Of Vineyards and Medieval Riquewihr
A last minute decision to arrange a half-day private tour to see more of the Alsace Wine Route turned out to be one of the best decisions we’ve made on this trip (although I was still kicking myself for not having brought my International Driving Licence along, and thus could not even consider the option of self-driving).
Our driver cum tour guide Marc from VinoRoute is an Alsace native (I think?) that spoke very good English, and married to a lady whose family owns a small vineyard along the Alsace Wine Route. He told us that he would help out during harvest time when the vineyard is strapped for manpower, and has learnt a few things about vineyards and wines. His wife still doesn’t trust him to prune the grape vines after so many years though, he joked.
I’m not a drinker of coffees, alcoholic beverages and wines. Occasionally I may pick up a glass or two of dessert or sparkling wines but in general, not a drinker without prompting. Naturally my knowledge in this department is very much lacking, and this day trip was such an eye-opener. Dear Marc taught us how to predict the quality of wine based on location of the grape vines i.e. the premium wines usually come from grape vines located in hill areas that are breezy and constantly have sunlight. He also told us these grapes are different from grapes we buy off shelves in supermarkets – these grapes meant to be fermented into wines are often too acidic to be eaten on their own. Who would have guessed? I thought all grapes are the same. Apparently not. I have so much to learn…
We were in the vicinity during down time for vineyards when vineyard owners were taking the time to prune and prepare the vines for the next cycle of growth. This identifying two of the most healthy branches and pruning away the rest, is arguably the most crucial step in grape growing.
Grape vines that have been carefully pruned, with two to three branches left each vine
Vines that have not been pruned – apparent from the mess and overgrowing of branches
The Alsace Wine Route looks rustic for the most part, with rolling hills, quaint villages and miles and miles of grape vines. It’s almost like Tuscany’s equivalence, only with grape vines instead of olive trees. I loved the vibes it gave me, and fell in love with the medieval village we eventually stopped at.
We were given about an hour to explore Riquewihr since we had a wine tasting session scheduled after that. Medieval villages like this is right up my alley, and one hour was barely enough for me to take in the sights and take pictures with both my DSLR and iPhone (so I could WA pictures to family, and IG heh). Incidentally, it was the mister who solved my dilemma. His iPhone’s battery juice ran out, hence borrowing mine was the next best option. That freed me up to concentrate on enjoying the village within the given time and taking pictures with only the DSLR.
Riquewihr is a very picturesque village; every corner we turned into was worth taking a picture of. A pity the sky was overcast that afternoon, making picture-taking rather challenging.
We were in such good mood I suggested we take a wefie (which is extremely rare haha). The weather looks mild from the pictures but you can probably guess that it was rather cold, warranting my need for gloves. Don’t judge it based on the mister’s attire – he has an absurdly high tolerance for cold! Just imagine, in sub-zero weather, he left our Seoul hotel in shorts and a tee to the convenient store across the street (not near!) to buy water… and returned later telling me he didn’t feel cold at all! Cray cray much!
Next, Marc drove us to Dopff au Moulin, one of the largest remaining family owned wineries in the Alsace region. We were given a quick tour of the facilities. A lot of the processes have since been modernised but we were surprised when showed that some of the casks are actually a few hundred years old!
And then it was time for some wine tasting. We tried 4 different wines: Riesling, Pinot Gris, and 2 different Gewürztraminer. I was gradually getting ‘high’ as I imbibed more wines so I can’t really recall now, what I felt about the wines. They were all nice, but I like the 3rd wine i.e. the Gewürztraminer best. Because we still had to travel to Switzerland before heading back home, we decided to just buy a bottle of Gewürztraminer Grand Cru, to be drunk over the next few days.
After the wine tasting, I had some difficulty walking back to our car. And promptly fell asleep as we moved off. Presented all symptoms of being drunk. 😆 Proof that I really don’t drink all that often. So while I slept away, the mister was having a lovely chat with Marc about winter sports. Having stayed near the Alps his whole life, he self-confessed to be a skilled skier and snowboarder. We were full of envy because well… in Singapore, we don’t get to do winter sports and skiing is a sport I’ve always to spend more time on. Marc then told us that he would be heading towards Austria with his family for a ski holiday the following week or so, after monitoring the snowfall activity. I asked him why not Switzerland since it is nearer. He admitted that Switzerland is too expensive, and it doesn’t help that the Swiss Franc is so strong. We got to experience what he said first-hand a couple of days later, when we spent the last days of our vacation in Zurich.
We also learnt from Marc that Alsace has been largely untouched and unspoiled through the major wars because all parties involved would want to leave it intact such that when they take over, they can reap from the affluence enjoyed throughout the region. For this, I loved Alsace more since their structures would have been standing since they were first built. And I would love to explore the wine route in detail. It is truly unfortunate that we met an exceedingly unfriendly French at the train ticket office in Strasbourg, twice. The mister has sworn off France (and is adamant about it) due to our experiences with her and prior experiences in Paris. Perhaps I should remind him that we had good memories of the French Riviera although I’m not certain if it would help one bit. 😦