How did poor people pay their hospital bills back in the 14th century? With what they had, and most unlikely with money… Here in Strasbourg in one of the leading hospitals of the time, patients used to settle their bills with their homemade wines!
This was a perfect match as before the invention of painkillers wine was also used to kill the pain. A wine therapy prescription would instruct the patient to drink up to 2 litres per day (in the context of the time, wine was not as strong as today, often containing about 5% of alcohol and water was often corrupted). This way, the hospital of Strasbourg could also provide the drugs easily, and as a consequence housed an impressive wine cellar!
The stone-arched cellar is still located on the hospital grounds and hosts 54 wooden wine barrels, the oldest one dating back to 1472! It has come to us and has been restored thanks to the passion, dedication and efforts of local winemakers from Alsace. The ancient barrels have been renovated and maintained by a skilled craftsman. In exchange for the financial support of the winemakers, every year a tasting contest is organized and the winning domains can age their wines for 6 to 8 months in these special barrels and in excellent temperature conditions (about 12 in the winter and 17 in the summer). It is then bottled and sold with the label of the hospital cellar. About 140,000 bottles are produced every year.
And about the white wine of 1472?
It was tasted only 4 times in history and we could have a smell: honey, wax, hazelnut, vanilla, freshness and citrus… If the smell is delicate and magic, the taste is probably not the best with a very acid pH of 2.28. Plus by now, it is not really a millesimal: because of the evaporation of about 1% per year, barrels are filled up to make sure they remain full to not dry out and to limit the oxidation of the wine. After more than 500 years of aging, there is about 10 centilitres of the original wine left! So let’s leave it to our imagination…
Text: Marcella van Alphen
Photos: Claire Lessiau
- Step in and visit the Cave historique des Hospices de Strasbourg. In this self-regulated cool underground gem, taste and buy some of the best wines of the region (at domain prices)!
- Check out this interactive map for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area (tutorial)!
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