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05.15.2010

2006 Marc Kreydenweiss "Clos Rebberg" Pinot Gris, Alsace, France

clos_rebberg_gris_06.jpgThe wines of Alsace are some of the most unique and distinctive in the world. They are also some of my favorites, not only because they are delicious, but also because they are made by some of France's most individualistic and headstrong vintners.

Alsace has long been a place apart, both from France and Germany, each of which have laid claim over the valleys and hills that lie west of the Rhine river which currently demarcates the border between the two nations. It's easy to characterize the region as a smooth and quirky blend between the two countries, but such a simple description belies the unique nature of the region, especially when it comes to its cuisine and its wine.

Alsace is the only region of France whose wines have historically been labeled with varietal names (though since 2001 they can now bear the names of their Grand Cru vineyards). Alsace was also one of the first wine regions to adopt biodynamic viticulture, the holistic growing and winemaking regimen based on the teachings of Rudolph Steiner. Since its first biodynamic vineyard in 1960, Alsace has been at the forefront of the movement. The region can now claim to be the most biodynamic winegrowing region in France, with more than 37,000 acres of vineyards and more than 57 producers adhering to the strict (and some say bizarre) methods of cultivation and winemaking.

Though I count myself as a skeptic of many of the processes and beliefs associated with Biodynamics, in the same breath I always mention that some of the greatest wines in the world (not to mention the greatest winemakers of the world) are biodynamic. There's clearly something to it.

When Alsatian vintner Marc Kreydenweiss talks about selecting vineyard sites based on their exceptional vibrations and constructing his wine cellars using the golden ratio and an "accumulator to charge the telluric and cosmic forces" I have to roll my eyes a bit, but that's only until I taste the wines, and then I can forget about all the mumbo jumbo and concentrate on great wines with distinctive personalities.

Kreydenweiss took over the farming and winemaking of his family's domaine in 1970 at the tender age of 23. At the time, the 12 or so acres that his family owned were producing grapes for sale to neighbors, despite a history of winegrowing in the very same vineyards that stretched back nearly three centuries and included periods of great renown for the little hillsides of schist and sandstone. Kreydenweiss set out to recapture some of the glory of this history, and spent the next two decades acquiring additional neighboring vineyard plots and overhauling the domaine's winegrowing practices to focus on low yields and strictly organic farming. In 1991 Kreydenweiss converted the first of his vineyards to Biodynamic techniques, and the rest of the vineyards soon followed.

Today Kreydenweiss farms a little less than 30 acres of vineyards in Alsace, which include portions of three Grand Cru vineyards: Kastelberg, Moenchberg, and Weibelsberg. The domaine produces a number of small production wines from the typical grapes of the region.

Like most of the long time winemakers of Alsace, Kreydenweiss is fervently dedicated to his terroir. But unlike many of his colleagues, he harbors a desire that is hard to quench with the soils and the wines of his home: deep red wine.

Alsace grows a bit of Pinot Noir, of course, but it is almost exclusively a white wine region. So when Kreydenweiss wanted to make himself a red wine, he needed to look elsewhere. His quest for distinctive terroir eventually led him to the far south end of the Rhone valley, in an appellation called Costieres de Nimes. Here he found rich soils supporting old-vine Carignane, Mourvedre, Syrah, and Grenache, and a place to make red wines with the same passion as his whites.

Only about 20% of the estate's small production levels reach the United States. I have tasted the domaine's wines for the past few vintages with some consistency and find them to be generally excellent and getting better.

The Clos Rebberg Vineyard, of which Kreydenweiss owns only about 2.5 acres is planted to Riesling and Pinot Gris on some of the steepest slopes you could possibly imagine. The vines sit on terraces carved into the side of a hill of schist, and must be harvested by hand with the greatest of care.

This particular wine bears an unusual label, not merely because it sports a painting by a French artist, but because that artist, Charles Joguet, is himself a well known winemaker in the Loire Valley. Joguet retired in 1997 from the wine business and spends his time painting (and no doubt drinking Chinon).

