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Alsace Wine Aims To Raise Its Profile In U.S. Market

December 26, 2019

Alsace, the cool-climate wine region in northeastern France, has just 38,600 acres under vine and annual production of 10 million 9-liter cases—a fraction of the 275,000 acres of vineyards and 56.7 million cases of annual output for Bordeaux. But Alsace has long been known for delivering top quality at excellent value, and boasts 51 Grand Cru vineyards whose wines are price-friendly, often retailing at less than $50 a 750-ml.

In the U.S., Alsace wines saw shipments rise slightly from 174,000 cases in 2013 to 191,000 cases in 2018, according to Impact Databank. Now U.S. importers are now looking to build upon the category’s presence. At Taub Family Selections, the Trimbach range has grown at moderate single-digit rates over the past decade and now stands at 35,000 cases. “Trimbach is one of the most recognized Alsace names, and yet it’s at just 35,000 cases,” says Diego Avanzato, Taub’s senior vice president of portfolio management and marketing. “We’re putting strategies in place to take it to 50,000-70,000 cases. We have the ability to do that.”

Alsace white wines comprised 63% of the region’s 2018 total of 191,000 cases, according to Impact Databank. Riesling leads with about 34% of that white wine share, followed by Gewurztraminer (17%), Pinot Blanc (16%), and Pinot Gris (11%). But Alsace winemakers note that Riesling suffers from misconceptions. “Americans know Riesling, but too many of them don’t know dry Riesling—the sort we produce in Alsace,” says Patrick Aledo, general manager at Alsace producer Maison Pierre Sparr.

Alsace is seeing some shifts in the varietal mix, as many wineries pull up older vines like Auxerrois and Sylvaner to plant more Pinot Noir, which is small but gaining as the region’s changing climate becomes more red grape-friendly. “Alsace Pinot Noir is selling surprisingly well,” says Michael Corso, owner of Chicago area importer Michael Corso Selections, which handles the Emile Beyer line from Alsace. “The quality has significantly increased. Alsace Pinot Noir used to resemble a dark rosé at best and now has very substantial color.”

Less widely known within the Alsace space are its crémants, which it produces in greater quantity than any other French wine region. In the U.S., crémants comprised a whopping 35% of total Alsace shipments in 2018. The Alsace crémant expressions are generally high-quality and approachable in price, retailing mainly at around $20. From 2013-2018, U.S. shipment volumes of Alsace crémants nearly doubled, rising from 34,000 cases to 67,000 cases.

In all, the Alsace region has around 1,500 winemakers who are mostly small and family-owned, and the region’s leaders see that as a positive aspect of the overall messaging. There also has been a relentless focus on quality. Over the past two decades, Pierre Sparr has lowered its yields from 120 hectoliters per hectare to around 80 hectoliters today, for example, and Aledo notes that other producers have taken the same path.

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