Thursday, 19th September 2019 – Voegtlinshoffen, Colmar
Voegtlinshoffen is a tiny village which is not one of the half-timbered confections that so many Alsace villages are, because most of those were destroyed in the course of the Thirty Years’ War and rebuilt afterwards in a more simple style. What is does have is a site that provides stunning views across the Rhine and beyond to the Black Forest and, on clear days, the Alps. What is does have are some excellent wines, including the Hatchbourg grand cru, and it was that which brought us to the village on another gloriously sunny day.
We’d begun with a delicious breakfast (including a glass of crémant) at the Hostellerie le Marechal, and then checked the car to see if anything had fallen off after our encounter with the ironwork the day before (nothing seemed to have done, but there was a rattle that suggested the exhaust system might have been compromised) so we undertook the 15 minute drive to Voegtlinshoffen and the cellar visit organised by the hotel for us.
We were going to see a specialist in the crémant on offer at breakfast, Joseph Cattin, where the family have been making wine since 1720. It all started with François Cattin, who was Swiss, and who settled in the village where he was also a builder. They are 11 generations in now and still going strong as one of the largest family owned vineyards in Alsace.
In 1850 they shifted to wine making exclusively, with Joseph taking over the family-owned Estate just as phylloxera hit at the end of the 19th century. Joseph dedicated his time to finding was to fight this plague, becoming a pioneer of Alsacien viticulture. Meanwhile his brother headed off to Paris and set up a restaurant called La Cigogne (the Stork) which served Alsacien gastronomy to well heeled Parisians and foreign guests, acting as a shop front for the wines his brother was making.
Almost a century later the 10th generation modernised the estate and started worldwide exports of their products. It’s now being run by Jacques Cattin Junior, who has been in charge of winemaking since 2007, and his wife Anaïs, who runs the international sales department. What they now have is a fantastic range of wines, and a modern winery that includes a rooftop bar where you can try the wines alongside plates of charcuterie and cheeses. We were taken round by the charming Marianne, who showed us around the original winery, where we could see both the old wooden barrels and the hyper-modern temperature controlled stainless steel tanks.
They even have pipes running under the road to enables the grapes to be crushed on one side of the road in what looks like the original building, and then run straight into the stainless steel tanks in the building on the other side of the road! It’s a most impressive set-up and the wines they produce reflect that.
After our visit, and an explanation of many of the processes, we sat down with Marianne to try a number of wines. Even using the spittoon, after we got through it seemed like a good idea to get something to eat, and where better than the rooftop bar, the Belvedere, with its phenomenal views over the surrounding landscape. It would also give us the opportunity to discuss which of the wines we’d tried we actually wanted to buy.
A plate of charcuterie and cheese later (and a free glass of wine with lunch) and we were ready to shop. 6 boxes of wine later we were helped to load the car (after a swift unload to make sure everything went in in the right order) and presented with a bottle of wine that Marianne said was her favourite crémant to add to the haul we’d paid for. We were liking this free wine thing! We were ready to pick our way carefully back to Colmar for the rest of the day.
Having dropped the car back in the car park, we headed into town to hunt down the Tourist Information office to see what information we could pick up. We kept on getting sidetracked though because Colmar is jaw-droppingly lovely and there were oddities round every corner, like the giant soft toy gingerbread man! At least we understood that gingerbread is very much an Alsace thing. There are those who claim that the crusaders brought it back to Europe, but how true that is I have no idea. Also that the Chinese started it, with Mi-Kong (“honey bread), a delicacy made from wheat flour and honey, fragranced with aromatic plants and baked in the oven. Whatever the case, Alsaciens like it, and it’s everywhere, even made into liquers and spirits that can be added to crémant to make a kir!
There was an artisans’ market going on in the former Customs House (the Koifhus) which detained us for a while, both looking at what was on offer and getting a look inside the building. It was planned in 1433, and the current building dates to 1480 and two more buildings were added in the 16th century. The condition of the building in the 19th century was so poor that it came close to being demoloshed, but instead it was restored in the late 1890s, when a turret and glazed tiles were added. It was renovated again in 2002 to replace the Renaissance style sandstone balustrade which was removed in 1976. It was used as a warehouse and as a place of taxation for imported and exported goods as well as for meetings of the representatives of the Décapole, the federation of the 10 imperial cities of Alsace. Today it was being used to display a range of attractive good including some glassware that really caught my eye.
