Ultimate Guide to the Alsace Wine Region

Alsace Wine Region History and Culture

Fed by the Rhine river, Alsace is fertile and green. It's not surprising th­at a land so desirable should have been the source of longstanding historical conflict.

By the end of the fifth century­, the stage had been set for the conflict that would dominate Alsace for the next two millennia. St­rasbourg (the Roman city of Argentorum) was attacked and conquered by the Germanic tribe Alemanni. ("Allemand" is still French for "German.") Soon after, the Francs took over the area and began to spread Christianity throughout it. In various ways, the Franco-German dispute persisted for centuries [source: Britannica].

Following the death of Charlemagne in A.D. 842, his kingdom was divided. Alsace was among the territories split from France. In A.D. 870­, it was joined with Germanic territories­ under the rule of the Holy Roman Empire. The Middle Ages saw numerous local conflicts, as well as growing concentrations of power in the cities of Alsace [source: Warfvinge].

Religious strife soon accompanied political strife, with heavily Protestant Strasbourg in opposition to the Roman Catholic Hapsburgs. In the 1600s, Alsace found itself caught between opposing sides in the Thirty Years' War, and residents asked France for protection. By the end of the century, the region was an autonomous protectorate of France [source: Britannica].

The 1700s and 1800s saw further turmoil. Following the French Revolution, Alsace was divided into two provinces. Then, following the bloodshed of the Franco-German War (1870-1871), it passed into German power -- to widespread French resentment and the partial disenfranchisement of the Alsatians. Under the Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War I, Alsace was returned to France. When Germany conquered France in World War II, it quickly re-annexed Alsace for the duration of the Third Reich [source: Britannica].

The bitterness of World War II left lasting scars. One vineyard was so littered with unexploded ordnance that a decade passed before it could be cultivated again [source: Wernstrom].

Today, Alsace is a part of France. The local dialect is still Alsatian, a variety of German, and many cities and landmarks -- and grapes -- bear German names. But peacetime seems to produce good wines. Read on to find out how.