Wine naming in France
In most parts of France, wines are always named after the regions they come from. What does this mean, exactly? You have probably heard about a Bordeaux, a Médoc or a Chablis wine. Well, these wines are all named after the regions they come from and not after the grapes these wines are made of. So, a Bordeaux usually exists of different grape varieties, such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. A Chablis, a region in northern Burgundy, is usually a white wine made out of the Chardonnay grape. The same system, by the way, applies to Italy and Spain.
But in Alsace, it’s the grape, baby!
However, in the wine region Alsace we don’t encounter what is typical for the rest of France. Here, wines are named after the grape varieties they are made of. This little odditiy can be explained through the closeness to Germany, where wines are typically named after their grape variety and not the region. In Alsace you therefore get a Riesling, a Pinot Gris, a Pinot Noir. Speaking of Pinot Noir, I should also mention that red wines form the exception in Alsace since red wine production only constitutes 10% of Alsace’s total wine production. The remaining 90% are all about white wine. Of those 10% red grapes not even all are used for red wine production. A lot of the Pinot Noir goes to the production of the Rosé Crémant and some of it goes to the production of the Crémant Alsace. Yes, a red grape can be made into a white wine, it is then called „Blanc de Noir“.
Living by the rules
Wine production in Alsace, as in the rest of France, is tightly regulated. There are only seven varieties that one is allowed to grow and produce into wine that calls itself Alsacian wine. These are: Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Muscat, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner and the only red grape variety Pinot Noir. For the renown Crémant Alsace a similar regulation exists: you can only make Crémant out of certain varieties, namely those seven already mentioned and also Auxerrois and Chardonnay. These last two varieties are only allowed for Crémant making and not for any other type of wine. It’s a little complicated but I hope you get it.
Goodbye Sylvaner, hello Riesling!
As far as I know, Alsace is the only Riesling growing area in France. It is home to some wonderful Rieslings that exhibit their various terroirs. More and more wine growers follow the terroir philosophy and grow Riesling at specifically designated sites which they believe are most adventagous for the development of great and terroir specific flavours. Many wine growers therefore switch to biodynamic or organic wine growing in order to extract the most natural flavours possible. Also, with the global demand for Riesling many Alsace wine growers replace Sylvaner with Riesling. Sylvaner is therefore receding in Alsace.
Now, lets talk business: Getting my hands green and dirty
On the first day of my work experience we went into the vineyard to thin out the vines. This means we removed big leaves that were blocking the sunlight from the grapes. Without the leaves, grapes are more exposed to sunlight and the wind. It makes them ripen quicker and the wind provides a welcome breeze. We thinned out for hours and it was quite good fun.
Next day was pretty much the same. Again, we spent hours in the vineyard but time just seemed to fly. I didn’t mind this type of work at all, I actually quite liked it. I felt like I was freeing the little grapes from darkness and brought them into the light! What I liked most was talking to Daniel, the wine maker, he explained to me how a vineyard works, where vines come from, how organic wine growing works and much more.
It was amazing to see the soil of vineyards nearby that were not organically worked. Such a big difference. But here, see for yourself:
I am happy and thankful that I can experience the beautiful wine region Alsace and learn so much about wine. Working in the vineyard makes me appreciate each glass so much more and above all, it makes me appreciate the work of the individual wine growers even more. They really have a passion for what they do and strive in so many ways to always improve the quality. My next post will be on the wine estate I am visiting, so watch out fot it! Thanks for reading and cheers!