The vineyards range over 6 hectares and are split between 25 parcelles dotted around the hillsides that surround Rosheim. The soils are predominately a clay limestone mix (argilo-calcaire). The St. Jacques Pilgrims Way winds past to the north of Rosheim, right through one of Jean-Marc’s Pinot Gris plots. The symbol that is associated with St. Jacques is the scallop shell and its sort of neat that scallop fossils turn up in Alsace’s limestone vineyards. Fossil deposits that date back 50 million years.
“Don’t mix up what you need, with what the wine needs.”
The conversion of the domain to biodynamics started in 2003 when the first Steiner directed preparations were used. Jean-Marc didn’t go for full certification for several years, but he made that step in 2014. No new parcelles have been planted for 15 years, with the emphasis more on cultivating and developing the maturing vineyards to express their potential. There is no Grand Cru big name vineyard close to Rosheim, so no resting on the laurels of some name-tag. The success and reputation of these wines comes from the recognition of their quality and their relevance to the growing public interested in natural wine.
Part of the domain is currently worked by horse and Jean-Marc plans to increase this as he sees the approach contributing to the balance and the energy in the vineyards. At harvest time there is emphasis on getting started in the vines early, to capture the energy and freshness of the morning. There is an on-going search for equilibrium across the whole setup and no drive towards, bigger and faster.
Annual production is around 20,000 bottles with 70% going to export; approximately 40% to Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium and Sweden; 20% to Japan and 10% to the U.S.A. That last market is where the Brutal cuveé is exported in collaboration with Les Vins Pirouettes. More on this some other time.
During a series of visits in the last 18 months we tasted a wide range of wines from 2012 to 2017; bottled, newly bottled, from the barrique and from the foudre. The 2017 wines are now appearing on the market in the various corners of the planet. The list is made up of seven, white grape varietal maceration cuvées, termed the ORIGIN series (Sylvaner, Auxerrois, Riesling, Muscat and Gewürztraminer). Plus the Pinot Noir Elios, raised in large foudres and the Pinot Noir Anigma raised in barriques.
We also got lucky at the end of 2018 and had the chance to taste the complete range of available wines, at the Cheribibi restaurant and wine bar in Biarritz. Big thanks to the owner, Francois Lemarié, for hosting. It was good fun to open and taste wines from the North-East, way down in the South-West of France. A ‘diagonal tasting’ to put a different angle on the usual vertical and horizontal approaches.
An early developer from 2018 is already out there; Pink Pong a Pinot Noir/Pinot Gris maceration. We tasted the 2016 in spring 2017, with a nose that was in line with a rosé, with more weight on tasting with red fruits and a hint of spices.
The five maceration “Origin” wines go through 10-20 days with skin contact depending on the rhythm of fruit coming in during harvest.
There was no Pinot Gris production in 2017 due to early frosts and that explains the lack of this variety in the current release of wines.
The wines were all clear with a light golden orange touch. The Sylvaner had quince on the bouquet and was round, big and dry on tasting. The Muscat had a typical, fruity grape nose and a delicate dry and balanced fruity acidity. The Riesling was fascinating with a sort of tension between a tight vertical structure and a wide horizontal softness. It was super dry on the finish with a resonance of green fruits and just-right acidity. The Gewurztraminer was definitely in the orange wine colour range, with discrete and delicate tropical fruits on the nose, and a huge burst of ripe mango on tasting, which closed down to a long dry finish.
Apart from the Anigma Pinot Noir which will easily develop another two or three years, the range of the maceration wines are nicely balanced on an elegant edge with good weight and a great energy and tension between expressive fruit and a roundness from the skin contact. These are wines that are delicious to drink now and in the next 18 months. It will be interesting to see how they will develop beyond that, if there are any left around.
The two 2017 release, direct press, wines are blends from different years. The TriAux is a blend of Auxerrois from 2015, 2016, 2017 and bottled in August 2018. We loved this – clear and pale, touch of cinnamon and yeast on the nose, with a round and crunchy body and dry salinity and complex white fruits on the finish. A wine with character and energy. The second direct press wine, the cuveé Brutus, is a 2016 Pinot Gris, blended with 2013 and 2016 Auxerrois. This was super clear for a non filtered wine, with just a touch of reduction on the nose. The wine had a weighty roundness and body to it on tasting, with all sorts of dried fruits on a long dry finish.