Alsace is located in the North East of France near the border with Germany. The wine growing region is a valley tucked between the Eastern side of the Vosges Mountains and the Rhine River. In the Western side of Alsace, the Vosges Mountains form a barrier to the Eastern part following the course of the Rhine River from North to South. The climate in the wine growing region is dependant on the Vosges Mountains that protect the Alsace wine valley from the heavy rainfalls found on the Western side of the Vosges.
By being located in the North East of France one would think that the climate is relatively cold and wet. Due to the protection from the Vosges it appears that Alsace is actually the driest region of France, especially around Colmar and just between the Vosges and the Rhine River to the East. In summertime the sun shines more than the national average and this is where the vineyards are located, basking in the morning and midday sun. These favorable weather conditions often last well into the fall, allowing the grapes to over ripen and become affected by Botrytis (noble rot), which is essential to produce “Late Harvest” and “Sélection de Grains Nobles”, the sweet wines from Alsace. Vendanges Tardives or Late Harvest wines must have a specific must gravity of at least 95° on the OECHSLE scale and Sélection de Grains Nobles wines are produced using grapes that reach a minimum of 110° .
The wine Estate Rolly Gassmann is situated just North of Colmar and the cellar is found in the tiny village of Rorschwihr.
The Gassmann family has been making wine in Rorschwihr since 1676. It's a common mistake to think there is a Mr. Gassmann whose first name is Rolly. The Rolly Gassmann estate was created in 1967 when Marie-Thérèse Rolly married Louis Gassmann.
The family tree goes back to 1611 for the Gassmann from Rodern and 1676 for the Rolly from Rorschwihr.
Since 1997 Pierre, Marie-Thérèse and Louis’s son, runs the 86acre/35ha wine estate located in Rorschwihr.
The estate is nurtured by 15 people working all year around in the vineyards. The vineyards are situated in three municipalities; Rorschwihr, Bergheim and Rodern. The real wealth of the 250 ha village of Rorschwihr, apart from its micro-climates, is found in the diversity of its 21 different types of soils, a remarkable geological mosaic dominated by limestone from the primary and tertiary era. These terroirs were identified from the year 1000 when the wines already had established their own reputation. The most well-known crus are dominated by clay-limestone-marly-sandstone. They are: Kappelweg, lachreben, Moenchreben, Oberer, Weingarten, Plaenzerreben, Rotleibel, Silberberg, Stregreben, Weingarten, Brandhurst, Rotenberg and Haguenau.
Roschwihr was already mentioned in 742 by the Domaine Royal Mérovingien for its wines. It was coveted by the largest abbeys and monasteries from central Europe (between 700 & 1700). The different popes (1000-1400) and the kings of France, the Mérovingiens and Carolingiens (700-1700) were all amateurs of the wines from Rorschwihr. The village was a neutral area during medieval war times so that enemies could each ensure that they would be able to source the exceptional wines from Rorschwihr.
The village is not part of the AOC Grand Cru classification system. The French legislation does not recognize any grand cru or lieu-dit, a lieu-dit is a specific name sites. The main reason for this is that the local producers have been against operating within the AOC Grand Cru system and refused to be part of it. To them taking part in the AOC Grand Cru system would mean that the 21 specific sites would no longer be differentiated and therefore eliminate 10 centuries of heritage through the new classification system from the 70’s. To this day this is why there are no Grand Cru in Rorschwihr.
Rolly Gassmann converted to the biodynamic philosophy around 1997 and Pierre Gassmann is a founding member of the Vignes Vivantes, ‘the living vineyards’, which is a regional composting body.
Wines from the Rolly Gassmann wine estate are the result of the following three main elements: the light, the earth and the deep underground. It is expressed through the vegetal cycle of the vineyard. The belief is that wine is made in the vineyard and the work in the vineyard is focused on finding the right balance between the biological activity of the under-soil and the growth of the foliage in order to obtain the most subtle and complex fruits. Various methods are used; for example one row out of two has grass, the other one is ploughed. The base of the plant is weeded 20 cm around the plant. To treat the "cryptogrammic" pressure, biodynamic concepts are applied to all vineyards for the vegetal part of the plant. All interventions carried out in the vineyards are linked to the cosmic rhythms (planetary oppositions, astral conjunctions, etc.) and different mixtures are used to treat the vines and the soil. Mixtures are made out of nettle, willow, field horsetail, valerian plant, oak bark, dandelion flower, silica, dung compost, clay, milk, etc. These infusions and homeopathic doses allow to intervene in the most natural way against external aggressions whilst preserving the intrinsic qualities of the fruit which represent the relationship between the living world of nature and the influence of the universal environment. It is therefore the combination of these factors that develop in the wine the expression of the identity of the terroir and the uniqueness of each vintage.
The aim is to obtain the ultimate physiological and phelonic maturity of the fruit with, if possible, botrytis, especially for Vendanges Tardives and Sélection de Grains Nobles. Fermentation is natural and lasts from 4 to 10 months depending on the type of terroir. Each vineyard is vinified individually and maturation lasts at least 11 months. Wines are only released when the winery feels they have aged appropriately in bottle, sometimes as many as 20 years after bottling. The wines are left to mature for at least a year before they are released. The winery stores 800 000 bottles from various vintages 1990, 1994,1996 to the latest vintages. The wines are left to rest quietly until they are ready for release. It is also important to note that even wines that have reached maturity for consumption and have been released, can also be suitable for ageing.
The winery produces about 200 000 bottles each year with 90% of white wines and 10% of reds.