The Clos Saint Urbain au Rangen de Thann
The Rangen de Thann is the most southerly of the Alsace vineyards. In his book “Where Alsace wines ripen” Henry Riegert writes:
“from the Middle Ages those wines which ripen on the Rangen hillside figure amongst the most famous growths of the whole vineyard region.”
The Rangen already appears in history towards the 12th and 13th century. It rapidly acquires this great reputation due to the exceptional quality of its wines. There is no doubt that vines were planted here earlier, however the first important transactions relating to parcels of this vineyard are only found from the following dates:
1291 following Act of 13 June, the Dominican Convent of Basle owns 4 scadi (16 hectares) of vines in the Rangen
1292 following Act of 6 July, the Masmunster Abbey owns vines here. The St Ursitz of Einsiden Convent, the Cistercian Abbey of Haute Seille in Meurthe & Moselle are also owners.
1296 in December, Burchard zum Rosen of Basle buys vines ‘in banno ville Tanne in monto diste Rangen’ Many vintages are described by lovers of fine wines. The good years, the less good and the most difficult years follow each other. Malachias Tschamser is never-ending on the subject in The Great Thann Chronicle:
1186 Harvest in August!
1232 Extremely good, it’s so hot you could fry an egg in the sand
1274 Harvest had to wait until November
1347 Bad year
1431 Such an abundant harvest that with all the barrels full, wine was used to make mortar!
The wine from Rangen was always easy to sell. From the earliest times, the Collegiate of Thann, Saint Theobald, was a place of pilgrimage attracting a huge number of foreigners from Germany, England, Denmark and the Scandinavian countries. During the Middle Ages, monastic life being also very active, monks arrived in large numbers, prayed but also tasted the wine from Rangen and finding it very good, praised it on their return home.
In 1628 in Dr Claudius Deodatus’ the “Pantheum Hygistticum” the finest Alsace wines are noted including the Rangen de Thann.
During the reign of Empress Maria Theresa, the Rangen wine was consumed at Court and enjoyed an exceptional reputation. A private tutor to the family of the princes of Lowenberg and also introduced to the imperial palace, stated that more Rangen wine was drunk in Vienna that the whole of Thann and its surrounding area could produce. (Barth).
Among the Rangen’s characteristics we should note for information the comments of M Bernard (IVCC of Dijon):
“The Thur river running at the foot of the vineyard explains the scarcity of spring frosts in the lower part, on the one hand, through the specific heat from its man-made lake, and on the other by the emission of a vapour which forms a screen and stands in the way of radiation. The annual rain fall is in the region of 945 mm over a period of around 100 days.”
The soil structure of this famous locality is a very particular one and absolutely unique in Alsace. Dating from the Devonian/Carboniferous era, it is made up of volcanic rocks and sedimentary sandstones with a varying abundance of volcanic elements. It is strewn with stones eroded from hard rocks – growackes, volcanic tufa, and a rock flow of brown micaceous andesite. This layer has a thickness of around 40 to 60 cm above the fissured country rock, which allows the vine roots to penetrate to a greater depth.
This type of terrain and the soil depth characterize a poor environment, low in clay content (15%) and therefore favourable to quality. The dark colour of the soil, a shadeof reddish-brown, lends itself to higher soil temperatures. The full south-facing aspect of the vineyard increases the amount of direct daylight giving the vines a privileged position on the steep Rangen hillside (70% on average), which has dictated the choice of terraced planting. The Rangen is a late-ripening vineyard, but its exceptional exposition allows the grapes to mature slowly in October and November thus making it possible to achieve very high levels of concentration.
This type of terrain and the soil depth characterize a poor environment, low in clay content (15%) and therefore favourable to quality. The dark colour of the soil, a shadeof reddish-brown, lends itself to higher soil temperatures. The full south-facing aspect of the vineyard increases the amount of direct daylight giving the vines a privileged position on the steep Rangen hillside (70% on average), which has dictated the choice of terraced planting.
The Rangen is a late-ripening vineyard, but its exceptional exposition allows the grapes to mature slowly in October and November thus making it possible to achieve very high levels of concentration.
The grape varieties:
Going back in history, we can observe that in the 16th century grape varieties such as the Muscat and Traminer were known in the Rangen. White wines dominated but there were also red wines. The whites were more highly thought of and were better than the reds.
