Strasbourg is certainly a special town, and I think it owes its uniqueness to the fact that it was for a long time part of a cluster of free towns (Freien Städten) along the Rhine valley, a region where free ideas and intellectual creativity as well as commerce could flow unabated. A free Imperial city in 1262, it probably gained from being out of reach of French kings and rulers, and I like to think that something remains of this positioning between the Germanic sphere and the French one. Strasbourg was also among the towns where Rudolf Steiner gave many lectures, had an understanding following here because of certain freedom of thought, and this is where he met Albert Schweizer, a prominent Alsatian of that time. In short, I'm proud of the city that I consider as my home town, and returning to the Heimat and visiting my friends there is always a pleasure.
But Strasbourg is also home to what is possibly the oldest wine on earth, not counting the ones still sleeping (in a probably diluted form) in the bottom of the seas in the remains of Roman-ships hulls. This old wine resting in a cellar in Strasbourg was made in the year 1472, a year which it is good to remind it was 20 years exactly before Christopher Columbus sailed to a still-unknown destination.
The treasure sits in an old cellar under the majestic Hospices de Strasbourg (hospital), this cellar being older than the building above it (pictured onthe right), as it has been built between 1393 and 1395...
There's a long history of friendship between the hospices and wine, the best known case being the Hospices de Beaune. Everybody was making wine at the time, including the religious orders, and wine as well as parcels was a commodity that helped pay for the expenses of the hospital, many patients having little coin money but lots of liquid one...
Hugh Johnson wrote in The History of Wine that in 15th-century Germany, the yearly consumption was 120 liters a year per inhabitant, and that doctors and patients alike were drinking 7 liters a day (maybe different wines from our modern ones)...
It's only somewhere along the 20th century that this wine business was somehow discontinued (it's not clear when exactly), But it was brought back to life in 1997 thanks to motivated Alsatian winegrowers. The cellaring and wine sales were restarted in this very ancient cellar, complete with a wine shop (pictured on left), and the place was opened for visitors who wanted both to buy wine and see by themselves the élevage the wines in these beautiful big wooden vessels.
The Cave des Hospices de Strasbourg sits in the middle of the Hopital de Strasbourg also known as CHU de Strasbourg, a town within the town just south of the historic quarter of La Petite France. Anyway Strasbourg is not a large town, all can be covered by foot or on bicycle, and my walk from near Allée de la Robertsau where I was staying took me 25 minutes maybe, with in the way a great view over the Ill river.
Finding the door or rather the stairs going down to the cellar when in the hospital area was more tricky, but I just asked someone before venturing deeper in the complex, and I was pointed the right building (the one on the right at the top of the page). You don't have to enter the building, the stairs to the cellar are right along the building on the front.
The press is worth to look at, it was made in 1727 out of an oak tree that was 500 years old when it was cut down. Its shape reminds me the Mystical Press of which I reproduced an image in my story about wine in the Middle Ages.
Near the press there are also a few winery tools of various interest, including pumps (pic on right)
At one point along the alley, you can see a flight of stairs leading to the surface, these are not the the ones you use to visit the cellar, but it was __and still is__ certainly used for the inflow and outflow of all the barrels that transited through these blessed cellars.
Here is an opening for the aeration of the underground cellar. It could also have been a passageway to pump wine into or out of the cellar. Remember that the Hospices de Strasbourg was the biggest winery of Alsace in the 18th century...
This is not a full resurection of the winery-in-hospital concept, but still a good way in-between. There's no undesired wood impact on the wines because these are large wooden vessel and because these wooden vats are old.
Some 150 000 bottles go through this cellar every year, and the benefits for the hospital amount to tens of thousands of euros every year.
Notice the tables where I guess tastings can be organized on command for groups or other paying guests.
More recently, Damien Steyer a young startup founder with a new analysis tool found out that the wine had 70 aromatic components, among which eucalyptus, clove, coconut, camphr and thyme.
Here is the document printed by the DGCCRF on october 5 1994 where the wine experts compare the result of this vintage 1472 with a modern wine__1992 or 1993 I suppose, but the enologists didn't specify the vintage__. I leave the text in French for convenience :
Page about the History of Alsace
L'Alsace (news website) about the analysis of the 1472 white wine by enologists
Wikipedia page (in French) on the Cave des Hospices de Strasbourg
Article by WebCaviste
Story by 20dalsace.com