French vineyard so steep workers use ropes is now on world top 12 list

Everything is done by hand at the vineyard in Alsace - even harvesting by luge

Rangen has 22 hectares of steep slopes between 45 degrees and 55 degrees near Mulhouse
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An Alsace vineyard that is so steep that workers have to use ropes to tend it has been listed among the world’s top 12.

In total, six of the dozen vineyards selected by influential UK wine magazine Decanter are French.

Workers haul themselves up with ropes

It is the first time that Rangen, which has 22 hectares of steep slopes in the commune of Thann in the far south of Alsace, not far from Mulhouse, has been included.

Hervé Schwendenmann, president of the Wolfberger cooperative that owns part of the vineyard, said: “It is a relatively new vineyard, planted around 30-40 years ago, although wine has been grown in the area for at least 500 years.

“It is on very steep slopes, between 45 degrees and 55 degrees, and we laid it out so it runs up and down the slope.

“With such a steep slope, everything is done by hand. We have a system of ropes for workers to help haul themselves up, and for the harvest we have luges which we run down the slope, always starting the harvest at the top.”

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Volcanic soils and steep slopes

The Wolfberger website lists a Rangen 2015 pinot gris for €25 a bottle, promising notes of dried fruit and roasted coffee, and a balanced taste in the mouth, ending with hints of apricot compote and chocolate.

A similarly priced Rangen 2019 Riesling has a nose of citrus fruits, mineral rocks and quince, and a fresh, aromatic taste.

Mr Schwendenmann says he often finds notes of smoked ham and mineral flavours in the wine.

“What is special about Rangen is that the terroir has such a strong influence,” he said.

“We all make our own wines in our own styles but they are very recognisable, due, I think, to the volcanic soil and steep slopes facing the sun.”

The wines are usually classified as dry for the Riesling, or semi-sweet for the pinot gris, due to a characteristic acidity that balances the sugars.

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Alsace wine often overlooked

Mr Schwendenmann said it was a “complete surprise” to be included in the Decanter list: “Obviously, it is a source of pride, especially when you see some of the other names on the list.”

These include Clos des Goisses in Champagne, Musigny in Burgundy and To Kalon in California’s Napa Valley.

“It will probably give our wine some recognition abroad, which will help sales, but it is also very good for Alsace wines as a whole, which are sometimes a little overlooked,” he said.

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