Producer profiles

Producer Profile: Rolly Gassmann

Rolly Gassmann is an excellent producer of Alsace wines, based in the village of Rorschwihr. To give the wines the context they deserve, first we will look at Rorschwihr itself, then the background to Rolly Gassmann and their wine philosophies, before exploring some of the wines available here in Ireland.


Rorschwihr is at the top of the Haut-Rhin department close to the border with the Bas-Rhin. Unsurpringingly given its location, it has a long history of winemaking and has been associated with lots of important historical figures. The Merovingians, Carolingians and Hapsburgs have had their stints as vineyard owners here. A long list of religious orders and Popes have also owned land in the village. Unusually for Alsatian wine villages, each major wine family owned and operated their own press rather than relying on a communal one.

Even within Alsace which is famed for the diversity of its soils, Rorschwihr’s terroirs are particularly complex. It lies on the Ribeauvillé fault line which runs north-south, inbetween the Vosges and Rhine fault lines, and so has over 20 identifiably different soil types. When the Alsatian wine authorities were looking to establish Grand Crus in the area, they sought to combine several areas which were already recognised as distinct by the locals, who decided that either 12 climats were worthy of Grand Cru status or none at all. Those climats are today among the named lieux-dits of Rorschwihr and are candidates for future Alsace 1er Cru status.

Rolly Gassmann

The list of double-barrelled surnames on this website will continue to grow – Kuentz-Bas was the first with Sipp Mack and Meyer-Fonné in the pipeline. Both the Rolly and Gassmann families had centuries of winemaking behind them when a branch of each were joined through marriage in 1967. Pierre Gassmann is the current proprietor and is the son of the founding pair.

The domaine has a total of 52 hectares under vine, 40 of which are in Rorschwihr and 10 a few clicks to the south in Bergheim. Rolly Gassmann has holdings in many of the lieux-dits referred to above:

Altenberg de Bergheim Kappelweg de Rorschwihr Oberer Weingarten de Rorschwihr Silberberg de Rorschwihr
Brandhurst de Bergheim Kugelberg de Rorschwihr Pflaenzerreben de Rorschwihr Stegreben de Rorschwihr
Haguenau de Bergheim Lachreben de Rorschwihr Rotleibel de Rorschwihr Steinkesselreben de Rorschwihr
Grasberg de Rorschwihr Moenchreben de Rorschwihr Pflaenzerreben de Rorschwihr Weingarten de Rorschwihr

Each of the lieux-dits has different terroir and so is best suited to different varieties. Here are further details of three of them whose wines make it to Ireland:

Keppelweg de Rorschwihr (Way of the Chapel) covers 5.67 hectares at 225 to 235 masl (it is part of a plateau). Its soils are a mixture of clay, marl and loam with lots of stones, dating back to 1.6m – 2.0m years ago. The aspect is south and south-east. Riesling and Gewurztraminer fare best here.

Brandhurst de Bergheim (Burning Bush) has heavy marl soils arranged in a semi circle between 250 and 300 masl with a south and south-east aspect. It is in a well-sheltered location and never lacks for water. The soils are fairly fertile and retain heat which makes them good for noble rot. The varieties planted are 60% Gewurztraminer, 15% each of Pinot Gris and Riesling and the remaining 10% made up of Muscat, Auxerrois, Pinot Noir and Sylvaner.

Oberer Weingarten de Rorschwihr (Upper Wine Garden) has clay and silt soils with siliceous pebbles and limestones, all dating back to 0.8m years ago. Its 6 hectares are mainly planted to Gewurztraminer and Riesling at 225 to 260 masl.

RG wines which do not state a lieu-dit are either from outside those delimited vineyards or are made from grapes harvested from several lieux-dits blended together.

Rolly Gassmann Wine Styles and Philosophy

Pierre Gassmann has taken the wines down the organic and biodynamic paths, but the domain is certified for neither; these approaches to viticulture are followed for their own good rather than as a selling point on a label. Rolly Gassmann also follows sustainable principles and its wines are vegan-friendly.

In the vineyard, harvest takes place when the wines are fully ripe, even with some botrytis, so that sugar levels are high and flavours are concentrated. Integrating them takes time, and the wines are aged in Rolly Gassmann’s spectacular new winery until they are ready to drink. Known locally as La Cathédrale, the facility has six floors built into the hillside and uses gravity to move grapes, must and wines from one stage of the process to the next. It also has considerable storage, with up to a million and a half bottles laid down, equating to five years’ production.

