Five Fast Facts about the Vosges Mountains

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Famous for framing the vineyards of Alsace, the Vosges Mountains are a range of low mountains located in eastern France. The Vosges run parallel to the Rhine River for about 70 miles along a swath loosely defined as the area between the German border (to the north) and town of Belfort (to the south/southwest). The Vosges are defined as being wholly in France; the rolling hills and uplands that continue north of the German border are referred to as the Haardt Hills (Hardt Mountains/part of the Palatinate Forest).

Here are five wine-centric fast facts about the Vosges:

#1: Plateaus to the west, plains to the east—On its eastern edge (particularly in the south), the mountains of the Vosges form steep slopes over the Rhine Valley. Beyond the slopes—between the mountains and the Rhine River—lies an area of flood-prone meadows that are referred to as the Plaine d’Alsace (Alsatian Plains) or the Grand Ried. Across the Rhine (in Germany), the Black Forest—which is both a forest and a mountain range, despite the name—marks the eastern edge of the Rhine Valley.

On the western edge of the mountain range, the forested slopes of the Vosges descend more gently into the Lorraine Plateau.

Grand Ballon

#2: The highest mountains are ballons—No, not balloons filled with helium and red ribbons, but ballons. The French word ballon means a “round-topped mountain” implying a mountain with a dome-shaped—rather than a jagged—summit. The highest mountain in the Vosges—located in the Haut-Rhin about 16 miles/25 km northwest of Mulhouse—is Grand Ballon. Grand Ballon rises to 4,671 feet/1,423 m above sea level, and is sometimes referred to as Ballon de Guebwiller, due to its location (just 5 miles/8 km west of the town of the same name).

#3 Haute, Central, and Lower—The Vosges are considered low mountains—the peaks here do not rise nearly as high at those found in the Alps (hello Mount Blanc, at 15,774 feet/4,808 m) or the Pyrenees (topping out on Mount Aneto at 11,168 feet/3,404 m).

The highest section of the Vosges—known as the Hautes Vosges—is in the southernmost portion of the mountain range (roughly defined as the region to the south of Saint-Dié-des-Vosges). Here we find the highest mountains, including Grand Ballon and 15 others higher than 4,000 feet/1,200 m. This portion of the Vosges is based on gneiss and granite bedrock.

The Village of Riquewihr

The section in the center—known as the Middle Vosges—has summits as high as 3,300 feet/1,000; but north of the Col de Saverne (Saverne Pass), the highest peaks top out at 2,000 feet/610 m. Further north, closer to the German border is a section referred to as the Lower Vosges. Here, the mountains level off into a plateau of reddish-pink sandstone (known as grès des Vosges) with elevations averaging between 1,000 feet/300 m and 1,850 feet/560 m above sea level.

#4: A most effective rain shadow— The Vosges Mountains (particularly in the south, where the mountains are at their highest) provide a very efficient rain shadow for the vineyards of Alsace. At approximately 500 mm (less than 20 inches) of rain per year on average, the town of Mulhouse is one of the driest spots in France. The rain shadow helps to create a long, dry, sunny growing season for the vineyards of Alsace, helping the grapes to achieve high sugar levels, maintain their acidity, and consistently reach a high degree of phenolic ripeness.

Alsace does get some snow in the winter; skiing and other winter sports are popular—and half-timber houses look beautiful in the snow. Alsace is land-locked and thus experiences some aspects of a continental climate; however, the northerly latitude keeps it from getting too hot. As such, all four seasons can be experienced—and enjoyed—in Alsace.

Map of the Vosges Mountains by Boldair via Wikimedia Commons

#5: The source of some viticulturally significant rivers—The Moselle River (Germany’s Mosel) has its source in the Hautes Vosges on the western slopes of the Ballon d’Alsace (by my count, the 17th highest mountain in the Vosges, at 3,842 feet/1,171 meters high). The Moselle flows through the Lorraine Region west of the Vosges, exits France and forms the short border between Germany and Luxembourg before entering Germany and joining the Rhine. The Saar, a tributary of the Moselle, has its source at Mount Donan (in the Central Vosges). The Saar flows through Lorraine and into the Palatinate (Pflaz) region of Germany before joining the Mosel near the town of Konz. The Saône (that I like to call Burgundy’s River) has its source about 40 miles/130 km west of Grand Ballon on the western edge of the Vosges.

And finally—many of the finest vineyards of Alsace are planted on the sun-grabbing east- and southeast-facing slopes of the Vosges at elevations up to around 1,300 feet/400 meters. The majority (34 out of 51) of the area’s Grand Cru sites are situated in the Bas-Rhin tucked into (and to the east of) the Hautes Vosges.

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

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