Vinification of Alsace wines

A good start is essential

The rules applying to the three AOC of Alsace, it is prescribed that vinification should be "traditional". But what is that? Fortunately, it is not the same thing as 30 years ago.

In the following, vinification at a quality conscious producer is described.

Vinification of white Alsace wines begins the same moment as the picker stretches to reach the bunch of mature grapes. In order to retain the acidity and freshness of the grapes, the bunch must be handled with utmost care. Just as an apple, dropped to the floor, starts to oxidise within minutes, the qualities of grapes will deteriorate rapidly if treated without care.

The grapes are picked in the morning to facilitate cooling of the must after pressing. In the vineyard, the bunches are put into plastic containers holding 100−120 kg. The containers are transported to the winery and emptied straight into the press.

Nowadays, the grapes are not destemmed prior to pressing. Destemming was, in fact, a completely pointless practice that led to oxidation of the grapes before the must had even reached the fermentation vessel.

The modern, pneumatic wine press is basically a bag holding the grapes inside a pressure vessel. Pressing takes place as the pressure outside the membrane increases. The must is produced without any grinding at all. The pressing lasts for up to 4 hours according to an elaborate sequence of pressure increases, turning and draining.

Three is a lucky number

Grapes that are not infected by botrytis undergo pressing that gives three fractions. The first fraction, a few % of the must, is called the "washing" fraction. It is dilute and contains a lot of the proteins released from the grapes. If not taken away, these proteins may cause problems at later stages of the vinification.

The second fraction is the main fraction of superior quality. The must from the second pressing should be quite clear, reducing the need for fining and filtering during later stages of the vinification. If the grapes are infected by rot, the pressing procedure is vital to ensure a fresh wine.

After a final pressure increase, the third fraction, used for Edelzwicker and other simplier wines is collected.

Normally, maceration is not practices for white wines. The sole exception is Muscat if absolutely free from rot. Pinot Noir undergoes maceration for up to 15 days before pressing.


After the pressing, the must is cooled to 4 C. AT this stage, a large part of the sediments is allowed to settle for some 48 hours. At this temperature, the fermentation will not start. The clarification of Gewurztraminer may often be a problem at this stage, leading to very rapid fermentation later on.

Chaptalization in the range of 1.5-2 % is allowed (each % corresponds to 16.83 g/liter of sugar). On some Grand Crus, Pfersigberg among others, the local growers association has decided to apply additional restrictions.

The secrets

Even though each producer applies a unique pressing sequence, the secrecy starts at fermentation. While many producers will, if asked, simply state that they let nature do the job, the winemakers will apply a certain temperature sequence to create a certain character of the final wine. For example, some growers may stimulate formation of certain intermediate fermentation products by keeping a low temperature during the initial stages. Another strategy is to control the temperature to get equal rate of fermentation for a certain period of time.

In the New World, cold fermentation at 10-12 C is common. However, this may lead to "amylic", flavours of banana, melon, pears etc. These flavours are not typically associated for Alsace wines of high quality.