It’s the first visit on the third and last day of the AWE trip to Alsace. So far 100 wines have been tasted (and, yes, some have been consumed) during visits to cellars, tasting rooms, restaurants and hotels throughout Alsace.
Now, after a short and pleasant drive north, from our hotel in Colmar, we arrive at the Cave Vinicole Hunawihr. Following a brief introduction to our host, Nicolas Garde, a walk to and through the vineyards is suggested – and welcomed. It’s back to fresh air and nature time.
We don’t have far to walk. Just out of the door of the beautiful shop belonging to the cooperative, through the tidy car park, turn right and there in front of you, up the hill, is the church that features as the logo on the Cave’s simple but striking labels. Surrounding the church and, indeed, seemingly everywhere else, are the vineyards: an endless verdant splash on the slopes and hills. A work environment that most of us could only dream about.
Nicolas gave us a brief background on the turbulent history of the area before going in to the present-day ‘vine-to-wine’ realities, some of which were very plain to see and appreciate.
Firstly, not all on the vines was green. Leaves were turning yellow, the result of water stress. Here we were reminded that Alsace, although one of France’s most northerly wine regions, is also one of the driest – thanks to the influence of the Vosges mountains. Micro climates were discussed, with the area being relatively cold compared to Colmar and approximately two weeks behind in the growing cycle. Water was been ‘delivered’, via a small tractor, to help relieve young vines.
The water stress problem is more pronounced if the soil is sandy but, thankfully, a variety of soil conditions exist on the plots owned by 110 producers that are linked to the cooperative. The various sites embrace five (5) Grand Cru: Schoenenbourg, Rosacker, Osterberg, Froehn and Sporen.
Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris were the main varieties, but also planted were Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, Auxerrois, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. We noticed a plot of newly replanted vines, replacing old Muscat vines and were told that sites, if available, would cost in the region of €400,000 per hectare.
The visual tour also highlighted the realities of day-to-day decision making. To take leaves off, or to leave them on, that was the burning question. (No pun intended!) Should the risk be that of thinning out the cover and exposing the berries to the burning sun, or to keep all covered, but then risk encouraging problems, such as: coulure, millerandage or oidium.
Remembering the old adage of “A camel is a horse designed by a committee.”, we pondered on the reality of getting the 110 growers/members of the cooperative to reach agreement. The response from Nicolas? “They talk together; they confer; they make individual decisions.”
That was impressive and maybe part of the reason why Nicolas has been in post for eleven years and comes across so enthusiastically when talking about the work of the cooperative. Eleven is also the number elected by the 110 Members/Growers to form the decision-making Board of the cooperative.
But back to the grapes. A base rate of €2.50 per kilo is paid, with up to double that based on the specific site. Riesling attracts a base of €3.70 per kg and the lower yielding Gewurztraminer, a base of €4.50 per kg.
Organic production is very limited and seen as not being very important to customers.
Approx. 75% of the customer base is France, with the remainder exported mainly to Scandinavian countries, Germany and the UK. With the latter, it was noted that specific blends are made for the Majestic group.
Corks were still the closure used – but not of choice! Nicolas stated that he would use screwcaps, especially for preserving the aromas, but the marketplace was still requesting the traditional cork.
Having heard the local history; having walked the slopes and the soils; having strolled among the vines; having touched the leaves and the yet undeveloped fruit; having admired the facilities of Alsace’s oldest cooperative, going back to 1954 (and the 3rd oldest cooperative in France), it was now time to test the product. Well, what else could one do!
The study tour participants will, no doubt, have their own notes: but for the record, the main wines tasted were:
- Riesling Reserve 2013
- Cremant Calixte** (**Pope linked to the Camino to Santiago de C?)
- Riesling Grand Cru Rosacker** 2013 (**Wild Rose)
- Pinot Noir ‘8’ 2013
With the latter, all eyes were on the shape of the bottle. Not the normal Flute d’Alsace, but a bottle shape that was half Burgundy and half Alsace: reflecting the coming together of the two regions when looking at Pinot Noir.
And perhaps that bottle shape summed up the CAVE DE HUNAWIHR: a long history, serving many local grape growers, but with a drive that strives to maintain the balance between tradition and the innovation needed to meet the demands of a changing marketplace.
A votre santé.