Wine time: Alsace Valley offers taste of storybook vacation

August 13, 2013 

The Alsace Valley of France is an interesting and beautiful place. It’s located on the eastern border of France, near Germany and Switzerland. Wine has been produced in Alsace since Roman times and has unique qualities unlike any other place in the world.

We’ve always been big fans of Alsatian wines, so when we had the opportunity to go, that’s where we headed. It turned out to be different than expected, and even more exciting.

The Alsace Valley runs in a north-south direction bordered by the Vosges Mountains on the west and the Rhine River on the east, near the Black Forest. These two influences, along with the local soils, contribute to give the area a sunny climate conducive to growing white wine grapes with good acidity and minerality. It’s probably the driest wine growing climate in all of France. The local architecture is distinctly German in nature with exposed outside timbers exhibiting Gothic and Romanesque influences.

Food and wine are important here. In fact, there are more Michelin starred restaurants here than in any part of France outside of Paris. The cuisine is decidedly French although you will find an occasional potato side dish acknowledging the heritage of the area.

Running down the center of the valley is the wine road. It’s a collection of what the guide books refer to as “Hansel and Gretel” villages. It’s an apt description. Theses charming and picturesque towns and villages vary in size but are all fresh, clean, and awash in flowers and color. They’re quaint and friendly with cobblestone streets, and come complete with storks.

The white stork, while found elsewhere in the world, is symbolic of this area. They’re large birds and the nests can weigh up to a half a ton. Local belief is if storks nest on your roof, it’ll bring you fertility and good luck. The number of birds began dwindling a while back until they were almost wiped out in the area. A concentrated effort to save them has resulted in their return in abundance. You’ll see them and their nests throughout the valley, but look carefully as you drive. These towns were, for the most part, built before the proliferation of automobiles, and it’s not uncommon to have unusual and sometimes unexpected local traffic restrictions.

As you might expect along the wine road and throughout the valley, you’ll find vineyards. Many of them are laid out in sections. This is partially a result of the 1804 Napoleonic Code, which, in part, pertains to inheritance and how property is passed down. In France many vineyards have been subdivided numerous times as they’ve moved from one generation of a family to another. In some cases, individuals might own only a few vines. There are more than 6,000 growers in the valley. The large number of owners is reflected throughout the valley. There are tasting rooms of various sizes just about everywhere.

Local white grape varieties include Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Sylvaner. These wines are usually made in a dry style, however they have no system or designation of residual sugar. The only way to be sure of the sweetness of a wine is to taste it, which is a good reason to visit the tasting rooms. We found the wines to be generally well crafted with complex layers of flavors.

A happy surprise was the price of the wines. Most tasting rooms have two tiers of wines. The standard wines begin at about 5 Euros ($6.50) and the Grand Cru wines begin at about 10 Euros ($13). Over 90 percent of the wines produced here are white, but they do produce red wines as well, mostly Pinot Noir. It’s generally made to be of light to medium body, and while good, doesn’t rival the fuller-bodied varieties produced in Burgundy.

Wine, food and tourism are the major industries of this area, and the local economy is built around them. Along with the favorable prices of the wines, another happy surprise was the price of hotel rooms. We were able to find three-star hotel rooms for less than 100 Euros ($130). We also found the people to be warm, friendly and accommodating.

We’ve visited many wine growing areas throughout the world, but the Alsace Valley is unique. It’s an enjoyable, laid back, storybook experience. We had a great vacation.

If you’re interested in visiting the Alsace area and would like travel tips, email

Jim and Marie Oskins are freelance writers who live on Lake Wylie.

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