Wine Terroirs

Crémants d’Alsace play to their strengths

Crémants d’Alsace have been fashionable for a number of years and have achieved a skilful combination of outstanding vineyard sites and remarkable craftsmanship. Stemming from rigorous production procedures, the wines offer an appealing alternative to the legendary Champagne.

Only one major French wine region has successfully bridged the gap between internationally renowned white wines and quality sparklers for pleasure. Renowned and lauded for its iconic white varietals – Gewurtztraminer, Riesling, Sylvaner and Pinot gris for example – Alsace is also the home of a star-studded line-up of sparkling wines that are well worth discovering. The region boasts a propitious climate with hot weather in the summer, fairly sunny autumns and an unrivalled variety of geological formations. Aiming to produce radiant, racy and fruity wines, growers harvest relatively early to preserve the vibrancy and brightness of the crisp fruit. Crémants d’Alsace are usually blended from a number of grape varieties like Pinot blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay and Auxerrois. However the single varietals are increasingly popular, made from cultivars like Riesling and Pinot gris, along with rosés and ‘blancs de noirs’ that are single varietal Pinot noir. They show great finesse and balance, adding charming mineral accents to a magical array of fruit aromatics and naturally articulate terroir characters. We have chosen a selection of examples that offer the perfect showcase for the qualities of wines that never go out of fashion.


Cave de Ribeauvillé: an ode to tradition

Its church, its three castles and its 13th-century tower draw both holidaymakers and wine enthusiasts to Ribeauvillé. Located at the entrance to the mediaeval village, the Ribeauvillé winery is a popular watering hole. Established in 1895, France’s oldest co-operative winery embraces 246 hectares of outstanding vineyard sites. As per its quality charter, the fruit is picked by hand, a tight rein is kept on yields and the vineyards are farmed sustainably or organically. Sparkling wines account for 40% of production and span five different labels: Crémants Giersberger, a blend of Pinot blanc and Auxerrois; Giersberger Rosé single varietal Pinot noir; Giersberger Chardonnay; Crémant Bio, blended from Pinot blanc, Auxerrois, Pinot gris and Riesling; and the Grande Cuvée, a solera-style wine made from Pinot noir and Chardonnay. “All of them have Brut dosage to make them fresh and suitable for elegant gourmet foods”, comments communications manager Célia Langlois. “The production process involves selection at pressing, traditional method fermentation and ageing on the lees for at least 18 months, which is longer than appellation rules where 12 months are mandatory”. All of the wines are made from hand-picked fruit and undergo static settling and extended maturation. “Because of the size of our winery and our stringent standards, production costs are high”, explains managing director David Jaegle. “Our winery stands apart for its level of recognition, the quality of the wines and our positive image which paves the way for export development”.


Yves Baltenweck, chairman of the Ribeauvillé winery and Évelyne Bléger-Cognacq, its winemaker.

Yves Baltenweck, chairman of the Ribeauvillé winery and Évelyne Bléger-Cognacq, its winemaker.



Guillaume Kester, a grape grower in Ribeauvillé.

Guillaume Kester, a grape grower in Ribeauvillé.



Henri Windholtz, a grape grower who belongs to the Ribeauvillé winery.

Henri Windholtz, a grape grower who belongs to the Ribeauvillé winery.



Maison Zoeller: powerful aromas

The typical timber-framed houses line the labyrinthine streets, some of which overlook the Bruche canal built in 1681. Set in the heart of Wolxheim, Maison Zoeller is home to an impressive 17th-century press which stands as a testament to over four centuries of winemaking. The vineyards are farmed organically and biodynamically and are certified Demeter. The winery’s Chardonnay-based Crémant is made from grapes grown in two blocks, one of which is located in Grand Cru Altenberg de Wolxheim and is matured for 30 months. The portfolio also includes traditional Crémants made from Pinot blanc and Pinot Auxerrois, and a Pinot noir-based rosé. “We are reaping the benefits of having focused our production on grape varieties geared to Crémants since the 1980s”, says Mathieu Zoeller, who joined the property in 1992 after studying viticulture. “So the dedicated vineyards are an average 25 to 30 years old and develop great aromas and body”. The property’s ethos has always revolved around producing ripe, healthy fruit, rather than relying on artifice in the winery. “The classic range is more fruit-driven”, adds Christèle Zoeller. “The percentage of Pinot blanc in the blend is high because the varietal is more delicate and more floral than Pinot Auxerrois which imparts ripe, slightly buttery notes”.


