We dance back to France to read the second episode of my Rediscover France series. The scent of smoky vineyards in the morning sun with crisp Riesling plays over in my mind and softens the short drive to Alsace …Alsace, the pride of eastern France that embraces the German border. It’s where the cadence of the Rhine colors life itself.
Bas and I were invited to visit a handful of winegrowers over these four days. To Segway and cycle through the vineyards. To learn to paint with beer and wine, (Emile Stahl would be proud of me). To meet the Wonder Women of the vineyards and get to taste the oldest wine in the world—Cheers!
While many hipsters daub their Instagram with shots of cloudy natural wine when visiting Alsace, I’m looking forward to a more authentic wine experience. Alsace is known for its elegant Riesling, dry Pinot Gris, and full Gewürztraminer. When visiting a classy wine region close to home, why not discover everything Alsace has to offer!
So, today I’m a winemaker in Mittelwihr
Hidden among hundreds of juicy grapes, Thibault from Domaine Specht in Mittelwihr is waiting for me. A buzzard greets me as I enter the domain as I follow in Thibault’s footsteps. It was still a bit early in the year to pick my favorite fruit (the winemakers call this period the calm before the storm). I imagine myself as the ambitious captain on a dry ship.
After a short tour of the impressive domain, I check the sugar levels of the various grapes like helpless diabetic patients. The amount of sugar determines the alcohol percentage and therefore the quality of the wine. Thibault tells me how happy he is with life in Alsace after having lived for a while in the bustle of the big city. We sip together on a blushy Pinot Gris as I learn how the wine craftsman lives on the adrenaline of passion. I think back to my loft in Antwerp and muse about my own domain. Later, I call my wine Vino Di Mare, with an animal from the ocean on the bottle as a catchy logo. The day flies by and I enjoy every last moment.
That night, I sleep wonderfully in one of the beds of a gîte housed within the vigneron Zeyssolff wines of Alsace—I dream about a humpback whale on Vino Di Mare as it wins the Decanter World Wine Award 2035.
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A Segway through the vineyards of Alsace
Ready for a one-of-a-kind experience? In the winery in Heiligenstein, with a name that sounds like a castle from the fourth Harry Potter, my ride awaits (perhaps the last invention of the Alsatian Professor Dumbledore). Ever wanted to race through vineyards on a Segway? Then a visit to Heiligenstein is a must. The ease with which this monster sweeps me over the steep flanks puts a big smile on my boyish heart; the results in this video are clear for all to see:
We zoom on to Pfaffenheim, where Paul and his father Jean-Claude from the Rieflé-Landmann domain welcome us on to their organic winery. Did you know that 20% of the domains in Alsace have carried a green organic label, as standard, since the 1980s? With a percentage like that, Alsace is truly the best place to be a student of fine French wine. Together with Jean-Claude, we climb the steep slopes with an electric mountain bike. At the end of our visit I’d expected a yellow jersey, but I’m rewarded with a sip of liquid gold instead—I taste the most delicious Riesling in the country.
For more information see www.velovignesbio.alsace
Painting with red wine
Back at my temporary home base in Zeyssolff, Célin and Yvan reveal their visionary minds to me. I find myself in the beautifully restored ‘tasting room’ of the guest rooms in the domain. Then the lights go out—the Scandic flavoured natural décor in the basement goes dark. Suddenly, I find myself in the middle of an immersive 360° film about the domain and wine culture of Zeyssolf; an impressive experience that will stay with me for a long while.
As the sun sets, I meet with Laurent Bessot, a local artist known for painting with wine. One hour later he conjures up a portrait of me surfing a wave of wine (let’s not talk about my own creation).
The women of the vineyard
Véronique Muré, one of the more driven women behind ‘diVINes d’Alsace’ tells me about the organization. It’s a place that strives for a more balanced, more diverse culture in viticulture, a place that seeks to rise above the male bastions. She tells me that not all wines have to taste so heavy and rough, that we can also enjoy the more elegant whites over those hardy reds.
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The oldest wine in the world
After a wonderful night at Guillaume from Maison d’Emilie, I leave Pfaffenheim with a satisfied smile. In his former life, Guillaume has been a Michelin star chef in restaurants all over the world. Today, he hosts charming guest rooms in his cozy village. I make my way to the beating heart of Alsace, a sturdy part of Strasbourg that shines with swagger. In Fignette, I eat the best flamed meal in the world, take selfies at the cathedral, and on my way to the Hospices de Strasbourg I pass the cutest streets and the coziest stalls. Then I dive into the wine cellar to learn more about the history of this liquid gold. And then I meet her: the oldest wine in the world.
Behind a sturdy iron gate, in the deep cellar there are three large barrels of wine that date from 1472—three were created to mark special occasions; In 1576, when Zurich helped Strasbourg fight against a common enemy. 1718, for the reconstruction of the Hospice de Strasbourg after a heavy fire. And 1944, when General Philippe Leclerc de Hautecloque liberated the city. (I’m thinking of ways to become number four on this list). When I got to smell the wine, the soft air in the room soon turned into a complex flavor bomb.
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That evening, I uncork a bottle of my favorite wine and my next four days in Alsace soon fly by. ‘I open another bottle. J’suis poli, courtois, … Alsace, tu étais formidable – Stromae’.