After crushing, this wine is fermented in 80-100 year-old oak vats, and then ages for 10 months in barrels just as ancient before being bottled.

Full disclosure: I received this wines as a press sample.

Tasting Notes:
Light yellow-gold in color, this wine smells of ripe pears, bee pollen (an aroma and flavor that I find in this wine consistently, vintage after vintage), and beeswax. In the mouth it is wonderfully textured -- silky as hell -- with flavors of pear, wet stones and mandarin orange zest and flowering herb notes that linger in the finish. Beautifully balanced, elegant, and quite compelling.

Food Pairing:
This wine will beautifully accompany Thai food that isn't too spicy as well as Shanghainese or Cantonese dishes.

Overall Score: around 9

How Much?: $32

This wine is available for purchase on the Internet.

Comments (9)

Kristin wrote:
05.16.10 at 2:46 PM

What a lovely post and description of this wine, I feel I NEED a glass or two myself right now. Thank you.

wine-fan wrote:
05.17.10 at 5:08 AM

Thank you for the great description ;)

Brigitte Armenier wrote:
05.17.10 at 3:06 PM

Alder, you present Biodynamics as notably being a method of winemaking taught by Rudolf Steiner. Well, are you sure that you are not creating here your own little mumbo jumbo? :)

Alder Yarrow wrote:
05.17.10 at 3:13 PM

"Based on the teachings of" not "taught by" Steiner was a teetotaler that never drank alcohol. His agriculture lectures, which I have read, were just that, about agriculture, not about winemaking. That hasn't stopped the biodynamic wine folks from making him their guru.

Brigitte Armenier wrote:
05.17.10 at 4:50 PM

Good! We now both agree that there is no "biodynamic winemaking based on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner." Yet, the reason is not to be found in the second-hand idea that "Steiner was a teetotaler that never drank alcohol": you will find in the anthroposophical movement reports of his biography and stories of oral tradition which show just the opposite. Biodynamics is simply as you just said: all "about agriculture, not about winemaking." There can't be thus "biodynamic wine folks."

Alder Yarrow wrote:
05.17.10 at 8:15 PM

Brigitte,

Yet there is an "official," even Trademarked (!) definition of what Biodynamic winemaking is. People get certified as biodynamic wineries. Not biodynamic farms, biodynamic wineries. While Steiner did not invent biodynamic winemaking, it nonetheless exists as a set of interpretations that have largely become dogma in some circles.

Brigitte Armenier wrote:
05.18.10 at 11:43 AM

Alder, first and foremost what Demeter certifies are the vineyards. Again, Biodynamics only takes place in the vineyards, through the use of the BD preparations, period. Now, in case a winery wants to show this certification on its labels, what then Demeter requests is the respect of a set of guidelines regarding the products and methods used in the cellar. So that the initial produce (grapes) does not get transformed into some sort of bizarre and chemical product (wine) which, now allowed to be presented under the Biodynamic logo, would in fact mislead the consumer on its true nature. Actually, this came up as a way to avoid what had previously happened with the so-called "organic" yogurt: the milk was indeed organic but the final yogurt had nothing to do with an organic product and was yet sold as such! Shall we say that some traits of the human nature can become strong parameters? Today many biodynamists, for instance in France, bemoan the fact that they did not years ago trademark the word "Biodynamics" like Demeter USA did. But as a friend recently told me, "we were young, the term 'greenwashing' was not even coined, why bother?"
As for the "dogma in some circles," you will have to be a bit more precise: which dogma, which circles?

Brigitte Armenier wrote:
05.20.10 at 8:16 PM

Alder, there is no topic free from critical thinking, and Biodynamics as well as the people who practice it are no exception to the rule. I can thus but regret that you did not think it necessary to answer my question. For when such an assertion as yours does not get supported by facts, I guess one is allowed to think that the claim was closer to spurious denigration than true critical thinking. Dommage!

Jolan wrote:
05.26.10 at 5:53 AM

Thanks for sharing information about this bottle! I adore Alsatian wines, much for the same reasons as you do, and find the history of the region fascinating. One question, though: have you tried the Rhone red?

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