This morning I visited Josmeyer, a highly respected producer in the town of Wintzenheim, ten minutes outside of Colmar. Many of the most renowned winemakers do live in this southern part of Alsace, the Haut-Rein, nestled up against the Vosges Mountains immediately west, and with the flat plains and the Rhine to the east. The vineyards occupy the foothill slopes between the villages and the denser forested mountains.
This all works out great for me in Colmar, because all my visits are a quick easy drive from town. The villages themselves are adorable – immacute little medieval villages that are sometimes seem desolate. They’re quiet, calm, sunny and peaceful. It’s pretty good living, really.
The lack of bustle in the town and on the premises was apparent amidst my visit to Josmeyer. The estate, located on the main road in town, across from a Tabac and next door to a flower shop, occupied a beautiful sun drenched courtyard with a tree in the middle. There was an art gallery, entrances for the business and the tasting room, and some tractors in the corner next to over-sized doors, suggesting what actually goes on here, somewhere. The only thing going on though was the birds chirping in the courtyard tree. There was only one person there, Christophe Josmeyer (apparently there are a lot of Chris’s around here). I rang the bell and after a few moments he came out to greet me very warmly.
He asked if we should speak in French or English, and put my balls on the line and said French “mais, doucement. On parlera Anglais aussi…On fera l’un et puis l’autre, comme nous voulons.”
You know, the thing I love most about these visits is the civility. We are greeted warmly, we make small talk, they ask about my trip and why I came to their facility, and everyone’s smiling in a genuine way. And it’s about wine. They’re not trying to sell me anything, I’m just there to learn more about their wine. It’s nice if I buy a bottle, but I don’t have to. At Zind-Humbrecht, it was a kind of sterile experience and I felt no personal connection. So I did not. For me it’s about the connection, and with the experience of supreme wine. So they greet me warmly, and everyone’s happy to have you. After all, they do receive visitors frequently. Thankfully, they mostly speak English too.
We sat down and Chistophe began telling me the history of the family estate. Honestly, I understood about 20%. He would speak for five minutes, I would nod and say “oh really?” But I wasn’t getting much. I certainly can’t repeat it all. But I’ll check the literature again.
Then he transitioned into talking about bio-dynamic winemaking, and it was obvious this was his true passion. Bio-dynamic winemaking is an extremely vivid and active concept in Alsace, as it seems to be all around France in some degree – certainly more than other regions. He explained to me in great detail the various practices involved – how the soil is nurtured and replenished with quartz and silica crystals, contained in a cow horn (didn’t know cow’s had horns? but anyway…). He told me about the need actively manage the soil with a variety of recipes, materials, compounds, on and on and on. Something like that I think. I’m not writing an official report anyway.
We talked about agriculture in general, and how these philosophies apply to all farming. A baguette. You can use certain practices and ingredients to make a baguette, a big baguette. But it’s not natural, because nobody knows what truly goes in to that baguette. Make a smaller baguette without any genetic modification, but you cane make up for it in volume. Monsanto’s greedy, etc.. Or something like that.
His feeling, and this is shared by the widest Alsatian community, is of a single, deeply held philosophy about making great wine. It should be the purest possible expression of two factors, the grapes it is made from, and the ground from which they come.
He obviously felt very passionately about how important it is. I recorded this all in French, so the conversaton is on record. Though I only understood about 25% of what he said. I will try and translate the rest, and research the subject some more.
We tasted the bread and butter wines – Auxxerois, Sylvaner, everyday and simple expressions that appeal to the low end of the market. Every domaine has a way to do this. Then you have the next level up, the regular wines, they five regional grapes. Then you have variations on the those – Reserve Personelle or a named vineyard. Then there are the Grand Crus, which by law must name the specific GC vineyard. There might be several, owned or rented by the producer, or sharing a GC with other producers.
Then there are the late harvest and selecion a grain noble, the most prized and expensive elixirs on offer. This quickly adds up, and Josmeyer has, about thirty five wines.
We talked, mostly in French, for two hours. I have to look into the bio-dynamic thing a bit more, because he had me convinced that we could feed millions using these practices. You buy a tomato in the supermarket. You pay three or four times what the farmer gets for it. It’s full of water and shit. It all just sounds scary. So I’ll look into it.
The wine was fantastic. By now I’m getting pretty familiar with the seven grapes (only four of which can be given grand Cru status). We did a vertical tasting of Pinot Gris from 1997, then 2003, then 2013, same exact wine. With this I cold really see how the wine mellows over time. Everything was great, I bought a Pinot Gris Grand Cru Brand 2008, and as Riesling Grand Cru Hengst 2010. Brand and Hengst are nearby Grand Crus, and he explained something about renting the land for the fruit, because it is not economically feasible to own on; it can cost several hundred thousand dollars, and yadda yadda yadda. Here are some pics.