This episode is Part 2 of a conversation with Olivier Humbrecht, MW and Andrew Jefford about Alsace. The first part covered Olivier's journey to become France's first Master of Wine, as well as the history and vineyards of Domaine Zind-Humbrecht.
Part 2 picks up with Olivier's philosophy of non-interventionism and biodynamic principles and practices in the vineyard. In addition to Olivier's approach to farming and yield management, we discuss wine making techniques, pressing, long fermentations, and climate change.
This episode features a conversation with Andrew Jefford, of Decanter Magazine, and Wine Scholar Guild’s Academic Advisor, and Olivier Humbrecht, of Domaine Zind-Humbrecht (Zind HUMbrescht) and Master of Wine.
Done in two parts, this first half of the interview will first cover Olivier’s accomplished journey as France’s first Master of Wine, and the history and vineyards of the domaine.
There’s no wine region I enjoy visiting more than Alsace.
It’s beautiful, of course – and not just the half-timbered houses around which a profusion of flowers seem to float, or the grand hillside vineyards romping up to the forested Vosges mountains, always somehow bigger and more imposing in scale than those of Burgundy. The growers are fascinating characters, too, as if their historical and geographical position, wedged between (and much fought-over by) France and Germany, has given them an independence of thought which eludes those with a more settled position in each wine culture.
Then there’s the wines. It’s commonplace to say that Alsace wines are underappreciated -- but it’s true. For me, no white wine region can offer more diversity and intrigue than Alsace, nor does any single regional range of white wines appeal more to my palate...
As with all wine regions, there is a list of producers with whom every wine student should be familiar to understand the diversity and complexity of the wines produced.
In Alsace the list is long: some names are familiar, like Zind-Humbrecht, Weinbach, Deiss, Léon Beyer, Hugel, Trimbach, Klipfel, Gustave Lorentz , JB Adam, Kuentz-Bas, Arthur Metz, and Schlumberger.
Others are known in only small circles, such as Patrick Meyer, Christian Binner, and Jean-Pierre Frick. Find out why these names are among the “who’s who”!
Thierry Meyer was born and raised in Alsace, France. He began writing about wine in 1999, using the newly-emerging internet wine forums to share tasting notes and insights into the wines of Alsace.
In 2001, Thierry started his signature dinner series, dedicated to pairing Alsace wines with fine food. He founded L’Oenothèque Alsace in 2006 and launched the website oenoalsace.com, one of the most comprehensive website dedicated to Alsace wines. At the same time he started to promote a program of structured Alsace wine masterclasses and dinners.
From 2007 to 2011, Thierry was contributing editor of Le Guide Bettane & Desseauve des Vins de France, the influential French wine guide.
In 2014, Thierry started to lead the new Alsace Master-level education program for the French Wine Society, the leading provider of French wine study and certification programs internationally.
Delve into Alsace with the insight of Alsace wine experts and masterful instructors... sign up for the Alsace Master-Level program and Alsace Study Trips. Learn more about French wines with the French Wine Scholar study & certification program.
Do you feel you are rather French or German?
Here's the question you should never ask when going there. Alsace is Alsace and has a personality of its own so do its wines and food.
Close to neighboring Germany, Alsace is a melting pot of influences. For the wines it is where geology, climatology, grape varieties and savoir-faire blend to offer a full array of scents and tastes from Edelzwicker to Grands Crus and of course the deep rich flavoured Grains Nobles.
For the food forget about "Cuisine Nouvelle", here it really is a question of local specialties you can taste at a Winstub, literally meaning Wine Room, you can't go wrong with that, can you?
First discovering the atmosphere of Alsace, we'll then lead you thru different wines' profiles and draw an aromatic map of the expressions of Alsace wines. From then on it will all be about local Charcuterie, Flammekueche, Baeckeoffe, Fleischschnackas and of course Sürkrüt, to smelly and delicious Munster and finishing with a Kaeskueche or Kugelhopf.
Not sure what all that is? Join us, all will be revealed to make your mouth water before lunchtime.
Arnaud Valour describes himself as a gourmet gourmand or a gourmand gourmet. He is a lover of food, wine and travel.
