A day in Alsatian wine country

Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.
--Blanche DuBois, A Streetcar Named Desire

This is a story about happy accidents.  During a biking tour of Strasbourg our Bosch group leader pointed out an  art nouveau style building.  Stasbourg, she noted doesn't have many fantastic examples of the style.  For the good stuff you need to hop on a train and go to Nancy.  Fellow Bosch spouse Christina is a great fan of all things art nouveau or Jugendstil, and she and I were quickly plotting an excursion to Nancy.  (Nancy is on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list and in all seriousness, that list has never let me down.)

The next morning, we made it as far as the ticket line at the train station, when we concluded that we were never going to make it to the train.  Down but not out, we gathered train schedules and stopped at a tourist information desk, where Christina made inquiries about venturing into Alsatian wine country.  We regrouped. We recruited Bosch spouse Lauren to join us.  And we hopped on a train headed for Obernai.

Outside the Obernai train station we stood in front of a map of the small town, getting our bearings.  A bearded man in a suit approached us and asked us if he could be of assistance.  No, no, we're just figuring out where things are, we replied.  By the way, he says, I'm going to be helping a friend out at a private wine sale at his vineyard later in the day, and would you care to join me?  We'll meet by the belfry at such-and-such an hour.

Christina, Lauren and I wandered Obernai, which would be sleepy on a busy day, and was extra sleepy on Monday, which the Germans would call Ruhetag, the day local businesses take a day off.  We had some lunch, took photos of the white storks nesting on the roof of the granary (halle des bles), and met our new friend,  Claude Mitschek, at the appointed hour by the belfry.

Before we leave, he says to us, I should like to show you some of the sights of the town.  Obernai is a small place, so this amounts to walking us around the block.  He showed us an unusual well, details on the renaissance town hall, the storks (local mascots to be sure), and this interesting spot on the wall of the belfry:

On the left, if you look closely, you'll see the outline of a short sword.  To keep the peace, this was the maximum length of swords allowed at market.  The metal hook was where unfaithful wives were tied to be taunted.  And the line on the right was a standard measure (approximately, the distance from the elbow to the hand).

At this point fellow explorer Lauren bowed out of the afternoon excursion, but Christina and I hopped in our guide's car.  Our destination was Barr, another little village up the road.

There, as promised, we found ourselves at a private wine tasting for commercial buyers.

Our host started us on some wines, but  when some people who looked like more serious buyers approached, Christina and I made a point of it to stay out of the way.  Not long after someone offered us a private tour of the cellars.  And so after a quick snack of Flammkuchen...


... we went off to learn everything about wine production: how much a bucket of grapes weighs, how to keep the grape varieties separate, how to stomp the grapes (with a giant inflatable balloon, in essence), why you have to keep air out of the casks, how nice it is to be able to hose out the inside of a metal cask, and on an on.  Our extremely affable guide was, we think, shirking some other duty by spending time showing us around.  He mostly spoke in small bursts, which I would do my best to translate for Christine, and I think we got the gist of almost everything.

Incidentally, at the end of our tour we walked through the distribution center, and I will surely never see so much wine again.  Think of the scene at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark--the warehouse full of crates--and you're not far off.

We bought some wine--it was the very least we could do--and made our way back to Strasbourg.  We had a grand day out.

P.S.  Needless to say, we recommend the fine wines by Ch. WANTZ.


Culinspiration said...

That *was* a great day! Glad you were adventuresome :-)

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