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Trip Report Group wine tasting in Alsace

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Just back from a reasonably successful wine tasting for 11 people over 3 days so I thought I should brief you on what was required and how it went. All new to me as I've seldom organised a trip for so many people.

Back in Feb 2016 I was asked to put together a wine tasting tour by my wine tasting group. I assumed we would have three days in the area and between two and three tastings a day. I tried to avoid those vineyards which are on the “group tour” system as you end up paying for the tasting, and I knew our group would buy a lot of wine if they could taste for free.

I chose Eguisheim as a tour centre. I think Colmar is OK for those dashing into Alsace and out again, but there are very few vineyards in Colmar and it seems too touristy/too big for me. Eguisheim is equally touristy but really so only between 10am and 5pm which will be when we were going to be out and about.

I also knew that my group is full of “individuals” (the term “herding cats” was used a lot). So I declined to chose their hotel rooms (we ended up with a mixture of hotels and Gites). We set a date and I started the plan. I wanted to look at vineyards in the north of Haut-Rhin, the south of Haut-Rhin and Eguisheim itself (so as to lets us taste wines without cars for at least one day).

I put together a explanation email of why we wanted to taste and I asked a friend to translate it into colloquial French. It explained who the group was, our price/taste range and when we would like to visit (taking into account travel distances etc.). Amazingly every single email sent was ignored and I needed to send follow up emails just to start a discussion (after running businesses in France I suspect this is standard practice) but slowly I built up a programme which would be changing up until just a few days before the start. I also booked us into 4 restaurants for the evenings after taking into account Trip Advisor comments and “jour conge”. Even by April one restaurant was full for September for 11 people!.

Restaurants: The trouble with visiting a busy tourist area is that the restaurants on the main drag have it too easy (and hence are lazy) so I tried to choose ones in the less busy areas but still only managed to find two that were off the main street. In all, all four came back quickly to make the booking, only one wanted a credit card to cover the booking but all wanted reminding a couple of weeks before we departed.

On the day all the restaurants behaved well, but I soon picked up the trick of getting a member of the team to order the wines for the evening before we all turned up (herding cats trying to choose food!). Once the wine hurdle was out the way and getting people to actually choose a meal the only issue was slow service, one was very bad, one was very organised and the other two fell into the “French style” I like which is no rush, no pressure but keep it moving along. The food itself was generally good and we spent on average Euro 37 a head including wine. (that was tap water, two bottles of fizz and three bottles of wine each night) which included rounding up for any tip.

Vineyards: of our final 7 vineyards 6 provided members of the family to show us their wines and their cellars (not required) in some very hot 3 days (+30C). During the email enquiry process some had come back quickly with their tasting charges and they were eliminated. One wanted paying a lot of money and I negotiated it down to zero with a little patience. The harvest is always a major issue this time of year and this year the the heat of the last few months was causing a lot of bother on dry soils. Some vineyards had a few panics in the last few days but everyone put on a good show.

Transport: we took our own cars so that meant 11 people in 3 cars, despite having full addresses one car managed to get lost on one tasting (you know who you are), but apart from this one incident everyone turned up at the right place at the right time and left on time for the next tasting. This was helped by some very explicit instructions. All the vineyards visited were very generous with their time and wine however, some had to delay starts by 15 minutes for a wide variety of reasons. All presentations were conducted in either perfect English or in at least level B1 English and our B1 French.

To come, wine details, what else we did in Alsace and a little bit on our visits.

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    It should be made a sticky as to how to organize a group trip.
    I find your philosophy perfect !
    seems family members are the best ambassadors for vineyards. I have also rejected vineyard tasting done by dejected personal ...

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    Hi Woin, thanks for the feedback.

    Just a bit on Eguisheim, the place is just outside and southwest of Colmar and firmly on the tourist track that is the Route de Vin. The town is made up of three concentric rings of houses that were used in the middle ages to store produce from the surrounding districts. But it looks like it should have had walls.

    One Pope was born here and there is a fair bit of trade in Pope-tat and even a little in stork-tat as they have a wounded stork recovery centre just outside of the village but the real draw is the wine trade which spreads mono-culturally all over the local vineyards where all day long not a fly buzzes or a bird can be seen (a bit spooky really).

    The main business of the town is renting hotel rooms and gites and selling wine and food to tourists, but they do it well and with a bit of joy in their hearts. There is for instance a walk in the vinyards in the summer every Saturday evening after which the vigneron invites you back to his shop to slurp some chilled stuff.

