Alsace enjoys a special, sheltered regional location. The hot summers, warm autumns, and dry climate make it perfect for wine growing, and the differing soils and slightly higher elevations ensure maximum sun exposure for the region’s grapes. Nearly 5,000 growers tend 15,000 hectares of land, and Alsace is the only part of France where the wines are named after the grapes, most of which belong to one of seven main varieties grown in the region.
After the Romans left the region, the various monastic orders of the area heavily influenced the culture. During the Middle Ages, the local viticulture grew rapidly, with wines from Alsace being exported to the Nordic countries by the Rhine River. In the 1500s, the amount of land devoted to vineyards was about twice the size it is today.
Typical Alsacian wine today carries an AOC label guaranteeing its quality and origin, and is sold in elegant slim bottles. “Grand Cru” is the label given only to the best Alsatian wines and is a label earned by just 50 vineyards growing four different grape varieties. Sparkling wines are labeled “Cremant,” and they are made from Chardonnay or Pinot grapes and are fermented in their bottles. All Alsatian wines are white except for Pinot Noir.
The “Wine Road” in Alsace is about 170 km long and goes from Marlenheim to Thann. It runs alongside many walking trails through vineyards, medieval villages, wineries, and castles. At many wineries you can taste the wine and buy directly from the wine cellar. Most are open all year, but when it’s harvest time it’s best to check in advance to be sure. Several of the villages along the Wine Road have their own wine fairs. Three favorite wine fairs are in the villages of Riquewihr, Ribeauville and Colmar.
Running from north to south, the Alsace Wine Road was inaugurated in 1953 as France continued to emerge from the destruction of World War II. It is easily one of France’s most beautiful tourist routes in a country that is full of beautiful tourist routes. The summer months and Christmas are the primary times for visitors along the Wine Road, and both these seasons show off the medieval villages to their greatest advantage.
Many of the villages along the route contain winding alleys, half-timbered houses with window boxes bursting with bright geraniums in the summer, and beautiful medieval churches. You will certainly want to stop in picturesque Riquewihr, Albert Schweitzer’s home village of Kaysersberg, and the beautifully planned Eguisheim, where concentric circles of city construction ripple out from the octagonal Romanesque Chateau at the center.
If you are traveling by car, you’ll have no trouble getting to the Route des Vins from the cities of Mulhouse, Colmar, and Strasbourg. You can also access the route from Nancy and Metz in Lorraine and Besançon in Franche-Comte. If you’re driving from Paris, take the N4 dual carriageway that goes from Vitry-le- François to Nancy, then take the expressway from Nancy to Saint-Dié-des-Vosges. If you take the TGV from the Gare de l’Est in Paris, you’ll arrive in Strasbourg in about 2 hours. This train also stops in Colmar and Mulhouse.