Alsace Clos Vineyards
The Clos Vineyards of Alsace in France are of arguably greater significance to the region's wine traditions than its official Grand Cru sites. They have certainly been recognised for much longer, and were marked out many centuries before the Alsace Grand Cru appellation was introduced in 1983.
Alsace (or Elsass as it was known under German rule) has been producing wine since the early Middle Ages. Over the centuries, the region's monasteries and noblemen built up an intricate knowledge of its finest vineyard sites. Each of these was ultimately given a name, and some were surrounded by a securing wall, creating a 'clos' – the French name for an enclosed vineyard. Many of the original walls have disappeared, and in fact some clos sites have never had a wall at all, because over the centuries clos came to mean any vineyard of high quality, rather than specifically one which was enclosed.
Most clos vineyards are monopoles, owned for many generations by a single family. This is just one of the reasons that they are, and always have been, so respected; a gifted vigneron-winemaker team with centuries of experience behind them can produce great wine from sites not officially recognised as Grand Cru.
Some of the clos are located within Grand Cru sites, some are not, but this seems to be of little significance. The prestige of the clos names is so great that even those entitled to the Grand Cru appellation sometimes choose to ignore it. Clos Saint-Hune for example, falls within the Rosacker Grand Cru, but Domaine Trimbach nonetheless bottles the wines under the generic Alsace appellation. Likewise, Domaine Weinbach's Clos des Capucins falls outside the local Grand Cru boundaries (it sits right at the foot of Schlossberg) but has lost none of its status because of this.
Perhaps the most remarkable example of the power held by clos vineyards comes from the trio owned by Domaine Zind-Humbrecht: Clos Hauserer, Clos Jebsal and Clos Windsbuhl. None of these claim the Alsace Grand Cru appellation, and yet their prestige and prices are higher than those of most Grand Cru wines (see the linked lists below).