We stopped off to look at the collegiate church of Saint Martin. It dominates the square on which it sits and is as impressive inside as outside. The building itself was constructed between 1235 and 1365 and is a brilliant example of Gothic architecture in Alsace. Needless to say with a city as closely packed as Colmar is, there have been frequent fires, and in 1572 the framework of the south tower and all the roofs were destroyed, so what you can see now is much more modern. It has also undergone several restorations, the most recent in 1982 which gave the archaeologists a chance to have root around. They found foundations of a 1000 year old church as well as traces of extensions from the 11th and 12th centuries.
It’s an interesting church and there are a number of features that are quite surprising to the modern visitor, including the anti-semitic and downright offensive so-called “Judensäue, a testament to the troubled history of the Jews in Alsace, that came to a ghastly climax in 1349, when they were accused of causing plague by poisoning the wells. On February 14 several hundred Jews were massacred during the Strasbourg pogrom and any remaining Jews were forbidden to settle in the town, being reminded every evening at 10 o’clock by a bell and a municipal herald blowing the “Grüselhorn” that they had to leave. I’m guessing the only reason they stayed in the surrounding towns was the lack of anywhere else they could go, if the prevailing attitude was so vile.
The interior is quite plain, having lost a lot of its furniture during the French Revolution, but it does still have one of the many Baroque organs built by Johann Andreas Silbermann that are everywhere in the region. There are also a nubmer of medieval altars and statues, and a rare Gothic stained glass window of a beardless Christ. The Isenmann altarpiece, of which more in another post, was originally here as well. In 1462 the municipal painter Caspar Isenmann was commissioned to paint a set of panels dedicated to the life of Christ and he completed the word in three years. In 1720 the altar was removed and the paintings were dispersed. The seven surviving panels have been in the Unterlinden Museum since 1853.
We eventually made it to the Tourist Information Office were we realised that for what we wanted to do, the Colmar City Card was actually a good deal. It was €32 each for seven days and gave you access to all the museums (six of them, and you could visit as often as you wanted) as well a trip on one of the tourist trains and a boat trip. We went for it, and then decided we’d have a gentle ride round town on the tourist train straight away. I know some people think they’re a waste of effort but I find them a useful way of getting my bearings, as well as a good excuse to have a sit down…
Afterwards we decided that we had time for one of the museums. We opted for the Musée Bartholdi.
It’s a museum dedicated to the French sculptor Auguste Bartholdi, the man who designed the Statue of Liberty, among other colossal works. The house was his birthplace and is full of works by him. These include a lot of preparatory models for monuments that are actually in Colmar, many of which we would find during our stay. I hadn’t realised he also put forward a design for the fountain on the Quinconces in Bordeaux, and the museum had a model for one of the horses to prove it. What’s there is insane enough. Lord knows what he would have built given half a chance.
Bartholdi served in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 as a squadron leader of the National Guard, and possibly as a liaison officer to Italian General Giuseppe Garibaldi. As an officer, he took part in the defense of Colmar from Germany, and after the Alsace’s defeat he constructed a number of monuments celebrating French heroism in the defence against Germany. One of those projects was the Lion of Belfort, which is huge. He didn’t do anything by halves, it seems.
Then in 1871 he he went to the United States where he suggested the idea of a massive statue to be given by the French to the Americans in honor of the centennial of American independence. The result was “Liberty, Illuminating the World” as she’s more correctly known. There were lots of items telling the story of the design and construction, though sadly most of it is in French with no translation into any other languages. This seemed a bit of a shame, really, as it was fine for people like me, but I’m pretty sure a lot of visitors won’t be able to read French and could probably do with some help to understand exactly what was going on.
We stepped back out later having learned something new, which is never a bad thing. It was time though to quit for the day and go back to the hotel for dinner. The area round the hotel was looking especially lovely so we decided we’d step out from the hotel to look for an aperitif later on.