The wine of Alsace predates even the Franco-German conflict. Grapes have been grown here since the days of the Romans [source: Warfvinge].
The massif of the Vosges mountains dominates the Alsatian horizon [source: Britannica]. It's a boon to Alsace wineries, because it shields the region from heavy precipitation. Between the mountains and the Gulf Stream, Alsace has an unusually sunny, temperate climate for its latitude [source: Bursen].
The fertile plains of Alsace are dominated by fields of cereal grains. Most of the vineyards in Alsace are on the hillsides, where much of the soil is calcareous -- high in calcium -- and relatively dry. Granite and limestone are major components [source: Bursen]. But there are also deposits of volcanic and alluvial soil, and significant variations even within small tracts of land [source: Wernstrom].
Alsatian vignerons -- wine growers -- are reluctant to plant high-yielding vines, which are believed to compromise the quality of the grapes. Instead, the region's grape production depends on planting many small vines very close together. Vignerons cultivate the vines on compact wire trellises in tightly spaced rows [source: Bursen].
The Alsatian method of viticulture depends on rigorous pruning; otherwise, an overgrown vine can block the sunlight of its neighbors, and funguses can spread easily. Most vignerons practice hedge pruning, which they time to seasonal changes. In a growing vine, nutrients collect in the tips of the shoots. Pruning removes the tips, forcing the vine to send nutrients to the grapes instead. The timing of the beginning-of-summer pruning depends on individual judgment, grape variety and location [source: Bursen].
Some vignerons also practice leaf-plucking, the strategic removal of certain leaves to give the grapes more sun. This typically comes in late July or August. In more southerly areas, leaf-plucking cause sunburn for the grapes, but at Alsace's latitude the risk is fairly low [source: Bursen].
On the next page, we'll take a look at some of Alsace's notable wines.