Alsace: the new generation

Fresh-thinking young winemakers could be the shot in the arm that Alsace needs, as they focus more than ever on the terroir-driven, dry styles that today’s wine lovers want. Panos Kakaviatos reports.

It’s a region close to the heart of many wine lovers and yet Alsace continues to suffer image problems.

In June 2013 Rémy Gresser, then president of regional wine body CIVA (Conseil Interprofessionneldes Vins d’Alsace), bemoaned a drop in sales incertain export markets, and recognised that continued consumer confusion over sweetness levels was to blame. In a telephone conversation more recently, he acknowledged that even though the younger generation of winemakers were making drier styles, an identity problem still exists for Alsace. ‘When consumers buy Sancerre, they know it’s a dry white wine, but with Alsatian wines, they don’t know what they’ll find in the bottle.’

Gresser explains that part of the problem stems from the mid 1980s, when official recognition was given to late-harvest wines. ‘The influence of late-harvest wines on regular wines is that the latter were often left with residual sugar as well,’ Gresser said. ‘As a result, Alsatian wines lost their food-friendliness, to the point where restaurateurs and sommeliers are becoming disinterested.’

A glance at the figures seems to confirm Gresser’s concerns. Since 1969, exports of Alsatian wines rose in volume and value – hitting a peak in volume in 1990, at just over 342,242 hectolitres.But since then volumes have slowly declined, to 265,201 hectolitres in 2012. While the value of exports has increased steadily, some key markets such as the UK and Germany have seen a decline in both value and volume since 1990.