Harvest in Alsace

Harvest dates

In Alsace, the harvest begins during the first half of September and continues until early November. Normally, the harvest date is 100 days after the flowing in June and 45 days after the start of the maturation, the véraison.

As indicated in the table below, different dates apply for different AOC and different grapes. Normally, grapes for cremant are harvested first. Then grapes for generic wines are brought in, followed by the Grands Crus. Grapes for Vendanges tardives and Sélection de grains nobles are harvested in several tris during late October and early November.

The different dates are set by INAO, based upon recommendations from a local group of experts, AVA. Growers may apply for earlier dates if the feel that the must weight is getting to high. I have understood, but not checked, that Trimbach often harvest early which makes sense considering their style of wine. André Kientzler is another domaine in Ribeavillé said to use this possibility.

As the table indicates, a full month may differ between starting dates. The growing seasons 2003 and 2004 were very different. The summer of 2003 was very hot, in fact the hottest since the 16th century. Temperatures rose to above 40 C in august. In 2004, the summer was cold, but the vintage, a classic vintage by all means, was saved by a beautiful September.

Normally, Riesling is harvested after all other cépages but that was not the case during these two vintages.

2001 2003 2004
Cremant 17/9 25/8 20/9
Auxerrois, Muscat, Pinot Noir 1/10 8/9 30/9
Chasselas, Sylvaner, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Klevener de H. 4/10
Gewurztraminer 11/10
VT and SGN 17/10 15/9 + 14 days

Yield limitations

The table below indicated maximum yield, rendement, for the different AOC of Alsace. PLC, Plafond Limité de Classement), is an extended volume in excess of standard limit. A grower can apply for PLC but runs the risk of getting his whole production of the particular product declassified.

The growers presented on this site have much lower yields than what is allowed. Typically, great Grand Crus wines are produced at a yields in the range of 45 hl/ha.

Maximum hl/ha
Cremant 80 + PLC
AOC Alsace, white 80 + PLC
AOC Alsace, Pinot Noir 75 + PLC
AOC Alsace Grand Cru 55 - 66

The social dimension

All quality wines are harvested manually. In 2003, is was informed by Pierre Frick of Pfaffenheim that manual harvesting costs about €1500 per ha. With a yield of 50 hl/ha this means 0.3 € per liter. Mechanical harvesting can be carried out at half of this cost.

The family domaine mobilizes the entire family, friends and even long-term costumers for the most intense period of the harvest. If the weather is hot, picking is done early in the morning. One reason is that the must will be cooled after the pressing and it is an advantage if the grapes are cool already when they are brought in. Another advantage is that the acidity is conserved better if the grapes are kept cool.

During harvest time, a lot of tourists invade Alsace. Hugel estimates that Riquewihr alone receives 50 000 guests during the harvest period.