Mathieu Zoeller, his son Hector and wife Christèle

Mathieu Zoeller, his son Hector and wife Christèle who joined the estate in 2003.



Mathieu Zoeller

Mathieu Zoeller during the dosage phase.



Les Vignobles Ruhlmann-Schutz: the height of freshness

The history of this winery dates back to 1688. A Hungarian knight called Ruhlmann moved to Dambach-la-Ville and decided to grow vines. Down through the generations, winegrowing developed and there are now 40 hectares under vine. In 1994, the winery was given its current name. Laurence Ruhlmann, Christine and Jean-Victor Schutz left their jobs to join André Ruhlmann and establish Vignobles Ruhlmann-Schutz. The vineyards benefit from an outstanding location along the Rhine Valley, growing on the slopes of the Vosges at elevations ranging from 175 to 420 metres, where a geological fault line creates a variety of complex soils. The geographical distribution of the vines allows each variety to enjoy the most suitable site. Twenty percent of the wines are sparkling. “The fruit for our Crémants comes from vineyards on clay-limestone and sometimes granite soils”, explains export director Antoine Schutz. “The blend for our Crémant Brut is unique – it has a classic Pinot blanc Auxerrois base with a trace of Riesling for acidity and fruit input from the Pinot gris. These combine to promote maximum freshness”. Time spent on the lees for the Brut and Rosé Crémants is generally 12 months, rising to 18 months for the Extra Brut. “Obviously, we offer a great alternative to Champagne”, adds Schutz. “This is a real advantage in export markets which are demanding but growing”.


The Ruhlmann-Schutz family.

The Ruhlmann-Schutz family.



Domaine Clément et Matthieu Weck: craftmanship at work

A coat of arms dating from 1696 acts as a symbol. The Weck family is one of the oldest lineages in Gueberschwihr, a village renowned for its timber-framed houses and its vineyards. Clément Weck, who was born in 1942, quite naturally perpetuated the family farm before abandoning mixed farming in 1973 in order to fully devote his time to growing grapes and bottling all of his wines. In 1995, at the age of just 23, his son Matthieu joined him after studying viticulture and wine and spirits marketing. “Crémants account for 20% of our production”, he explains. “The fruit mostly comes from old vines with blends that vary depending on the desired wine style”. Artisanal techniques are used in the vineyard, where machine passes – which damage and compact the soil – are kept to a minimum. Picking the grapes by hand maximises cluster selection whilst at the same time showing respect for the soils and avoiding compaction. “Crémant is an alternative to Champagne”, concurs Clément Weck. “But it is also a competitor because although winemaking methods are similar, the price makes it more accessible to a wider audience. Our selection is increasingly comprehensive, ranging from zero dosage to Brut and Demi-Sec”.


The winery at Domaine Weck.

The 17th-century cellar door to the winery at Domaine Weck.



Clément Weck and his wife Jacqueline, with their son Matthieu and his wife Isabelle.

Clément Weck and his wife Jacqueline, with their son Matthieu and his wife Isabelle.



