The Grand Cru System

As Olivier Humbrecht explains, Grand Cru wines in Alsace represent only 4% of the total production. As of 2007, when the single vineyard Kaefferkopf was added to the list, 51 Grand Cru vineyards have existed in Alsace. The concept of Grand Cru is relatively young, it started in 1975 when the first Grand Cru vineyard was classified, continued in 1983 with a list of 25 Grand Cru hillsides, followed by another 25 vineyards classified in 1985. The Grand Cru wines are made from four grape varieties: Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Muscat and Pinot Gris. There are a few exceptions: Sylvaner is allowed in the Zotzenberg Grand Cru and varietal blends are allowed in the Altenberg de Bergheim Grand Cru and in the Kaefferkopf Grand Cru.

The main criticism of this concept is that the boundaries are sometimes very extensive. This, combined with their long history are the reasons for wineries like Trimbach and Hugel not to participate in the Grand Cru regulations at all. They kept their successful wine types like “Cuvée Frédéric Emile” (Trimbach) which since the 19th century has been a blend of Riesling grown in the Grand Cru vineyards Osterberg and Geisberg. Furthermore, almost all icon wines from Alsace are named after small parcels in Grand Cru vineyards like the “Clos St. Hune” (Trimbach) in the Grand Cru Rosacker, “Clos de Capucins” (Weinbach) in the Grand Cru Schlossberg, “Clos St-Landelin” (Muré) in the Grand Cru Vorbourg, “Clos Hauserer” (Zind-Humbrecht) in the Grand Cru Hengst and “Clos St-Urbain” (Zind-Humbrecht) in the Grand Cru Rangen. Some of them mention the Grand Cru vineyard additionally on the label, others not. This doesn’t strengthen the Grand Cru classification.

However, there are promising developments. Since 2011 each of the Grand Crus has become a separate AOP with separate rules and every local Grand Cru syndicate now has the opportunity to develop its own rules. The syndicates Hengst and Vorbourg are considering including Pinot Noir in the list of authorised grape varieties. If the INAO eventually approves these amendments, they would become the first red wine Grand Crus in Alsace. Some Grand Cru syndicates will also define environmental requirements and it is possible that we will see the first appellations where organic or even biodynamic viticulture is obligatory. This is exciting.