Alsace - Easter 2012

It was ten years since the Society last visited Alsace. This year 30members and friends assembled at the “Au Riesling”, a simple hotel in the wine village of Zellenberg, with views over the vineyards and the Rhine to the Black Forest in the distance. As usual we started with a welcome reception, this time with a Cremant d’Alsace from the next door winery. There was then a “menu de terroir” and a good deal of wine from the village.

The next day’s weather forecast promised showers and at the state it seemed that it was to be accurate, but the gods smiled. The group was somewhat surprised when, instead of the coach going into the village of Orschwirh, it turned into a lane which led to the summit of the Bollenberg. There was all round surprise when there was no one there to greet them, but all was made clear when Régine Garnier, proprietor of Domaine Materne Haegelin, and her daughter appeared and set up a table, She then led a tasting of wines from different crus, which she pointed out on neighbouring hillsides. Her home made duck rillettes added to the experience. Her daughter then led a walk down through the vines to the village and the winery where, after seeing the cellar and tasting the Cremant, there was a splendid lunch and more wines to accompany it.

A rather cheerful bunch rejoined the bus to go to Eguisheim and the Winery of Paul and Philippe Zinck There was quite a wait here as bottling was in full swing, but it proved worth it as Monsieur Zinck introduced his excellent range of wines and explained his philosophy of viticulture and wine making.

Day two started with a long drive to Heiligenstein to visit the only winery visited on the previous trip – Clos Meckert. This is a small, family owned, property specialising in the unique Klevener de Heiligenstein. Since the previous visit Jean-Luc and Eliane Meckert, although still active, have handed over the reins to their son Yannick, who has brought many of the ideas he has gleaned in hi time in Burgundy and abroad. We were pleased to see that they have kept the horizontal stainless steel tanks which were originally from the dairy industry. We enjoyed a comprehensive tasting of their full range of inexpensive wines along with tasty snacks.

Lunch was in Barr, where quite a number of places were shut, but everyone found somewhere to eat. From there a short coach ride to Andlau where we visited Domaine Durrmann.

André Durrmann  is a proud Alsatian who believes in “Permaculture” -a productive and sustainable ecosystem- economising on energy and emphasising the relationship between living things and biodiversity. After pointing out the importance of diversity on a small wood he led the group to one of his vineyards, where the vines are trained in a lyre fashion and where he plants trees between the rows to provide shade should there be excessive warming. Hr also keeps a flock of sheep to graze among the vines in winter and under the trees in summer. The winery itself has an array of solar panels and two large solar dishes for cooking and heating water. As could be expected the tasting of many of his wines was interesting. Some were excellent and one or two of his more experimental ones were unusual to say the least.

The third visit was a good half hour’s drive away at the Domaine Bott Geyl at Beblenheim. This is a biodynamic winery producing a range of Grand Cru wines of exceptional quality. Jean-Christophe Bott has been responsible for the domaine since 1993 and he converted the vineyards to be organic in 2000 and then biodynamic in 2002. He explained that in the vineyards he concentrates on low yields and in the cellars he oversees the vinification in the most natural and minimalist manner. Most of his vines are on Grand Cru or”Lieu Dit” sites. The whole art is to bring together tradition and modernity, to perpetuate the vignoble for posterity and to protect its ecology. The resulting wines proved to be of exceptional purity and complexity. His explanations were complete and fascinating. As it was late in the day a small minority became impatient.  Also because of the lateness people ordered wine to be collected the next day.

The final visit was a quarter hour stroll through Zellenberg to Domaine Becker. We were welcomed by Martine Becker who owns and runs the estate with her brothers Jean-Phillipe and Jean-François. The business has been in the family since 1610.  Martine, who speaks seven languages, is a superb hostess, informative, funny, a great raconteur. As well as presenting a great range of wines, encompassing virtually all the Alsace grapes she treated us to a great morning’s entertainment and wine education. What a pity that so few of their wines are on sale in the UK.

It is customary on these tours to end with a special dinner on the last evening. This year there happened to be a Michelin starred restaurant a few minutes walk from the hotel. Set amid the family vineyards Jean Michel Eblin and his wife’s “Le Maximilien” is in an elegant house. The food and wine  were superb, the service exemplary. A fitting end to the trip.

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