“The production of this wine is a milestone in my life as a wine-grower and marks a break with the variety-over-Terroir dominance under which the Alsace region has suffered so greatly for the past 100 years.” – Jean-Michel Deiss
While most of the winemakers of Alsace make single-variety wines from single plots of land, Domaine Marcel Deiss has abandoned this approach.
After leaving the beer-soaked streets of Munich, and bouncing around four separate train connections, Kat and I arrived in Colmar, France, in the heart of Alsace. Within the hour, we were in a pick-up truck climbing the vineyards in the foothills of the Vosges Mountains. My thinking of Alsatian wines—in particular their staunchly held approach of mono-varietal wines (as opposed to a blend of grapes)—was about to change.
Behind the wheel was Mathieu Deiss, Jean-Michel’s son. As we toured the Grand Cru vineyard of Altenberg (above the village of Bergheim) in blaringly beautiful sunshine, we began an interesting discussion revolving around grape varieties.
Perhaps people are too stuck in the thinking that one single grape varietal best expresses a specific vineyard’s terroir, we pondered? Maybe, due to the number of different soil types and natural field blending that takes place, a number of different grape varieties together best express it?
The Altenberg Grand Cru 2003 from Marcel Deiss is made with 13 different grape varieties (a field blend). On the palate, the wine hypnotized me with it’s body of liquid velvet. A mineral nerve tore through the wine holding it in a high-wire balancing act that riveted my attention. Wow. Notes of flint amongst fruit cocktail syrup danced to a finish of orange marmalade. A late-harvest wine, it has classic notes of honeyed apricots from Botrytis, which most of the vineyard sees.
It’s quite possible that maybe I, too, have gotten stuck in varietal thinking. Knowing the different flavor profiles of the grapes is helpful, but if it’s the only thing one looks for, then it may stop you from experiencing the unique terroir of a vineyard. I learned that if left unchecked, a vineyard’s grapes will mutate and naturally produce other varieties (Pinot Noir, for instance, will naturally mutate into Pinot Gris and Pinot Beurot when the terroir calls for it).
Maybe the first question to ask is not, “what grape is this”?, but instead, what “vineyard is this”? And maybe it’s best for man to let nature take it’s course and grow the grapes it wants to?