The Heart of Alsace, France, and the Wine Industry

In the Alsace area, the practice of growing grapes and creating wine dates back to Roman times. Its wines were among the most well-regarded and sought-after in medieval Europe. The Vosges Mountains protect the west of this prestigious vineyard on the French side of the Rhine.

The 150-kilometer Alsace wine route comprises both flat and hilly terrain. Late afternoon light exposure on the slopes of the Vosges Mountains provides ideal conditions for the vineyards of Alsace. Allowing the grapes to mature at a slower rate allows for the production of high-quality wine to be achieved. Alsatian grape varieties acquire distinctive aromas thanks to the cool, crisp autumn air[1].

Wines from Alsace come from a patchwork of “terroirs,” or wine-growing areas that make up the region’s true richness. In addition to the subtle intricacies of their fragrances and the distinctiveness of their tastes, they explain their differences in expression and the durability of their typicity. While this is undoubtedly true, the focus of this article is on whether or not Germany and France are embroiled in a legal fight over Alsace wine production.

Alsace

Figure 1. Wine Map of Alsace Region. Source: Credits to Wine Folly Shop

History of Alsace

For more than 1,100 years, Alsace has been a wine-producing area, so one would expect it to have a rich tapestry of tales, personalities, and grand vin. A better description of this area would be “devastated,” which is a monument to the region’s people’s tenacity after having gone through so much throughout its history. Compared to a fighter who has never won a bout, this area has gone through more battle scars. In this northern French area, drinking wine has been a way of life since at least 1870. Due to its chaotic socio-economic past more than its lousy winemaking, the region’s wines have been unable to gain a worldwide reputation during the previous few decades[2].

On a map, you will see that Germany is positioned to the left of Alsace. Named for its namesake river (the Elsass), this area was once called “Ill River Country.” Additionally, the vineyards of Alsace are vulnerable to the same extreme weather conditions as those of German vineyards[3].

However, owing to military administration and regional competitiveness, the wines of Germany and Alsace have stayed different. It is common for Alsatian wines to be quite dry, in contrast to German wines, which are classified by the amount of sugar in the wine[4].

It is important to the Alsatians to distinguish their wines from those made elsewhere in Germany out of a sense of national identity and self-worth. Because the Alsatians want to maintain their separate identity, this is a factor. The Alsatians feel hatred against Germans for the almost century-long era of enslavement, even though it is seldom stated out loud.

It was not until 1918 that the German occupation of Alsace ended, as chronicled by the late author Andre Simon in his seminal work “Wines of the World” (1962). This was the longest period in history when it came to occupations. Alsace was a main priority for the German authorities of the time, who wanted to accomplish their ultimate goal of Germanizing Alsace and its inhabitants. Wine was one of the first items to succumb to its ravages[5].

Alsatian wines were prohibited from being sold using the region’s name under the German occupation enforced by law. Aside from that, the wine might be mixed in any manner, even if doing so eliminated some of the distinctive characteristics that have come to be associated with Alsace. Riesling and Gewurztraminer (formerly known as Traminer) were also declared illegal, making them two of Alsace’s most significant grape varieties[6].

The most sought-after varieties, according to Simon, were not replanted until 1919, several years after the conflict. On the other hand, Alsace wines did not immediately draw the world’s notice. Alsace was mostly unknown in its own country, and the rest of the world had no idea that wine was made there[7].

Alsace: 1918 Overturn

In 1918, the First World War ended, and the German Empire relinquished control of the land it had held for over half a century. New administrative and judicial frameworks were implemented once France regained control of the region. As local and national economic elites tried to realign their economic systems to French institutions and markets, battles erupted over the renegotiation of Alsace and Alsatian identities within the framework of the French nation. Local and national political and economic leaders were also involved in their communities. As it quickly took on the character of a multi-fronted struggle, wine began to embody the most challenging aspects of the reintegration process[8].

