Between Alsace and wine, it is a very old love story. The beginnings of viticulture in Alsace are dated back to the Roman period. On May 30, 1953, the Alsace Wine Route was officially launched by the tourist office on the occasion of a car rally. This makes it the eldest wine route in France. Two thousand years after the romans grew the first vineyards the Alsace Wine Route is more popular and successful than ever.
Some short thoughts about a long history
The beginnings of viticulture in Alsace are dated back to the Roman period. A few centuries later, the Alsatian wine is experiencing a revival under the influence of the monks and the monasteries. The earliest literary source mentioning viticulture in Alsace is from the early ninth century, attesting to the existence of wine production in more than 160 locations.
The 16th Century was a golden age for wine in Alsace. In the Middle Ages, Alsace wines were famous. They were exported to the norther neighbour countries by the Ill and the Rhine rivers but also a lot to Switzerland.
In the sixteenth century, the production area extended over two times larger than the current vineyard surface. Many buildings still preserved today, dating from the early Renaissance, attest to this flourishing period. From this period also dates the first attempt to establish a kind of quality appellation. An association of winemakers in Riquewihr then decided about the official start date of harvest, and defined the grape varieties that were allowed to plant.
Unfortunately, the Thirty Years War (1618 – 1648) did put an end to this period of prosperity. The vineyard went through ups and downs until the end of World War II. In the second half of the 20th Century the Alsatian wine began again to focus on quality. The creation of the Alsace Wine Route dates back to that time.
May 30, 1953 – the Alsace Wine Route is officially launched
On May 30, 1953, the Alsace Wine Route was officially launched by the tourist office on the occasion of a car rally: two convoys took the road at the same time, one from the north end of the Alsatian vineyard in Marlenheim, and the other from the south end, Thann, and rolled out to meet one another. Several tastings and tours took place on the road. Despite the bad weather, the regional press has echoed this event as a starting signal for the successful Alsace Wine Route.
During the second half of the twentieth century, thanks to better infrastructure, the Alsace Wine Route welcomed an increasing number of visitors and benefited from an ever increasing popularity. The concept of the Alsace Wine Route combines the pleasures of wine, typical Alsatian cuisine and accommodation in the picturesque towns, visiting castles overlooking the vineyards and numerous art and cultural museums (without forgetting the wine museum in Kientzheim near Riquewihr).
Beautiful scenery and warm welcome
Even if only 67 of the 119 Alsatian wine producing towns are on the path of the Alsace Wine Route as defined in May 1953 the scenic route passes close to more than 300 wineries and 48 of the 51 Grands Crus, on the way from Marlenheim to Thann, from the north to the south.
From spring to autumn, the Alsace Wine Route is particularly beautiful. The months of July and August are the time for many wine festivals. Many villages and towns organize festivities. The best known is the Colmar Alsace Wines Fair every year in August for ten days (next time is in 2021). Autumn is the culmination of the growing season in Alsace with the beginning of the harvest and taste the new wine (vin nouveau). But most of the wineries are open all year round and invite wine lovers to stop by for a wine tasting.
Gems along the Alsace Wine Route
Riquewihr is a gem out of the wine golden age in the 16th Century. So are Ribeauvillé, Hunawihr, Bergheim, Kaysersberg and Eguisheim.
Many typical houses still preserved today, dating from the early Renaissance, attest to this flourishing period. There are some important wineries but most of them are small family run estates. The bigger estates are running wine shops in some villages (Riquewihr, Eguisheim, Ribeauvillé, Kaysersberg) where you may step in at any time during the day. In the small family estates, the winemaker himself or wife will let you taste their wines. Unless you are a very big buyer / client, there is no need to book a long time in advance. Just phone the day before. The weather and the work in the vineyard come first anyway. This means that even if you had an appointment a long time ahead, it might not work anyway.
The local tourist offices usually carry good information about numerous hiking trails through the vineyards.