The finished wines generally have more residual sugar than is the norm in Alsace, but they can cellar for much longer, even given the extra pre-release ageing. Additional ageing lessens the apparent sweetness of wines over time, though my understanding is that this is due to the evolution of flavours rather than any change in actual sugar content.

Now we move onto notes from some of the wines available in Ireland:

Domaine Rolly Gassmann Sylvaner Réserve Millésime 2017

Rolly Gassmann Sylvaner Réserve Millésime

According to Monty Python, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, but neither do they expect sweentness in Sylvaner. Long relegated to an also-ran, this grape variety can really shine given a chance. Its deep lemon colour gives a heads up on the palate sweetness. The nose is full of luxurious ripe peach, apricot, nectarine and three fruits marmalade. On the attack, it initially tastes quite dry, mineral and tangy – what you might expect from a typical Sylvaner. In the mid palate the baton is passed back to the rich stone fruits which usher it to the finish.

This is not a typical Sylvaner, but it’s all the better for its unique, glorious style.

  • ABV: 12.0%
  • RS: 29 g/L
  • RRP: €25.99
  • Stockists: Baggot Street Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Michaels at Higgins Butchers Sutton; Redmonds of Ranelagh;
  • Source: sample

Domaine Rolly Gassmann Riesling 2019

Rolly Gassmann Riesling

The grapes for this “entry level” Riesling are gently pressed for eight to twelve hours then fermented for four to five months with indigenous yeasts. Maturation is on fine lees for another six or seven months before bottling. It has a touch of colour in the glass, unusual for a grape which often produces water-clear wines. The nose has citrus fruits and white flower blossom, perhaps a touch of honey. The palate is perfectly balanced, with fine acidity matched to a small amount of sweetness. There’s a light smokiness which actually reminded me of some old vine Sylvaners that I have tried. This is a complex wine for such a relative youngster.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RS: 13 g/L
  • RRP: €28.99
  • Stockists: Avoca Handweavers Shops; Baggot Street Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Michaels at Higgins Butchers Sutton; Redmonds of Ranelagh; The Malt House;
  • Source: purchased from Baggot Street Wines

Domaine Rolly Gassmann Kappelweg de Rorschwihr Riesling 2014

Rolly Gassmann Kappelweg de Rorschwihr Riesling

For those not that familiar with Alsace it might seem strange that an upmarket Riesling (this one) might have more residual sugar the the standard Riesling (above), but it all makes sense in context. Firstly, the better sites get more sunshine so there are likely to be higher sugar levels at harvest time. With longer time in the press and longer fermentation time, this lieu-dit Riesling has more texture and body, so the residual sugar complements that perfectly. Also, the much longer time before release allows all the components to integrate in a melifluous manner.

Rolly Gassmann own 5.67 hectares of the lieu-dit Kappelweg de Rorschwihr from which they currently have three wines available (in France); this 2014 Riesling, a 2019 Gewurztraminer (not the wine below) and a Vendanges Tardives Riesling from 2005! This Riesling is superb, a fine mosaic of different citrus fruits, floral notes and ripe stone fruits. Rorschwihr might not have any Grand Cru classified vineyards but this is certainly of Grand Cru quality.

  • ABV: 13.0%.
  • RS: 26 g/L
  • RRP: €45.99
  • Stockists: Baggot Street Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Michaels at Higgins Butchers Sutton; Redmonds of Ranelagh;
  • Source: sample

Domaine Rolly Gassmann Brandhurst de Bergheim Pinot Gris 2013

Rolly Gassmann Brandhurst de Bergheim Pinot Gris

The Full Monty. The Whole Shebang. The Whole Nine Yards. Pear Cider That’s Made From 100% Pears. There are many colloquial phrases which imply that something is an archetype, the best of its kind. To that I would like to add Domaine Rolly Gassmann Brandhurst de Bergheim Pinot Gris…do you think it will catch on?

In the glass it’s a light gold, a combination of sweetness and age adding to the depth of colour. The nose has exhuberant notes of red apple, conference pears, poached apricots and even toffee. It’s just delightful in the mouth, with Pinot Gris’s textured dry notes surrounded by sumptuous fruit.