Since the earliest days of the Alsatian region’s written history, winemaking has played a significant role in the region’s economy. As recently as 1920, 26,000 hectares of vineyards covered the eastern slopes of the Vosges mountain range in the Alsatian region. This was one of the world’s most densely populated vineyards. The vineyards of the Haut-Rhin department may be found down to Thann in the southernmost portion of the region, from Marlenheim in the north to Thann in the south[9].

Winemaking had its unique set of challenges after the First World War, even though many other sectors of the economy had to contend with comparable obstacles. When France opened its markets to foreigners for the first time in decades, brewers took advantage of it. They also capitalized on the fact that France had locked off Alsace and Lorraine to Baden and the Palatinate. This resulted in sales of Alsatian beer in France fast exceeding 100,000 hectoliters. In contrast, due to these events, German beer imports dropped from more than 400,000 hectoliters to only a few thousand hectares following World War I[10].

Political issues arose because of the Alsatian wine industry’s position on France’s relationship with the region. As well as issues concerning France’s ties with Germany. As to whether or not French law should be applied to Alsace and the Moselle in terms of wine regulations. They were all brought up in discussions on how to promote Alsace wines in France’s interior. Much work went into these debates[11].

As a result of the close ties between Alsace and Germany, wine has played a significant role in bridging the gap between the two countries. Changes in their connection with each other were expressed via wine politics. An examination of German customs’ treatment of Alsatian wines was revealed in a report published by the Strasbourg Chamber of Commerce in February 1922. The German government still received “vins d’Alsace” mixed wines to justify this move. As a result of the French wine rule, this label was no longer legal[12].

Conclusion

From 1940 until 1945, Alsace was again under German occupation, and the region’s wines were again harmed by a lack of attention and restrictive laws.

It is said that Hitler, who is said to have favored Alsace wines, was a lover of those produced in the area during this especially cruel occupation. Himmler, Hitler’s most senior commander and director of the Gestapo, was tasked with protecting Alsace from the allied forces in the last phases of the war.

However, no one understands why the battle to recover Alsace was so bloody during the Second World War.

Alsace was returned to the Republic of France after the end of World War I.

ON THIS DAY

June 1, 1940: A significant swath of western Europe, including Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and most of France. This was the day Nazi Germany seized Alsace during the early stages of World War II. Germany seized Alsace and dominated the region until the liberation of Strasbourg by the Allies on November 23, 1944[13]. Alsace was returned to the Republic of France after the war.

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References

[1] Demoissier, Marion, Wine Drinking Culture in France: A National Myth or a Modern assion? (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2010), 29

[2] Strachan, John, ‘The Colonial Identity of Wine: The Leakey Affair and the Franco-Algerian Order of Things’, Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, 21, 2 (2007), 118–37

[3] Smith, Andrew, Terror and Terroir: The Winegrowers of the Languedoc and Modern France (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2016)

[4] Carolyn Grohmann, Problems of Reintegrating Annexed Lorraine into France, 1918–1925, University of Stirling, Unpublished PhD Thesis, 2000

[5] Dan P. Silverman, Reluctant Union: Alsace-Lorraine and Imperial Germany, 1871–1918 (University Park: Penn State University Press, 1972).

[6] Dan P. Silverman, Reluctant Union: Alsace-Lorraine and Imperial Germany, 1871–1918 (University Park: Penn State University Press, 1972).

[7] Strachan, ‘The Colonial Identity of Wine’, 126.

[9] Dan P. Silverman, Reluctant Union: Alsace-Lorraine and Imperial Germany, 1871–1918 (University Park: Penn State University Press, 1972).

[10] Karine Varley’s chapter ‘The Lost Provinces’ in Varley, Under the Shadow of Defeat: The French War of 1870–71 in French Memory (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan 2008).

[11] Nolan, Michael, The Inverted Mirror: Mythologizing the Enemy in France and Germany, 1898–1914 (New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2004)

[13] Karine Varley’s chapter ‘The Lost Provinces’ in Varley, Under the Shadow of Defeat: The French War of 1870–71 in French Memory (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan 2008).

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