Soil and climate

Heterogeneity is the central issue that makes the essence of Alsace difficult to grasp. It starts with the huge diversity of terroir. Alsace is a long strip of around 100 kilometers and is divided in Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin. Its macroclimate is influenced by the Vosges mountain range, which holds all clouds coming from the west making the region as dry as parts of Southern France. While the Bas-Rhin is less protected, due to the mountain range being lower, producing lighter wines than the more prestigious, southern Haut-Rhin. The vineyards are located on the foothills of the Vosges generally facing east. The soil is highly diverse, because this region was formed millions of years ago when the mountain ranges on either side of the river Rhine, namely the Vosges and the Schwarzwald (black forest) developed, mixing up the hitherto composed soils: Alsace has a mix of loam, limestone, granite, sandstone and volcanic soils with different fertility and water holding capacities, making it necessary to combine terroir with the right grape variety. This is one reason why there is a huge diversity of grape varieties available. The varieties are a mix of German and French: Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Pinot Noir, Sylvaner and Pinot Blanc. To give just one example, while Riesling produces the best wines on very poor soils, Gewurztraminer needs more fertile ground to develop its intense aromatics. That is the reason why Olivier Humbrecht (of Domaine Zind-Humbrecht) has planted Riesling in the upper part of the single vineyard Rangen, which is poorer and in the lower much richer part he planted Gewurztraminer. Pinot Gris is best suited for deep soils that are relatively dry and well-exposed. Pinot Noir needs a more temperate climate and loves clay-limestone soil, while Muscat needs warm, wind-protected vineyards and prefers not too heavy soils like Sandstone.