This wine shows why Pinot Gris is (narrowly) my second favourite variety in Alsace. Pinot Gris done right!

  • ABV: 14.0%
  • RS: 42 g/L
  • RRP: €41.99
  • Stockists: Baggot Street Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Michaels at Higgins Butchers Sutton; Redmonds of Ranelagh;
  • Source: sample

Domaine Rolly Gassmann Gewurztraminer 2016

Rolly Gassmann Gewurztraminer

As I state frequently in my prose, Gewurztraminer is a tricky grape to get right, even in its spiritual home of Alsace. This is the Goldilocks of Gewurz, not too dry, not too sweet, just perfectly poised and balanced. It’s an expressive wine, but not one that gets carried away with itself. The unmistakeable Gewurz nose is exotic without being redolent of fake perfumes from a market stall. The palate has delicious stone and pip fruits – apricot, quince and peach – with ginger and other spices. Rolly Gassmann has made Goldilocks’ perfect wine: graceful, balanced, not trying too hard nor trying to be anything else.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RS: 30 g/L
  • RRP: €35.99
  • Stockists: Baggot Street Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Michaels at Higgins Butchers Sutton; Redmonds of Ranelagh;
  • Source: purchased from Baggot Street Wines

Other Domaine Rolly Gassmann Wines available in Ireland

In addition to the five “regular” wines reviewed above there are two further Rolly-Gassmann wines available in Ireland, both sweet styles:

  • Riesling de Rorschwihr `Cuvée Yves` Vendanges Tardives 2010: RRP €59.99, Stockists: Barnhill Stores, Dalkey; The Corkscrew; Jus De Vine, Portmarnock
  • Oberer Weingarten de Rorschwihr Gewürztraminer Vendanges Tardives: RRP €67.99, currently no retail stockists, but available in some restaurants
Wine reviews

Wine Review: Cave de Hunawihr Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling




Village of Hunawihr, Alsace
Village of Hunawihr, Alsace [Credit: Osi (Wikipedia)]

Hunawihr is a village on the Alsace Wine Route, sandwiched in between the more celebrated Riquewihr and Ribeauvillé, 15 km north of Colmar. With only 603 inhabitants it is no metropolis, but its Fortified Church has been photographed many times; it features prominently on the label of Alsace’s most famous wine, Trimbach’s Clos Sainte Hune.

Hunawihr is also a member of the “Association of Most Beautiful Villages in France” (Les Plus Beaux Villages de France). It has a single Grand Cru vineyard within its limits: Rosacker. 

Grand Cru Rosacker

Rosacker was one of the 24 lieux-dits elevated to Grand Cru status in 1983, and became a Grand Cru name in its own right in 2011. The origin of the name is thought to come from the wild roses which grew beside the vines; the earliest known mention of Rosacker is from 1483.

Travelling along the Alsace Wine Route, Rosacker is in between Kirchberg de Ribeauvillé to the north and  Froehn to the south east. The vineyard faces east/south-east and runs from 260 to 330 metres above sea level. The gradient is quite moderate apart from the top section which is considerably steeper, though it has never required terracing. The total surface area planted to vines is 26.18 hectares.

As with much of Alsace, the geology is complex. The underlying bedrock is sedimentary limestone strata known as Muschelkalk and Lettenkhole. On top of this is an average of 1.5 metres of calci-magnesic marl and sandstone containing limestone and dolomite pebbles. This soil is heavy but retains small amounts of water all year round, so drought stress never becomes too severe. 

Rosacker is tucked up quite close to the higher peaks of the Vosges mountains so is relatively cool; grapes therefore tend to ripen late here and retain high levels of acidity. The encepagement is currently 65% Riesling, 23% Gewurztraminer and 12% Pinot Gris; Rosacker is undoubtedly most suited to Riesling. Vendanges Tardives (“VT”, late harvest) and Sélection de Grains Nobles (“SGN”, botrytised wines) can be made in this Grand Cru but are rare as harvesting of grapes for dry wines is already quite late and ventilation by winds means that botrytis is rare.

