Monday, September 19, 2016

Alsace Features All Organic and Biodynamic Tasting Seminar at Wine Writers Conference

Alsatian wine producers are promoting the region's high percentage of organic and Biodynamic vineyards in their PR outreach campaigns, as a recent seminar at the Wine Bloggers Conference (held in Lodi in August) demonstrated. 

Wine Educator May Matta-Aliah
presented the Au Naturel Alsace presentation
The region sponsored a guided tasting of three wines, all from certified organic or Biodynamic vines in the Grand Cru Hengst region of Alsace.

Overall the region is known for seven major grapes which are grown on 13 different soils. It's terroir is shaped by the Vosges Mountains and the Rhine River. It is also one of the driest wine growing regions in France, second only to Perpignan, receiving only 20-26 inches of rain per year.

About 15 percent of the Alsace region's acreage is certified organic or Biodynamic, making it the European leader by percentage in eco-certified vines. 

Alsace's organic acreage (including Biodynamic) is 5,510 acres (out of 38,000). 

To put that in perspective, that is a little big bigger than Mendocino's organic acreage (3,900 acres, more or less, out of 16,000 acres) or close to the same acreage one Central Valley vintner - Fred Franzia of Bronco Wine (5,000 acres) - is converting for his Rare Earth wine.

Nonetheless, Alsace's accomplishments are in a different class from supermarket wine producers - they're world renowned, fine wines. 

Napa, by comparison has about half the percentage of Alsace - 7.6% (3,200 organic acres out of 42,000 acres of bearing vines.)

In Alsace, the organic and Biodynamic trend has really taken off over the last 12 years, with more than 280 wine growers are organic or Biodynamic. That is up from just 50 in 2003.

Ninety percent of Alsace's wine is white wine. More than a quarter (26%) becomes AOC Cremant d'Alsace, a fine sparkling wine. 

The Grand Crus comprise just four percent of production, encompassing 51 vineyards. 

The seminar's guided tasting focused on wines from three Biodynamic Grand Cru estates in Hengst - Domaine St. Remy Riesling 2013 ($28); Albert Mann Pinot Gris 2013 ($38); and the Zind Humbrecht Gewürztraminer - Hengst 2013 ($75).

A few tasting notes:
The Riesling: whiteflower, citrus, with juicy acidity.
The Pinot Gris: peach notes, very elegant. (Completely different from Italian Pinot Gris - too bad they share the same name).
The Gewurztraminer: Mind blowing. Round, voluptuous, with lychee flavors. (My impression of what Gewürztraminer can be has now completely changed.) Sublime. 

Alsace exports just 8.7 percent (by volume) of its wine to the U.S. - that's 83,000 cases a year. If 15 percent of that is organic or Biodynamic, that would be only 12,450 cases of organic or Biodynamically grown wines. 

Simply as a point of interest (no comparisons intended in terms of the wines), two American producers with organic or Biodynamic estates make at least that much from Alsatian varietals.

Montinore Estate in Oregon's Willamette Valley makes more than 8,000 cases of Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and Alsatian wine blends (all certified Made with Biodynamic Grapes) while Robert Sinskey Vineyards makes 3,300+ cases of its Alsatian blend Abraxas (from organic vines).

However none of them can compare to the Alsatian Biodynamic coolness of using horses to plow the vines. 

Using horses in the vineyard Domaine Weinbach
At the end of the seminar, wine educator May Matta-Aliah shared an anecdote from a recent tasting she had led in New York, where she did a blind tasting with a large group tasting conventionally grown wines versus organically and/or Biodynamically grown wines (without knowing that that was what they were tasting). 

"Eighty five percent preferred the organic/Biodynamic wines," she said. "It's hard to describe the difference, but there's something more alive about them."

In conclusion, Matta-Aliah pointed out the significant price difference between Alsatian Grand Crus versus, say, Burgundy's, emphasizing the price point for the three Grand Cru wines tasted - $28, $35, and $75. Point well taken.

These are beautiful wines, which is what you hope would result from farming at the highest standards.

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