Wine tasting in the Alsace
June 11, 2013
Our friends Aaron and Craig were visiting for a couple of weeks. The first week we explored Switzerland by rail, but this time we had rented a car for the rest of the week. This would enable us to visit some of the numerous wineries that can be found in the famous Alsace Region of northeastern France.
VW Golf – what a great little car!
The first thing we did was head north to Strasbourg, France. We had all heard great things about this beautiful city and decided that it would make a good starting point for our day. We drove up the autobahn and arrived an hour before lunch. We really had no idea where we were going, but managed to find some scenic areas to ogle.
There are a lot of rivers and canals that run through Strasbourg and we ended up crossing quite a few bridges along the way. Tour boats plied the waters and people crowded the sidewalks. This was NOT a sleepy little village!
It was now lunch time and we found the Bistro Margot to our liking. There was some confusion on our order (the French barrier was showing itself) but we all still ended up with wonderful meals and full bellies. After lunch we wandered some more, specifically to see what was at the base of the massive cathedral spire that showed itself above some of the ancient buildings. It turned out to be the Cathedrale of Notre Dame (not of Hunchback fame) and was quite impressive. It was time to find our way back to the car and continue on our quest for wineries!
We crossed great flat fields of French farmland and reached the base of the Vosges Mountains and the wineries that live among them.
Our first stop was in the town of Obernai at a nice little vineyard called Robert Blanck. We were a little hesitant to go in, as a tour bus was parked out front, but it seemed that the group had been shuffled into a yard at the back of the property. We settled into a table in the corner and the proprietor came over to offer us a selection of their finest. I didn’t get any pictures at this point because… well, because I didn’t think it was that interesting.
We bought a few bottles and moved on to another winery. This one was oddly placed near a round about and very modern and sparse. Again, I didn’t take any pictures, even of the cute kitty who came over to say Hi.
But then – THEN! – we found the village of Mittelbergheim. Oh my! This village is rated as “one of the most beautiful villages in the Alsace” and while it was truly picturesque, I have to say that the people we encountered while tasting is what really makes it stand out in my mind.
Our first visit was to the Brandner Winery. A small buzzer went off when we walked through the arch where the front doors had been latched open. We didn’t see anyone and stood there, casually looking around when we heard a voice: a small, elderly woman was making her way slowly down a wooden staircase. I immediately felt bad, watching her take each step with careful precision. She spoke primarily French, but conversed with me in German easily enough. I’m not sure how old she was, but she confided that her sister tried to teach her some English back in ’57, and I have a feeling she wasn’t terribly young when that happened.
The old village black smith’s stove
We went into the wine tasting room, a room obviously used as a black smith shop in a previous life. She informed us that the building was built in 1720 and that she and her son did most of the day-to-day work at the winery. As we sat around the red and white checked table she pulled bottle after bottle out of a tiny white refrigerator. She moved slowly but deftly, her hands never shaking as she poured the wine into the waiting glasses. The guys enjoyed the various wines and soon decided on what to buy. She made a list and motioned for us to follow.
Out of the darkened smithy, we followed her shuffling gait into the courtyard. She descended a couple of steps and unlatched a massive wooden door and continued her descent. We followed her down the stairs, past massive barrels full of wine and wire bins holding glass bottles, waiting for their chance to hold the sweet liquid. Our hostess (I wish I had asked her name!) then carefully pulled the chalk-marked slate covers from the wooden crates and packed our purchases. We all went back upstairs, paid for our wine and said our goodbyes. I would have loved to have spent more time with her, if only the language barrier was not there.
Greatly impressed with Mittelbergheim, we left the car parked on the narrow street and proceeded to explore on foot. There were at least a dozen more wineries to enjoy within the small town’s borders. The guys decided upon another one, Rietsch Winery, and I took advantage of their distraction to walk around the town some more on my own.
This architecture style was very common in this area of France.
The main intersection of Mittlebergheim
I eventually made it back to where I had left the guys and found them laughing loudly with the owner of the winery, all four of them sitting around a tasting table and enjoying wine after wine. The owner, Jean-Pierre, seemed to be enjoying explaining the subtle variations caused by soil composition and time of harvest. He carried on his conversation in French, patiently explaining ideas to the guys in a very down-to-earth and non-patronizing manner. Even after I joined them at the table the conversation continued for another half hour. Jean-Pierre was an engaging and enjoyable host and we learned a lot before handing over our lists and taking boxes of wine back to the car with us.
Bottling day at Rietsch Winery!
The guys with Jean-Pierre
By now most of the day had passed and the tasting rooms were closing their doors. We took a rather long detour to the town of Munster for dinner, only to find that just one restaurant was still open. Fortunately, their food was basic but quite tasty and we left quite satisfied. We didn’t get home until 11:30, but we’re looking forward to going back out the next day for more!