Other producers who make Grand Cru Rosacker wines include Sipp Mack, Julien Schaal, Jean-Luc Mader, Jean Biecher, François Schwach, E. Traber, David Ermel & Fils, Eblin Fuchs, Mittnacht-Klack, Fernand Ziegler and Agape. Of course Close Sainte Hune is located within Rosacker but Trimbach prefer not to put the name of the Grand Cru on the label.

Cave Viticole de Hunawihr

That necessity is the mother of invention may be a cliché but is nonetheless often true. The wine trade in Alsace was in disarray after the Second World War, even more than other French regions as Alsace had been annexed by Germany and its output used to bolster that of German regions. Many Alsatian wine farmers banded together in their villages to form cooperatives, and thus the Cave Viticole de Hunawihr was founded in 1954.

As of 2010 the Cave had 130 members with a total of 200 hectares of vines, 160 within Hunawihr and 40 in neighbouring villages. Of the total, 12 hectares are dedicated to Crémant d’Alsace and 13 hectares are in Grand Cru sites: Rosacker (of course), Froehn, Sporen, Schoenenbourg and Osterberg. The Cave’s cellars hold 1.5 million bottles, just under an average year’s production of 1.6 million. Three quarters of sales are in France and a quarter abroad.

Wine Portfolio

Wines in blue and bold are available in Ireland through Liberty Wines.

  • Grands Crus: Riesling Rosacker, Riesling Schoenenbourg, Riesling Osterberg, Pinot Gris Frohn, Gewurztraminer Osterberg, Gewurztraminer Froeh, Gewurztraminer Altenberg 
  • Lieux-dits: Riesling Silberberg, Riesling Muehlforst, Pinot Gris Muehlfrost, Gewurtraminer Muehlforst, Gewurtraminer Burlenberg
  • Vieilles Vignes: Riesling, Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc
  • Réserve: Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc “Klevner”, Gewurtztraminer, Auxerrois
  • Other traditional wines: Edelzwicker, Hand-picked Muscat, Pinot Gris Rosé, Oaked Chasselas, Vegan Pinot Gris, Vegan Gewurztraminer
  • Vendanges Tardives: Riesling, Pinot Gris, Muscat
  • Crémants d’Alsace: Calixte Brut, Calixte Rosé, Calixte Blanc de Noirs, Calixte Vintage, Calixte 5, Calixte 5 Rosé, Calixte Ice Blanc, Calixte Ice Rosé

Cave de Hunawihr Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling 2019

Cave de Hunawihr, Riesling Grand Cru Rosacker

For me this wine is the main event, the best grape variety from their home Grand Cru vineyard. I’ve tried this wine several times over the years, but to be honest it didn’t shine compared to Sipp Mack’s 2011 Rosacker Riesling which I was very familiar with. However, it didn’t really get a fair hearing as Sipp Mack’s example had more years under its belt (and had therefore evolved more) and 2011 was a powerful vintage for Rosacker wines – an abv of 14.0% gives you an indication. 

BUT, I recently tried the Cave’s 2019 Rosacker and, while it doesn’t have the advantage of development, it does have power, weighing in at 14.5%. Showing that character and style are vintage-dependent in Alsace, the 2017 had 12.5% and the 2018 14.0%.

The 2019 Rosacker Riesling pours a very pale lemon in the glass, almost watery clear. The nose is very muted at this stage – you have to go find the aromas rather than sitting back and letting them come to you (like a Marlborough Sauvignon, for example). The gentle citrus aromas are very fine, however. The palate is dry yet not austere; there is a bright streak of lime and grapefruit over a chalky minerality (there is no known mechanism for minerals in the soils below vines to be transferred to the grapes, yet here we are…). The alcohol isn’t noticeable per se, it just adds to the sense of tightly coiled power and a finish that seems to last for days.

This wine obviously has significant scope for development over the next five to ten years at least, but it is very nice to drink now, and very reasonably priced for such an accomplished wine. Whether you can buy some and put it away without giving into early temptation is the real test!

  • ABV: 14.5%
  • RS: 2.4 g/L
  • RRP:  €27.95 – €29.95
  • Source: purchased from Baggot Street Wines
  • Stockists: Baggot Street Wines; Barnhill Stores; Clontarf Wines; Ely Wine Store; Matson’s Wine Stores – Bandon, Youghal and Grange; Red Nose Wine;