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Intro: Alsace

Dirler-Cadé is one of Alsace’s leading domaines making brilliant, tightly structured wines. Based in Bergholtz in the southern half of Alsace south of Colmar, owners Jean and Ludivine Dirler were early convertees to biodynamic viticulture back in 1998 (now certified ‘Biodyvin’). They have a fine cluster of grand crus near Guebwiller: Saering, Spiegel, Kitterlé and Kessler. Saering has a complex mix of marl, sandstone and limestone and is largely south-east facing, producing very finely cut, delicate, elegant wines. Spiegel which is due east facing (so important to retain good acidity) has a sandstone and clay bedrock. It is especially suited to producing dense, long-lived Rieslings. Kessler is on a south-east facing hillside above Spiegel, and is quite a steep terraced vineyard based on sandstone, where Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris thrive.

Laurent Barth is based in Bennwihr (north of Colmar) and has 3.5 hectares planted with the seven traditional Alsatian varietals, on 27 different plots, including the Grand Cru Marckrein. The soils go from heavy clay and marl to a light alluvial soil of sand and pebbles. The vines are tended organically and yields are low, 40hh on average. The resulting wines are bright, pure and precise and always feel poised and unforced.

The wines of Domaine Marc Tempé added to the list last year have proved a great success. Marc, who Léonard Humbrecht (of Zind-Humbrecht) calls his ‘spiritual godson’, has been working his eight hectares in the Haut-Rhin bio-dynamically since the late 1990s. There is no chaptalisation, acidification or cultured yeasts, élevage is in old foudres or old burgundy barrels (mostly from fellow biodynamic grower Domaine Leflaive). Fermentations are extended in his Zellenberg cellars, and the wines rest on their lees for a minimum of 24 months. At bottling there is no fining (and no filtration for most of the lieux-dits and grand crus) and only a judicious use of sulphur. To put it simply Marc’s wines are quite exceptional and exceptionally lovely.

The 13 hectare Domaine Léon Boesch is run by Matthieu Boesch, wife Marie and his parents in Soultzmatt at the southern end of Alsace (4km north of Dirler-Cadé). The vines have been tended bio-dynamically since 1999 and qualified for Demeter status in 2008. Yeasts are indigenous and the malolactic fermentations are allowed to occur spontaneously rather than being blocked with sulphur post fermentation. Matthieu believes there is a better exchange between the fine lees and wine without the interaction of sulphur. The wines are very clean with terrific fruit, texture, tension, minerality and length.

François Thomas’ wines are ripe with good fruit and terroir definition, a nice fresh balancing acidity, with neither too much alcohol nor residual sugar. His work in the vineyard is meticulous – all his wines are certified organic and he even uses a horse to plough between the vine rows on the steep hillside of Kaefferkopf.

The Schmitt family have ten hectares of vines in Bergbieten, and follow organically certified viticulture. Their wines have a most attractive, clear cut fruit and are much more accessible in their youth than many wines from the region. One of the factors that explains this is that they work with low, though perfectly safe levels of sulphur, which all too often can act as a barrier against enjoyment of young wines from Alsace.

New to the list this year Domaine Valentin Zusslin, now run by Marie and brother Jean-Paul have 16 hectares of bio-dynamically tended vines near the village of Orschwihr, south west of Colmar. They have good plantings of Pinot Noir on the fine hillside of Bollenberg, and for now we only buy this cuvee. Viticulture here is fastidious, the grapes are sorted meticulously, and ageing is sensitively carried out with one third of the barrels coming from forests in the local Vosges mountains. Sulphur use is very low indeed.

Organic & Bio-dynamic

See our list of organic and bio-dynamic growers.