Domaine Aimé Stentz: typicity and flavour

Time has worked its magic in Wettolsheim. In 1919, Jacob Stentz bought a village inn here and turned it into a winery. For many years, the wines were sold in bulk, but in 1960, Aimé Stentz and his wife Angèle gave the winery a new lease of life by showcasing the vineyard sites and production processes. Fifth-generation winegrower Marc Stentz, their grandson, joined the winery for his first vintage in 2011. Since 2016, he has run the 13-hectare, organically farmed property. “Our four Crémants account for a quarter of our production”, explains Marc Stentz. “They are all different and display hallmark flavours and typicity that match consumer preferences”. The Crémant Brut Prestige is blended from 60% Pinot blanc, 25% Chardonnay and 15% Riesling. It is matured on the lees for 18 months before being riddled then disgorged. The range includes the single varietal Pinot noir Crémant Brut Prestige rosé, the Crémant Chardonnay and the Cuvée Équinoxe. The Équinoxe label is harvested on the day of the autumnal equinox. It is made from 50% Pinot blanc, which epitomises daytime, and 50% Pinot noir, which represents night time. “This fusion of day and night reveals two opposing forces which come together in a harmonious blend”, adds Stentz. “The wine offers an interplay between the sunlight, which imbues it with power, and the darkness of the winery which lends it its freshness and finesse. It is important to distinguish between Crémant d’Alsace and Champagne. They don’t necessarily come from the same types of soils, grape varieties or blends. We need to hold our heads high when it comes to our prestigious neighbours”.


Jocelyne Stentz and her son Marc.

Jocelyne Stentz and her son Marc.



The winery at Domaine Aimé Stentz.

Work in the winery at Domaine Aimé Stentz.



Kuehn Alsace Wines: continuity of style

Set in the heart of Alsace, Ammerschwihr unfurls its sun-blessed hills and uniquely shaped vineyard sites. Its varied soils are formed of granite, limestone and schist with a marly-limestone subsoil which promote outstanding wines, enhanced by winemaking rules that foster excellence and authenticity. The Kuehn trading company produces 250,000 bottles a year of complex, quality sparkling wines. “We use 20% reserve wines to ensure continuity in the house style and erase vintage variation”, explains Timothée Boltz, the company’s managing director. “For the Crémant 1675, we prefer to extend the maturation period on the lees to 7 years. The aim is to make the wines more palate-friendly by softening acidities and offering complex, delicate wines where enjoyment is the primary focus”. The company has developed a range that resonates with consumer preferences, with a variety of sweetness levels – Extra-Brut, Brut and Demi-Sec – whites and rosés, Chardonnay and Pinot noir grape varieties and organic farming techniques, where there is a style to suit every taste. “Depending on sales and markets, our aim is to anticipate maturation times on the lees which offer a genuine guarantee of quality”, adds technical and winemaking director Nicolas Garde. “The wines are mostly blended from Pinot blanc and Auxerrois grown over a broad range of complementary vineyard sites. Our Crémants have nothing to be ashamed of compared with Champagnes, as evidenced by the 80% surge in sales over three years. We have the potential to supply wines in the future whose quality continues to increase and which align with consumer trends”.


The staff at Kuehn Alsace Wines.

A festive occasion for the staff at Kuehn Alsace Wines.



Domaine Kuehn.

Have a winegrower’s break at Domaine Kuehn.



Unwavering success

The Crémant d’Alsace appellation was officialised by decree in 1976 and has established a place for itself as the most widely drunk sparkling wine for at-home consumption in France after Champagne. Legal specifications are strict and standards are stringent for the 500 producers that belong to the Crémant d’Alsace producers’ organisation, ensuring a high quality product. “Since the 1990s, sales have followed a constant, regular upward trend”, points out the organisation’s managing director Olivier Sohler. “Our sales have now reached 40 million bottles annually, 22% of them in export markets, with growth in Europe, Eastern European countries and the United States. The rate of growth can be ascribed mainly to consumer trends and reasonable pricing”. Sparkling wines in Alsace now boast a 33% share by volume, which is a record. “Our direct-to-consumer markets don’t compare us with other sparkling wines or Champagne because demand is specific”, stresses Mathieu Zoeller from Maison Zoeller. “What our local and non-local customers mostly want is a quality product with suitable pricing”. The popularity of the French industry has now filtered through to export markets across-the-board, with wines that align with consumer expectations around the world. Their success is undeniable.