I have taught classes on Alsace many times, explaining this magical place from what I had read in books, seen in pictures and learned from others’ experiences. Never could I have prepared myself for what I saw with my own eyes.
The Haut-Rhin department of Alsace, south of Strasbourg and certainly the best area for grapegrowing, is stacked with cute then cuter villages, one after the next. Not a mile goes by before you enter another enchanted little town. They love their flowers! You feel immersed in them as they drip from each window box, dangle from street posts and erupt from hundreds of pots around town. The uneven two story houses glue together were off all shapes and colors, held together by hand hewn logs. As though a community of munchkins or oomp loompas conspired to create a paradise to call home, it felt I was walking through a candyland dream.
Every step inspired a genuine need to shout ‘cute!’ or ‘adorable!’. Even I was sick of me after an hour or so. We walked around the town of Colmar to get our bearings. Everyday townspeople and tourists alike filled the streets, strolled past the markets, took boats down the canal and dipped into shops. There was a terrific energy to this second largest town in Alsace. We had a little tarte flambee and continued our tour. We noticed the time, and worked our way back to the car to make our appointment with Emile Beyer in Eguisheim, not 15 minutes away.
When I say Christian Beyer was one of the more gracious and generous people to walk the earth, I fear I still underestimate him. He greeted us in his home and presented to us an itinerary of sorts. “First, I take you around the village? It’s okay? Then a walk through the winery? Then into my vineyards for a look at the various vines? Then we will come back to taste? Finally, my wife and I want to take you to dinner? It’s okay?”
Yes. Yes, that is okay. It truly is above and beyond anything I have had a winemaker offer to do. Especially when he doesn’t really know us at all.
So we were off. He took us through this old village of Eguisheim and discussed its history. He has carried the torch of a winery that has been in the Beyer family for 14 generations. You can tell this is something he values very much. Being the youngest of 4 children, it is a wonder that he was so fortunate to end up with this estate. And curious, too. Why didn’t his two older brothers or sister take it over themselves? It is a question I don’t ask, but I suspect it is to do with the French law/tax that doesn’t make inheritance so glamourous. You have to want it. And that, Christian does.
He walks us through the old church and steeple. He explains the significance of the medieval decor and preserved relics, one that depicts a picture of the fortunate souls who wait for the second coming.. and those of the less fortunate who are impatient and therefore left with empty goblets.
As we continue down the windy, cobbly roads, it is all I can do to laugh outloud. Everything appears perfect in this village. Elder women swing open their colorful windows to wash between the woodwork and shout a friendly ‘bonjour!’ Children giggle as they play hide and go seek. I even catch a teenage boy wink at a young girl as he hops on his bicycle. Seriously people. That’s the land I was in for 24 hours.
Christian points out thinks I would never have noticed–old German sayings etched in the brick, the dates of establishment above each doorway, and even the massive nest that are wedged into chimney shoots beneath large storks that represent mascots in their land. Yep. Storks.
The smiley sausage girl bids us good day, the girl next door sweetly motions to her fromage. My senses are tickled and beyond overstimulated. But sensory stimulation is a drug to me. There is a reason I went into wine, you see.
As I hear the church bells sound and observe a peaceful fountain in the town square, I go to pinch myself, but it makes no difference. It all is still there after I mentally utter: ow. This is a place where people live. I have set a new goal in my mind: move to Eguisheim one day, even if for only a few months.
After a tour of his winery, his incredibly variant vineyard sites (that are managed organically) and a sampling of his wines (all of which are far above their price in terms of quality and length), we head back to our simple, lovely hotel: Auberge Alsacienne, just up the road from the winery. We change quickly and walk with him to a little brasserie in the town square. Here at Restaurant Caveau Heuhaus you can see Chuck Berry’s old companion, Jimmy Bock, playing up a storm in their cabaret.
The menu is very traditional, the food is good, and our hosts crack open a Riesling from their Pfersigberg vineyard. The acid was incredibly fresh– a youth entering its teens, this Riesling has a way to go. Most of their single vineyard Rieslings, in a good vintage, can go well beyond 20 years. The other day we visited Zind Humbrecht, one of the region’s best (if not BEST) producers, and although we didn’t get a chance for a formal tour, it was still very apparent in their lineup that this longevity is not so surprisingly uncommon in Alsace from great growers.
Our jolly old times had to come to a close eventually, which was probably good as a little too much eau de vie ended in a colleague terribly mixing his French with Spanish–shouting ‘señor’ at the waiter… as I nearly died. Our (‘amigo’) hosts were only to quick to understand our American shortcomings when attempting a second language. I admit, it can be difficult to recall words well when your brain has been wired with one second language already. It seems I know more Spanish now than a few years ago, merely because I am exercising it to understand a third one.
In the morning I wake, breathe in the wet cobble stones on my run, and take in the scent of the dew that clings stubbornly to the vines on the the hillside vineyards underneath the threatening glare of the rising sun. I am definitely sad to leave this wonderland. Thankfully, next on the plate is a another day or two with my guy followed by the most amazing wine region on the planet: Burgundy. After an aperitif of Champagne to begin this trip, followed by remarkable whites, I am craving a little red…
By the time I am back from my run, the ever more stubborn sun consumes the remaining dew, takes the rose glass effect down a notch, and I am ready to press onward with this unbelievable ride.