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Alsace is the leading French producer of white wine, and is also the leading beer-producing region. The aim now is to stress the authenticity of the terroirs.
Alsace is one of the few regions in the world where wine and beer come together. Vine and hops are the two incomparable markers of the landscape of Alsace. Wine and beer express the opulence and truculence that characterise the art of living in Alsace.
From Wissembourg in the north to Thann, 180 km to the south, Alsace includes 119 municipalities and close to 1000 wine-growing families in one of the northernmost wine regions of France and Europe. With its dry weather (Colmar is even one of the cities in France with least rainfall), plots facing the east and south and highly diverse soils, the vineyards of Alsace covers 15,500 hectares. In thirteen different geological configurations, 4000 wine-growers cultivate seven major grape varieties: Gewurztraminer, Sylvaner, Riesling, Muscat, Pinot blanc, Pinot gris and Pinot noir.
In 2014, Alsace produced 150 million bottles distributed as follows: 70% AOC Alsace, recognised in 1962 and still sold in the characteristic Rhine wine bottles, 25% Crémant d’Alsace and 4% Alsace Grands Crus. In 2014, the total turnover of the wine industry of Alsace was thus, according to the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins d’Alsace (CIVA), €540 million, of which €140 million from export. Alsace is therefore the largest French producer of still white wine, ahead of the Loire valley and Burgundy. While vines account for 4.5% of the useful farming area in Alsace, wine accounts for 40% of the total agricultural produce of the region.
Today, the wines of Alsace are marked by two broad trends: the return of nature and the terroir. In 2015, 281 growers in Alsace produced their grapes organically; 50 of them applied biodynamics. In ten years, the number of organic growers and areas were multiplied by 4 and 6 respectively. Some 2,230 hectares of vines are being cultivated with the organic AB mark, or 14.2% of the total area of vines, making it the second largest organic wine producer of France.
Since 2011, thirteen strictly limited localities or groups of localities can be mentioned on labels in addition to AOC Alsace. That quest for authenticity complements the creation of Grands Crus of Alsace. Since 1975, 51 exceptional locations have been identified by the French food quality and origin agency, with unparalleled slopes, soils, climates and aspects. They have given rise to Alsace Grands Crus that are protected by European PDOs. The smallest only covers 3.23 hectares and is the Kanzlerberg in Bergheim, already mentioned and growing grapes that have been handled separately since 1312.
The same taste for originality and quality explains the large number of micro-breweries. Alongside large international groups that have taken over the iconic brands of Kronenbourg, Fischer and La Licorne and Météor, the last independent brewery in the region, new breweries have emerged in recent years, such as Uberach, Moon or la Perle, to name but three of the 35 artisan breweries listed in Alsace. While the first two were created from scratch by passionate entrepreneurs who virtually began brewing in their kitchens, the third is a resurrection.
The new chromatic and taste palette of the beers of Alsace is also a reminder that Alsace is the leading brewing region in France. In 2014, the six breweries that are members of the Syndicat des Brasseurs d’Alsace (Kronenbourg, Heineken, Météor, Licorne, Saint-Pierre and Uberach) produced close to 10 million hectolitres of beer, or close to 60% of the production of beer in France. Their total turnover was €1.4 thousand million.
The same breweries employ nearly 1400 employees and invested €150 million between 2011 and 2014 to develop their plant, fit out their buildings or improve their environmental performance.
But Alsace is not happy to just brew beer. Two malt houses prepare malt. Every year, some sixty growers produce over 700 tonnes of hops, which give beer its inimitable taste. And in recent years, the Licorne brewery of Saverne has been brewing a 100% Alsace beer with barley that is grown and harvested in Alsace, called the Licorne Elsass.
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