49,000 sq. feet). The monumental building above is one of the most exceptional of all baroque palaces in Europe, and particularly renowned for its cabinet of mirrors and magnificent, self-supporting staircase with ceiling frescoes by the Venetian artist Giovanni Tiepolo.
It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1981. The cellars below the palace are also part of the World Heritage site. Balthasar Neumann, a master of baroque, was the principal architect of the residence and constructed the vaulted cellars with up to five-meter-thick (16.4 ft thick) walls from 1720 to 1744.
The beginnings of the wine estate can be traced back to a deed of gift by Embricho, bishop of Würzburg, in 1128, thus making it the oldest documented wine estate in Germany to have always been owned by the current sovereign, in uninterrupted succession. Up until secularization, it was known as the “Fürstbischöflicher Hofkeller”; in 1814, the vineyards of the prince bishops were transferred to the Bavarian crown and the estate was renamed “Königlich Bayerischer Hofkeller.” When the Bavarian monarchy was abolished in 1918, the estate was turned over to the newly created state of Bavaria and renamed “Staatlicher Hofkeller Würzburg.” With 120 hectares (nearly 300 acres) of vineyard holdings throughout Franken and an average annual production of ca. 850,000 bottles, it numbers among the largest wine estates of Germany.
Headquarters of the VDP estate (member, Association of German Prädikat Wine Estates) are adjacent to the Residence, in the Rosenbach palace – above and below ground level. The cellars are 891 meters long (2,923 ft) and up to six meters high (20 ft), making the Hofkeller a virtual underground world of its own. Seven different cellars and a tunnel extend beneath the two wings of the Residence, including the rondel cellar, chamber cellar, red wine cellar, and the famous “Stückfass” cellar with its 100 wooden casks, each with a capacity of up to 120 liters (known as a “Stück” in German). The treasure chamber is in the “Bacchus corner”; the clerks’ cellar houses three giant casks built in 1784, which contained nothing short of the “liquid” salaries of the court’s servants more than 200 years ago.
The so-called Swedish barrel also has a story to tell. In 1631, the citizens of Würzburg wanted to secure their “millennium” vintage of 1540 from advancing Swedish troops, and buried their wine in the forest. In 1684, it was accidentally discovered by prince bishop Konrad von Wernau, who then had a cask built especially for the recovered treasure: the Swedish barrel. At a tasting in 1966, the wine was still drinkable.
The 63-meter-long (240 ft) tunnel constructed under the Residence in the 1960s connects the cellar with modern stainless steel tanks beneath the south wing with the cellar that houses wooden casks beneath the north wing. In the course of building a new Vinothek in 2004, it was transformed into a “history tunnel” to bring to life more than 875 years of viticultural history. The new, award-winning tasting lounge was designed to resemble a vine arbor made of steel, and outfitted with modern glass display cases and stone "tablets” – a modern primer on the cultural history of wine.