Alsace wine through the ages
The beginnings of Alsatian viticulture are difficult to date. Historians limit it to the early Middle Ages, the 5th century. The presence of garrisons, especially those forming legionary camps along the Rhine, required wine to be imported from Hispania and, later, Narbonne. These needs stimulated the birth of viticulture in the region.
It flourished under the influence of the monastic orders during the later Carolingian period. In the Middle Ages, Alsace (or “Aussey” wines as they were known) had a good reputation, they were exported to the Nordic countries via the river Ill and then via the Rhine.
In the 16th century, the grape production area was twice as large as the current vineyard surface. Many buildings, still preserved today and dating back to the early Renaissance, attest to this flourishing period. At this time we also saw the first attempt to establish a kind of designation of origin system : an association of Riquewihr winemakers decided on the official start date of the harvest, and defined which grape varieties to plant.
The Thirty Years’ War ended this period of prosperity and brought war, pillage, famine and plague to the land. Virtually all the vineyards were destroyed. Viticulture was rebuilt after the war ended and in 1828 the area planted to vines had increased to 30,000 hectares.
With the ravages of phylloxera and mildew, the development of cheap rail transport and an increase in beer consumption, there was a drop in viticulture in the 19th century. It decreased to an area of 9,500 hectares, of which 7,500 hectares are in the current Alsace appellation.
The decree of November 2nd 1945 defined the Appellation of Origin “Vins d’Alsace”. This was later incorporated in the decree of October 3rd 1962 with the designation Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée. The decree of June 30th 1971 defines AOC varietal wines. Other appellations have also been added : Alsace Grand Cru (Decree of November 20th 1975) and Crémant d’Alsace ( August 24th 1976).