Legend has it that the name « Kitterlé », otherwise known as « Kütterlé, comes from the Schwab word Kuter, meaning big wild tomcat. The tomcat used to live in « Upper Saering » and its mischievous spirit could be sensed in the casks of the chateaux in the surrounding area.
However, according to another version, « Kütterlé » was the name of a poor vine-grower from Guebwiller who was the first to be bold enough to set off up the hill (known locally as the “mountain”) and plant vines on it.
In bygone days there was a man called Kuter in Guebwiller, commonly called « Küterlé » because of his small height. He was a poor, intelligent, hard-working vine-grower who was unfailingly resolute. Not having many vines to cultivate, he decided to clear stony, rocky Upper-Saering. Many people laughed as they watched him perched on top of the rocks. Others felt sorry for him, but Kuter was not one to heed mockery. On the contrary, the more people commented and laughed the harder he worked. He extracted rubble stones from the split rock to build walls, then used the piled up soil to level terraces, one after the other. He then planted vines, which, level by level, took the hill by storm…
People continued to mock, saying « Let’s see what wine that’ll give ! » but the joke was soon on them. The hill was bathed in loving sunshine and the vines flourished for all their worth.
When Kütterlé produced his first wine, it was quickly compared to the fine wines grown in the surrounding areas. There was the fiery-natured Kessler, the ardent Wanne and, above all, the generous Saering. But after having weighed everything up, tasted and made their comments, the jury unanimously proclaimed that the last to come merited a place among the best.
Adapted from Abbot Braunn’s “Legends of Florival” 1886
Germanic mythology recounts that it was the crafty magician god, Odin, who made the valley of Guebwiller fertile. His foot was hurt by a wild boar and he made a flower spring up from every drop of blood he spilt. Flowers sprang up all over the slopes and caused grapes filled with divine blood to grow and swell.
Men have continually grown vines on the Kitterlé plot for more than 10 centuries now. It was first distinguished in 1699 and has always had an exceptional reputation.
In the Middle Ages, Guebwiller was ruled by the despotic Abbot Princes of Murbach. Members of the nobility, or guilds, who came up against them were driven out of the town or disbanded.
In the 12th century, vine-growing made Guebwiller one of the most important towns in Alsace.
Wanne, Saering and Kitterlé passed in transit through Basle and Lucerne towards Austria. They were so well known that wines from Switzerland and elsewhere were passed off by unscrupulous merchants as coming from Guebwiller.
In the 17th century, the inhabitants of Guebwiller decided to thwart the traffickers by deciding to affix a certificate of origin on each cask of wine which left their cellars. As the missive of 15 April 1667, from the town of Guebwiller to the town of Lucerne, testified: « we have decided to write to the sires of Lucerne because we have learnt that certain buyers have been led into taking wines from Rouffach, Westhalten and Soultzmatt and selling them as wines from Guebwiller and to declare that from now on the wines will be accompanied by a Ladtzettel or certificate of origin. »
With this they became the forerunners of the « Appellations of Controlled Origin ».
In the 19th century the following could be found in the Upper Rhine Administrative directory (1854) : « are particularly renowned […] the pleasant wines of Guebwiller, known under the name of Kitterlé, which have, in certain circumstances, a taste somewhat similar to a sorb-apple tree or a hazel tree, which gives them the name Eschgriessel and Hasselnusser. The wine from the same place, made with the ollwer grape has a reputation for fighting against the formation of gall stones and is even said to cure those suffering from this disease. »
In 1837 a debate by Colmar town council concluded : « It is obvious that Colmar’s vineyards on the plain cannot be rated in the same way as those on the hills… The schatz there only just sells at 800 francs, whereas in Guebwiller the schatz, which is seven ares, sells at almost 3,000 francs. The wines from the best areas of vineyard are of much higher quantity and quality than those of the first class wines from Colmar. It is not possible (therefore) to let vines from Rouffach, Ribeauvillé and Guebwiller be estimated so closely to those of the worst vines on the plain. »
(Taken from Claude Muller’s book « Alsace wines – History of a vineyard)
The Kitterlé is a truly historic monument. The « mountain » was fashioned by man using brute strength. It half collapsed several times and over 50 km of wall had to be built to sustain the vine terraces on these steep slopes.
It is a magical « poor and sandy » plot, which can never give large quantities of wine. It gets the sun from sunrise to sunset which favours the concentration of aromas.
A 19th century chronicler wrote « For heady strength and fine bouquet no other Alsace wine is better than the Kitterlé ».
Kitterlé has been sold under its own name by Domaine Schlumberger since 1830.