The wine-growing region lies in the north-east of France on the border with Germany formed by the Rhine. The départements Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin formed a separate French administrative region Alsace (Région Alsace) from 1973 to 2015. As part of the regional mergers, the Grand Est (Greater East) region was created from 2016 with Strasbourg as its capital, covering the areas of Alsace, Lorraine and Champagne-Ardenne.
Viticulture was already practised by the Celts (Gauls) before the Romans who appeared here in the 2nd century. After a decline in the 5th century due to the invasion of the Germanic tribes, it flourished again under the influence of the Roman Catholic monastic orders. In the 9th century there are already 160 documented wine growing sites. In the 16th century, viticulture reached its greatest expansion with more than double the size of the vineyard compared to today. At that time, there was already a kind of appellation system and Alsatian wines were exported to all European countries. The winegrowers' association of Riquewihr at that time set the harvest date with "as late and ripe as possible" and the permitted "noble" grape varieties. The variety Elbling had to be uprooted. The Alsatian was then considered the best German wine, often enriched with alcohol and flavoured with spices.
Due to the devastation of the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), most of the areas were destroyed. Slowly there was an upswing again and by the middle of the 19th century the area under vines had grown to 30,000 hectares. Then phylloxera and mildew struck here as well. By 1950, the area had shrunk to less than 10,000 hectares. For about seven centuries Alsace was German territory, in 1860 it became part of France, then from 1870 to 1918 it was again part of the German Empire and then (with a brief interruption in the Second World War) it was again part of France. From 1871 to 1918 there was the Reichsland Alsace-Lorraine. Due to this historical development, the Alsatian wine culture is German in terms of grape varieties and production and differs greatly from the other French wine growing regions.
The vineyards cover 15,000 hectares of vines, which extend at the foot of the Vosges mountains in a narrow band, often only two kilometres wide, from Strasbourg in the north 110 kilometres along the German border to Mulhouse in the south. The entire eastern border with Germany is the Rhine. The Vosges on the western side strongly influence the climate. They keep most of the rain coming from the Atlantic, which is why Alsace is one of the areas of France with the least rainfall. There are cold winters, a mild spring and warm, dry summers with periods of drought in some years. A special feature is the many different soil types with sand, pebbles, loess, limestone, clay, slate, granite and volcanic rock.
Alsace is divided into two départements. These are the southern Haut-Rhin (Upper Rhine), which is considered a better wine region, and the northern Bas-Rhin (Lower Rhine). The wine-growing centre are some places north and south of Colmar with the famous Riquewihr. This most famous wine village is today completely under monumental protection. The 170-kilometre-long "Route du Vin" wine route from Marlenheim in the north to Thann in the south touches many of the wine-growing communities in this incredibly scenic area.
The "seven vines of Alsace" are the white wine varieties Gewurztraminer, Muscat (the two varieties Muscat Blanc and Muscat Ottonel are often used together), Pinot Blanc (also - Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois), Pinot Gris (formerly Tokay Pinot Gris - but now prohibited by EU decision), Riesling and Sylvaner, and as the only red wine variety Pinot Noir. Of the other varieties, Chasselas is still worth mentioning, but it has shrunk in area and produces rather simple wines. The Chardonnay is only permitted for Crémants (sparkling wines). The two traditional varieties Goldriesling and Knipperlé (Ortlieber) are no longer of any importance. White wines are produced to over 90%. Red wine is mainly made from Pinot Noir and occasionally also white as Blanc de noirs. The type of vinification (dry to sweet) is not indicated on the label.
There are three appellation designations. The AOC accounts for almost 75% of production. Mostly, these are varietal wines made from 100% of a variety indicated on the label. If this is missing, it is a cuvée of different varieties, which are marketed as Edelzwicker (also Gentil). The Klevener de Heiligenstein from the municipality of Heiligenstein has a special position. The AOC Crémant d'Alsace for bottle-fermented sparkling wines accounts for over 20% of production. The AOC Alsace Grand Cru applies to the 51 Grands Crus. Sweet wines have had a very great tradition in Alsace for centuries. The appellations "Alsace Vendange Tardive" (late vintage) and "Alsace Sélection de Grains Nobles" (noble rotten berries) are added to Alsace or Alsace Grand Cru. Vin de paille(straw wine) and vin de glace(ice wine) are also produced. Alsace wines are bottled in the slender flûtes (flutes) in addition to the crémant.
There are well over a thousand winegrowers and a number of large winegrowing cooperatives. Starting in the 1990s, there was a strong orientation towards Biodynamic viticulture with rigorous yield reduction. Around 10% of all Alsatian wines are produced by a large cooperative in Eguisheim under the brand name "Wolfberger". Other producers are Léon Beyer, Domaine Bott-Geyl, Ernest Burn, Cave de Pfaffenheim, Marcel Deiss, Dirler-Cadé, Pierre Frick, Rémy Gresser, Domaine Jean-Marie Haag, Hugel et Fils, Josmeyer, Maison Jülg, Kreydenweiss, Kuentz-Bas, Seppi Landmann, André Ostertag, Martin Schaetzel, Domaines Schlumberger, Jean-Paul Schmitt, Schoffit, Vincent Stoeffler, Trimbach, Domäne Weinbach and Zind-Humbrecht