Warm Up: The Soils of Alsace

By Erin Scala

Alsace is one of the world’s unique wine regions, and its uniqueness begins with its soil. As a land between two faults, many of the vineyards sit between the Vosges Fault and the Rhine Fault. Intense geologic activity that shook things up about 45 million years ago, around the same time the Alps formed. This crust movement that affected much of what is now-Europe exposed all sorts of different soils from different periods. Staring at a geologic map is sort of like seeing pictures from various different points in the earth’s history. Alsace soils are a mosaic of different soils and eras.

The hodgepodge of soil types here has made Alsace a region of diverse sub-economies throughout the ages. Forests grow on sandstone and — as a source of wild game — they have helped drive cuisine in the region. Quarried sandstone was used to build many a cathedral and citadel. Hops and fruits grow nicely on the loess soils, and grapes, of course, find a home in many different types of soils such as granite, shale, schist, alluvial fans, and volcanic soils. The wine scene exists within a richly textured cultural landscape where the synergy of local vegetables, meats, and wines make for exciting cuisine.

These days, the multitude of soil types need a multitude of grape varieties suited to them, and so in Alsace you find that the AOC regulations allow for many different grape varieties. More and more, producers are listing or alluding to the soil types on which their wines are grown, and we’re also seeing an increase in red Alsatian Pinot Noir bottlings.

Wine has been growing here for over 2,000 years, but Alsatian wines really took off after the devastating Thirty Years War, which ended in 1648. This war drastically decreased the population. Swiss families moved in to fill the void and many started growing wine. Today, a core group of historic wine-making families come from this resettlement.

Keep listening to hear from one winemaker whose family traces their history back to the Thirty Years War, and who continues to explore the many facets of Alsatian soil types.

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Wilson, James E. Terroir: The Role of Geology, Climate, and Culture in the Making of French Wines

About Erin Scala: Originally from Virginia’s wine country, Erin Scala’s earliest memories of wine include picking and crushing grapes as a child. Scala moved to Manhattan in 2008 and had fun working at PUBLIC, a one-Michelin star restaurant in Nolita, and their adjacent bar, The Daily. She was inspired by the restaurant’s Australian and New Zealand-focused wine list, and in 2013, was honored by Wine Enthusiast in their “40 Under 40” feature for the depth of her selections from the region. After a stint at The Musket Room, Erin moved to Charlottesville, Virginia to run the wine program at Fleurie Restaurant and Petit Pois Bistro. When she’s not working on a Warm Up for the podcast, Scala is off in search of a vineyard, drumming, or writing her blog www.Thinking-Drinking.com. You can also follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

Image of Alsace courtesy of Dreamstime.