Jane An­son

ÔAl­sace should be seen as FranceÕs heart­land for ter­roir-driven whitesÕ

Decanter - - LETTERS - Jane An­son is a De­canter con­tribut­ing ed­i­tor. Read her ‘An­son on Thurs­day’ blog on

There’s some­Thing mag­i­cal about rain in moun­tain­ous re­gions, when the mist rises like curl­ing woodsmoke from the hills. al­sace has it in spades, com­pen­sat­ing for the soggy June weather as we walk through its vine­yards. it’s not been a great start to the 2016 sea­son for most wine re­gions across France. hail has wiped out swathes of chablis, Bur­gundy and the loire. Frost has taken out plenty more.

‘if rain is as bad as it gets for us this year,’ says Jean-Frédéric hugel, ‘we’ll take it’. Be­sides, the weather is only one of the ob­sta­cles al­sace has had to con­tend with re­cently. The loss just a few months ago of Jean-Frédéric’s fa­ther, eti­enne, one of the re­gion’s stars, served as a som­bre re­minder that spokesper­sons for this un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated re­gion are all too few.

it can be easy to imagine that the an­cient wine re­gions in France have all the kinks worked out in their sys­tems. But the beau­ti­ful hill­sides of al­sace, de­spite all of their his­tory, are still search­ing for an iden­tity that fi­nally sees them achieve the recog­ni­tion they de­serve within the world’s fine wine re­gions.

Partly it’s po­lit­i­cal – all that tug of war­ring be­tween ger­many and France over the cen­turies; partly it’s fash­ion, with the re­gion’s sweet wines find­ing the same tough re­cep­tion that is be­ing ac­corded to sauternes, Ju­rançon, mon­bazil­lac and oth­ers. But it’s hard to ig­nore that a sig­nif­i­cant factor is self-in­flicted, with too many play­ers favour­ing high yields that have dam­aged qual­ity, and too lit­tle weight given to des­ig­nat­ing in­di­vid­ual vine­yard plots of par­tic­u­lar qual­ity – not to men­tion weird laws in the re­gion that in­sist the sta­tus of grand cru can only be awarded to sites un­der mul­ti­ple own­er­ship, thereby lock­ing out mono­poles such as clos ste-hune (Trim­bach) and clos Winds­buhl (Zind­hum­brecht). Un­clear la­belling doesn’t help mat­ters ei­ther, with the dry styles that al­sace tra­di­tion­ally favours tak­ing a swing to the sweeter side over the past 20 years, but rarely with ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion on la­bels to alert drinkers to what they are go­ing to get in the bot­tle.

‘There have been mo­ments when we have al­most had to apol­o­gise for sell­ing al­sace wine,’ says séver­ine Bey­don-schlum­berger of Do­maine schlum­berger. in re­sponse to this, she and a small group of other es­tates joined forces in novem­ber 2015 to cre­ate al­sace crus et Ter­roirs – acT. The aim is to fo­cus at­ten­tion on the strengths of al­sace.

and there are many. This is a re­gion that grows 90% white grapes, and should be seen as France’s heart­land for ter­roir-driven whites. Be­sides the mo­saic of Pinot Blanc, Pinot gris, gewurz­traminer and mus­cat, nowhere else in France can even be­gin to make ries­lings with this com­plex­ity and power. and the only red grape al­lowed within the al­sace ap­pel­la­tion is Pinot noir, hardly a draw­back for a re­gion’s rep­u­ta­tion. it also has a claim for call­ing it­self the spir­i­tual home of bio­dy­nam­ics, with more than 30 dif­fer­ent bio­dy­namic winer­ies, from Bott-geyl to Jos­meyer, Wein­bach and Zind­hum­brecht. The ar­rival of the Trapet fam­ily from gevrey-cham­bertin (via Jean-louis Trapet mar­ry­ing al­sace-native an­drée) has added an­other high-pro­file name to the mix.

‘We haven’t been suc­cess­ful enough at pre­sent­ing the di­ver­sity of this re­gion in a pos­i­tive light,’ says Bey­don-schlum­berger. ‘We hope that by join­ing forces we can do this, and be proud of the dis­tinc­tive his­tory that has given this re­gion its iden­tity.’

acT is not a po­lit­i­cal or com­mer­cial body, and is in its very early stages with just 19 mem­ber pro­duc­ers, in­clud­ing the five bio­dy­namic es­tates listed above. But it hopes to em­u­late the suc­cess of the VdP group­ing in ger­many that ef­fec­tively re­launched it­self with the 2012 vin­tage, along the Bur­gun­dian model of re­gional wines (gutswein), vil­lage wines (ortswein), premier cru (er­ste lage) and grand cru wines (grosse lage).

‘We are push­ing for the in­tro­duc­tion of premier cru in al­sace, but in the mean­time the em­pha­sis is on ex­press­ing our ter­roirs and tak­ing the fo­cus back to the vine­yards,’ says Bey­don-schlum­berger. ‘We are Bur­gundy’s lit­tle sis­ter, yet we have a lot of work to do to re­store pride in our grow­ers’.

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