    Car parking is a pain as it is mainly charged for and in one area, however about 50 carpark slots are dotted around town. We took a gite in town for E500 for the week giving us 6 beds, washing machine, kitchen, two bathrooms and no internet.

    Wine: if you read up on Alsace you'll be told that only 7 grapes are allowed in Alsace. Well it is sort of true. Firstly you have to understand EU law which states that 85% of a variety must be in a bottle for that wine to be labeled as that variety. Then you have to look at the grapes

    Pinot Noir: last time I looked there are over 700 clones of this grape which make reasonable wine
    Pinot Blanc: is actually two varietals, Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois Blanc
    Muscat: again really two varietals
    Pinot Gris: which is really not Pinot Grigio as far as I can taste
    Gewurztraminer
    Sylvaner
    Riesling: the only place you can grow this grape in France
    Chardonnay: which is only allowed in the fizz
    Chasselas: only in the edelzwiker but occasionally allowed out into its own bottles

    So I make that 11.

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    At any one time wine businesses will be a different levels of development. Some have convinced the world that their wine is the best and they can charge what they like for it, others are still producing great wines but have only received some recognition and some have yet to truly receive any recognition.

    I've tasted my way along a lot of the Alsace route de vin over the years and so I hope the ones we visited are a good coverage of the last two types. I can say now that none of those we tasted at are a duff wine company and all make world-quality wines, though at vastly different prices.

    Some of the wineries manage the production of the whole process, some buy in their lesser grapes, some produce wines for drinking the year after production, some sell their wines for storage before consumption and some store the wines until they are ready for consumption. If you go there you can find out but does your local wine merchant tell you?

    Our actual visits were

    Day1

    Materne Haegelin: with a wonderful tasting in the cool cellar and a great start to the week. Their Elise and Eliane wines are getting better each year, with an interesting red in for the first time (signs of Global Change).
    Clos St Landelin: (also called Rene Mure) in a very posh tasting room with a wonderful view, some lovely sweet wines (but we forgot to try his amazing reds)
    Schlumberger: where we were invited into the massive Manorial cellar, what a treat and what a story of survival.

    Day 2
    Rolly Gassmann: where I discovered that the god Bacchus is called Pierre Gassmann and he likes you to taste most of his 40 wines in his underground chilly cellar, a new gravity driven cellar is being sunk into the ground beside his old one.
    Trimbach: despite an imposing frontage the tasting room is very pleasant and welcoming and one person wanted to stay and had to be gently lead away.

    Day 3
    Bruno Sorg: is right in the centre of town and Mrs Sorg does a good chat in the front of the shop with a very pleasant range, where even his basic Pinot Gris is drinking well now.
    Paul Ginglinger: (and if you can pronounce that you are a better man than me) just outside the town and not to be confused with other Ginglingers. He is very proud of his Rieslings but we bought a E17 Gewurtz

    In between these tasting members of the group visited other wineries. Hugel for example (whose prices are now silly) and Zinck in Equisheim whose terrible labels cover up a very nice fizzy rose.

    What did everyone buy? Well roughly each person bought about 25 bottles of wine during the trip at an average price of around E12, though prices ranged from E5 to E43.

    My estimate of costs are
    Wine bought E3300
    Food for 3-4days E2500
    Accom E2500

    and then you need to add ferries and fuel

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    Hi bilbo - great report and a terrific idea. Are you the first one of the group to set up such a trip? only I suspect that if it crops up again next year, you'll be "volunteered" again.

    <<All presentations were conducted in either perfect English or in at least level B1 English and our B1 French. >>

    we once had a tour round a French vineyard conducted entirely in French which we struggled to understand fully but made encouraging noises at what we believed to be the correct places. It happened that we were the only ones on the tour so we had to be very attentive. As we were leaving, another couple turned up who wanted a tour in English, and it became immediately apparent that the girl who had done our tour was in fact English.

    Yes, that's right, she'd conducted the entire tour to us in french believing us to be french [goodness knows why, it can't have been from our facility with the language] and we had concurred in this, believing that she couldn't speak english.

    Laugh???

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    We have been tasting for 25 years, and touring off and on for about the same amount of time. One of our number used to be a travel agent which meant it was easy. Mrs Bilbo did a trip to the Mosel like this a few years back or we do like I reported last year and hired a Bordeaux Chateau. This was my first after organising my wedding in Puglia.

    It's dirty work but someone has to do it :-)

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