At the same period the town of Thann had a law concerning the varieties planted in the Rangen, decrees of 1548 and 1581 contain paragraphs defining certain rules of production. According to these rules, it was expressly forbidden to mix the Rangen wine with other wines and keep the name Rangen on the label. It was also prohibited the plant varieties that were not noble varieties such as the “Rheinelbe”. Whoever infringed this law – be he from Thann or elsewhere – was punished and his vines pulled up. (Statutes published in the bulletin of the Belfortaine society).
Elsewhere in the Vineyards of Alsace, Lucius writes: “The best known vineyards, those of Rangen, Kitterlé Brand are even planted with ordinary varieties. The wine lacks character, it is the bouquet resulting from the soil which gives it merit.”
The Thann vineyard was admired by the philosopher Michel de Montaigne, during his grand journey across Europe.:
“Thann 4 leagues. First town in Germany, subject to the emperor, very fine, wide plain flanked on the left hand side with hillsides covered in vines, the finest and the best cultivated and so extensive that the Gascons who were there said they had never seen so many in succession.”
From then on, the road running through the Rangen has been known as the Chemin de Montaigne. Today, we exploit 3 ha of pinot gris, 2.1 ha of Riesling and 0.4 ha of gewürztraminer in the Rangen.
Its poetry :
Numerous poets have sung the praises of the wine from Rangen. Fischart in Garagantua (1607):
“Yes in the Rangen lives Saint Rango, he takes the row and struggles so much till he rolls under the bench.” “Ja der Wein zu Dann, des Rangenweines, das steckt der Heylig Sanct Rango, der nimmt den Rang und ringt so lang, biss er einen ränt und trengt unter die Bänck.”
Munster writes in his Cosmography of Thann:
“Thann a fine town belongs to the Seigneurs of Ferret and a chateau on the Engelburg mountain and near the town a hillside called Rang where a delectable wine grows called Rangen Wine” He carries on bragging about the diabolical effects of this wine.
Sebastien Brant, the well known Strasbourg poet is at the origin of a legend about the arms of Colmar inspired by the wine of Rangen which he so appreciated:
During a journey across Europe Hercules arrived from Xeres in Spain, via the Loire and Burgundy, in Alsace. Here, he wished to taste wines at the Zum Wilden Mann Inn. The innkeeper offered him a wine from Riquewihr which he found good but quite flat, he wanted a fuller bodied wine. Sothe innkeeper suggested a wine from the Rangen. He thought it so extraordinarily good that he consumed three bottles and said:
Das ist ein Schluk, potzt Element, Wie der in Kehl’ und Magen brennt ! Herr Wirt, Ich Sag’s auf meine Ehr,Ich fand noch keinen Wien so Schwehr ! Then he fell asleep in a corner. When he woke up he left as fast as his legs could carry him forgetting the club he always had at his side. He so feared the strength of the Rangen wine that he never returned to collect it. Since then this club features prominently in the arms of Colmar. Als sich die Weld begann zu dreh’n, Im Eck er liess die Keule steh’n, Hat Sie auch nicht geholt bis Heut, Weil er den ‘Thanner Rangen’ scheut. Literature, odes, songs, poems on the subject of the Rangen wine abound. The splendour and strength of this sublime wine is celebrated by numerous authors including Barth who gives us a magnificent recapitulation in his book “Der Rebbau im Elsass”. No other appellation has ever been at the origin of such beautiful verses.
The Clos Saint Urbain:
The town of Thann has always held a cult and a particularly profound devotion to this saint. At the end of the 15th century a chapel in honour of Saint Urbain was built in the heart of the Rangen vineyard. Every year a procession made its way up to it on Saint Urbain’s feast day, the main participants being wine growers and innkeepers together with other members of the faithful. Along the route the Litany of Saints was sung but also with a special litany to Saint Urbain, known nowhere else but at Thann:
“Saint Urbain, work companion and helper to all the priests of the Lord’s vineyard, Pray for us! Saint Urbain, guardian and protector of all the vineyards and orchards, Pray for us! Saint Urbain, Patron saint of wine growers and innkeepers, Pray for us! From drink and drunkenness, Deliver us, Lord! From the devastation of tempest and frost, Deliver us, Lord!”
This chapel was restored in 1774. During the French revolution it was completely destroyed by the populace. Since 1934, a new chapel dedicated to Saint Urbain protects anew this marvellous hillside.