Kat with Mathieu Deiss in the heart of Altenberg vineyard

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.

A biodynamic cathedral of awesomeness (click to enlarge)

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.


I'm a happy vine. And so are my friends.

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?


6 Responses to “A Varietal Symphony in Altenberg Grand Cru”

  1. Wine Lover says:

    A Varietal Symphony in Altenberg Grand Cru: “The production of this wine is a milestone in my life as a wine-gro…

  2. We were in a pick-up truck high in the vineyards of #Alsace. My thinking of #terroir was about to change….my LATEST:

  3. terroirNY says:

    Deiss! READ. RT @grapesandgrains: in pick-up truck high in vineyards of Alsace. My thinking of terroir was abt to change

  4. Isn’t that the way it is supposed to be? The vineyard defines the wine, not the varietal. I want Altenberg, not Pinot Gris

  5. Totally agree, Chris. I will line up in frigid weather at the crack of dawn for another taste of that vineyard.

  6. Thanks for the RT! Alsace reigns supreme @breebos: RT @grapesandgrains: A Varietal Symphony in Altenberg Grand Cru

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