Description 1 of 4
This region, wedged between the Rhine River and the Voges Mountains, is the product of a fascinating combination of French and German influence. It has been fought over by the two countries for hundreds of years, becoming French after the Thirty Years’ War, German after the Franco-Prussian War, French again after WWI, German during WWII, and finally, French afterward. Its system of Grands Crus can be confusing, and this is in part because Alsace, having been under German rule for a time, did not catch up with the AC system until 1962.
Both German and French grapes can be found here. There is German Riesling and Gewurztraminer, as well as French Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. Other varieties include Sylvaner, Chasselas, Auxerrois, and Pinot Noir. Alsace is best known for making rich, dry white wines, though a few reds from Pinot Noir are made as well. The wines are usually varietal wines labeled as such, though field blends exist as well. Alsatian cremants and dessert wines can be excellent as well.
Many of the Grands Crus, even if they are not labeled as such, can often be sweet, simply because of the massive ripeness achieved at the sun-drenched Grand Cru sites.
Description 2 of 4
OVERVIEW The status of AOC Alsace was awarded following long discussions on a national level. French AOCs were set up by means of a preliminary decree in 1935. However, negotiations with the INAO, the certifying body, were interrupted due to the annexation of Alsace by Germany during the Second World War. At the end of the war in 1945, a regulation drafted by the Alsace Winegrowers Association defined the Alsace AOCs. This ruling served as a basis for the INAO definition of AOC in our region, but it was only in 1962, 17 years later, that the official decree was finally published and Alsace wines could enter the great family of French AOC wines. If the name of a grape variety appears on the label of an AOC Alsace wine, it is made from 100 % of that grape variety. If no grape variety is named, then the wine is made from a blend of several white wine varieties, and so it is either called "Edelzwicker" or by a brand name. In 2008, the maximum authorised annual yield per hectare for white Appellation Alsace Contrôlée wines was 80 hectolitres per hectare without PLC (= Plafond Limite de Classement, a reserve calculated annually by the INAO), and 75 hectolitres per hectare without PLC for Pinot Noir wines (60 hectolitres per hectare for “red” Pinot Noir wines). The annual production limit is supplemented by an individual limit for each white wine grape variety, which replaces the former limit applying to the combined total of all grape varieties that was generally used in Alsace. The minimum ripeness levels currently in force, expressed in degrees of potential alcohol, are 9,5° for Sylvaner, Muscat and Edelzwicker, 10° for Riesling, Pinot blanc and Pinot Noir, and 11° for Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Klevener de Heiligenstein. Before going on sale, all AOC Alsace wines must be submitted to a approval tasting panel under the control of INAO. Alsace wines (except Crémant d’Alsace) are always sold in their typical “flute” bottle and, by law since 1972, must be bottled in the region of production. AOC Alsace wines represent 74% of the total production, of which 92% are white wines.
Description 3 of 4
HISTORY The first traces of the vine Though only distantly related to present-day varieties, the grapevine existed in the geographical region that was to become the Rhine valley long before the appearance of man. Fossilized leaves of Vitis found in the region of Constance provide formal proof of this. Later periods of glacial activity destroyed many species of vegetation, but it seems that lambrusques, or wild vines, still commonly found in forests along the Rhine even a century ago, are descended from isolated patches of Vitis vines that survived the climatic rigours of the time. The fruit of the vine was appreciated by the Prehistoric population, as can be seen from the heaps of grape pips discovered during the excavation of lake settlements. However, although the fruit of the vine has been used in the region since time immemorial, the evolution from simply gathering the wild grapes to the actual cultivation of the vine only took place after the Roman conquest. From the earliest days of the present era, vestiges indicate the growing importance of viticulture : heaps of grape pips, fragments of wooden casks, then gradually vine motifs beginning to be used to decorate pottery or in bas-relief carvings. As early as 2nd century AD, records mention the transport of wine along the Moselle and Rhine rivers, and prove how soon the commerce of wine began. The vineyards resist invasion Germanic invasion in the 5th century brought viticulture into temporary decline, but surviving documents show how quickly the vineyards regained even greater importance under the rule of the Merovingians and Carolingians, thanks to the foundation of numerous dioceses, abbeys and convents at that time. The golden age (the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance) In his survey of the history of viticulture in Alsace, Canon