Lonely Planet recently singled out Alsace as one of its top ten must-visit destinations – but autumn is the best time for a walk in the vineyards, which are busy bursting into glorious shades of red, yellow and orange. Down in the villages, promising smells of newly fermenting must are busy fighting it out with insistent aromas of tarte à l’oignon, and plump sweet plum tarts.
The tough call is deciding which vineyards and which trails to focus on. The Route des Vins stretches 170 kilometres from Thann in the south to Marlenheim in the north, and there are 47 sentiers viticoles to choose from. One of our absolute faves is the magnificent 15-kilometre Sentier Viticole des Grands Crus. It makes a gorgeous round hike (no turning back or repeating your steps), takes you through some of the Haut-Rhin’s most celebrated vineyards and links several of Alsace’s best known villages (Riquewihr, Hunawihr, Zellenberg, Beblenheim, Mittelwihr, Bennwihr).
Start on the outskirts of Riquewihr and set off on the back road towards Hunawihr. First vineyard of note is Clos Windsbuhl, one of Zind-Humbrecht’s most famous vineyards, on the left heading for Hunawihr. With luck you’ll spot their shaggy sheep doing a good mowing job at the foot of the vines; look closer and you’ll find small sandstone markers engraved with the name Clos Windsbuhl:
A bit further on in the village of Hunawihr, spread out at the foot of the beautiful old church like a sort of apron is the Clos Sainte Hune vineyard, wholly owned by Trimbach and responsible for what many regard not just as Alsace’s finest Riesling, but one of the world’s great white wines.
Next comes Zellenberg, perched on its hill and a landmark for miles around. If your timing is right, tummies will be beginning to rumble and you can dive into the cosy, low-ceilinged Auberge du Froehn for their excellent-value lunch menu. Suitably replete, follow the trail out of Zellenberg into the radiantly sunny Sonnenglanz Grand Cru vineyard, with commanding views of the Rhine plain and the Black Forest range etched on the eastern skyline.
Down in Beblenheim – love it for its superb, pastel-coloured, timber-framed houses, just as many as Riquewihr but far fewer people – walk past the gate of Bott-Geyl, a spirited organic/biodynamic domaine that’s worth a visit. One of their most famous vineyards is on the other side of the village in tiny Mandelberg, named after the almond trees that flourish alongside the vines. From here you’re on the home stretch to Riquewihr, passing through the famous Sporen vineyard, birthplace of some of Hugel’s finest wines. Last stop could be at Domaine Agapé at the entrance to Riquewihr, where Vincent Sipp will treat you to a taste of his expressive Pinot Blanc-Auxerrois blend and his sunny, fruit-laden Helios Gewurztraminer.
Make the most of the autumn weather, get your boots on, shake a leg in the vineyards!