Barth reveals that documents dating from before 900AD mention more than 160 winegrowing localities. The great importance of the Rhine vineyards can be judged from one of the articles in the Treaty of Verdun in 843AD, which divided up the Empire that had been created by Charlemagne. This expansion continued without interruption until it reached its zenith during the 16th century. The numerous houses in the Renaissance style that can still be admired throughout the region bear witness to the prosperity of that period, when large quantities of Alsace wines were exported throughout Europe. At that same time, many different regulations came into force concerning the grape varieties (amongst which mention is already made of Traminer, Muscat, Riesling and others), their cultivation and their vinification, as well as extremely lucrative taxation to the benefit of the municipalities, the monasteries and the nobility. Calamities (various wars and phylloxera) The Thirty Years'War, a period of devastation by rampaging armies, pillage, famine and pestilence, had devastating consequences not only for viticulture but for all the other economic activities of the region. With the return of peace, the cultivation of the vine gradually began to regain its former importance, but the expansion of the vineyards was mainly due to the planting of inferior vine varieties, in the direction of the plain, to the detriment of the hillsides. A royal Edict of 1731 attempted to remedy this situation, but without much success. This tendency worsened after the Revolution, and from 23,000 hectares in 1808, the total vineyard area had reached 30 000 by 1828. A period of overproduction ensued, wich was often fatal for the vineyards on the hillsides. This was aggravated by the total absence of exports and a fall in domestic consumption of wine in favour of beer. Furthermore, diseases and phylloxera, and an uncomfortable political situation between 1870 and 1918, added to the difficulties. From 1902, the vineyard area shrank gradually, until it reached 9,500 hectares in 1948, of which 7,500 hectares were Appellation Alsace. Renewal after the First World War After the liberation in 1918, two economic tendencies strongly opposed each other. On the one hand were those who advocated the production of quality wines from traditional, noble grapes, whilst others were convinced that the only solution was to produce large quantities of cheap wines from hybrid and direct-production grapes. The choice of quality over quantity prevailed. As most of the land subsequently taken out of vine production was on the plain, so the best vineyards on the hillsides of the traditional winegrowing localities were left intact. The present day (consecration of the AOC) The evolution of the Alsace region to the production of quality wines was consecrated in 1962 when it was awarded AOC Alsace status by the INAO. Other appellations soon followed that of AOC Alsace : AOC Alsace Grand Cru in 1975 and AOC Crémant d'Alsace in 1976. The most representative of the professional associations (the association of winegrowers (AVA), the association of producer-merchants (GPNVA), the federation of winegrowing co-operatives (FCVA) and the union of independent winegrowers (SYNVIRA), are all united to form the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins d'Alsace (CIVA), in order to ensure the continued development of the winegrowing region of Alsace and the ever-growing reputation of the wines of Alsace.
Description 4 of 4
GEOGRAPHY Climate Protected from oceanic influences by the natural barrier of the Vosges, the Alsace vineyards have practically the lowest rainfall in France (450 to 500 mm of precipitation per year). Hot summers, followed by sunny autumns and quite severe winters are characteristics of a semi-continental climate. This privileged climate favourises the slow, extended ripening of the grapes, and gives wines with elegant aromas of great finesse. Soil Type The diversity of vineyard soils in Alsace has no equivalent anywhere in France. Soils of clay, limestone, marl, granite, gneiss, schist, and even of volcanic origin are intermingled for one easy-to-understand reason : about 50 million years ago both the Vosges and the Black forest (in Germany) were a single massif, and when it collapsed the Rhine plain was formed. The Alsace Wine Route As the Alsace vineyards are situated along the fault line between the remaining massif of the Vosges and the plain, it is logical that their soil is a mosaic of the collapsed ancient upper layers. For the same reason, all 51 geographic locations that have been granted the status of Alsace Grand Cru vary in size, some being extremely small, as each one possesses its own homogenous geological characteristics. Without a doubt, the most pragmatic and enjoyable way to assimilate the technical details given above is to follow the Wine Route which, together with the city of Strasbourg, is the foremost tourist attraction of Alsace. The superb sights to be seen and the magical atmosphere that prevails all along the way, give an added dimension to the understanding of the wines of Alsace and the people who produce them.
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