He has studied marketing and communications in both France and the U.K. and worked for several years promoting small and medium sized enterprises in the Rhone-Alps region. Most recently, Arnaud was in charge of the Chablis and Grand Auxerrois Bureau of the Burgundy Wine Board (BIVB) managing the Maison des Vins de Chablis et du Grand Auxerrois.
A Burgundian resident, he is currently a consultant in the fields of food, wine, and Burgundy wine travel.
The vintage chart and harvest reports provided by the Wine Scholar Guild gives you the ranking for every French wine region and vintage from 2000 to today.
Andrew Jefford, award-winning wine journalist for Decanter Magazine and author of twelve books on wine including The New France, has compiled information and written the vintage charts starting with the 2013 vintage. He is also updating information for the vintages prior to 2013.
Last updated: October 2nd 2019
|2018||Drink/Cellar||After a mild, wet January, February was cold and snowy, with temperatures of -13°C by the end of the month. March and April turned wet and mild again and flowering came in early June, up to two weeks early, as the rains continued: Alsace received a year’s rainfall in the first seven months of the year. Temperatures soared and the humidity dropped away from the end of July, with a 40°C heat spike at the end of August. The warm weather continued throughout September and into October, as the nights increasingly grew cooler, enabling a leisurely harvest to unfold over two months or more. The Crémants were picked from August 22nd, with picking for all varieties underway by the second week in September, depending on site. 2018 is a generous vintage in both quantity and style, with Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir being particularly successful, and with substantial production of both Vendange Tardive wines and Séléction de Grains Nobles. The wines will age well in both dry and sweet style.|
|2017||Drink/Cellar||After a very cold winter period (with 56 sub-zero days in December 2016 and January 2017), the early spring weather turned warm, with early budburst. As in so many other French regions, frosts struck in late April (20th and 21st in Alsace), affecting 4,500 ha, with 1,500 ha of vineyards losing 80% or more of their crop. The overall harvest (907,000 hl) was 20 per cent down on 2016. The frosts struck flatland or bottom-slope vineyards particularly hard: above all Auxerrois and Pinot Blanc destined for Crémant. After that, conditions were almost perfect for the rest of the season, with a sunny summer interspersed with rain showers, cool nights, and perfect botrytis-forming conditions towards the end of the season. Summer was also relatively hot here (the fifth hottest in the last 40 years). It was one of the earliest harvests ever, beginning on August 21st, and although quantity is down, quality is high for all varieties, as well as for red wines and late-harvest wines. The wines are perfumed, complex and concentrated.|
|2016||Drink/Cellar||After an alarmingly warm January, spring was cool and fretful, and budburst came normally in April. June was intensely wet, but the weather improved for flowering at the end of the month, and summer was thereafter warm and dry, with no more rain until September 18th. Harvest began at the end of September and continued through a generally fine October with good ripening conditions, but little or no botrytis (so there will be few Vendange Tardive and SGN wines this year). The overall harvest size is normal, and 2016 has produced classically poised, fresh Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer wines.|
|2015||Drink/Cellar||A perfect weather script for Alsace: a warm, dry spring and early summer was followed by a July heatwave, to the extent that the vines were suffering by early August. Rain storms on August 9th and 10th were hugely helpful, and after that, the vines ripened perfectly for a leisurely harvest throughout September, VT and SGN included. All varieties excelled, including Pinot Noir. 2015 is considered the greatest Alsace vintage since 1990 and 1971, though quantities were not large.|
|2014||Drink||A warm spring and early summer led to an exceptionally successful flowering and fruit set. July, though, had double its average rainfall, creating disease pressures. August was cooler than usual, leading to Drosophila suzukii attacks on Alsace’s dark-skinned grapes (Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer). Picking in mid- to late-September produced a smaller-than-hoped-for harvest of beautifully balanced wines which, like 2013, favoured dry styles over sweet. Riesling and Pinot Gris were particularly successful.|
|2013||Drink||A cool, slow spring meant that flowering was delayed until the second half of June. Mid-July to mid-August was warm and dry (though with hail in some sectors), meaning that early September rain was welcome. The rest of September was dry and sunny prior to an early October harvest. 2013 is a fine, low-yielding year for dry wines, especially Riesling but also Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer: fresh, elegant and vital. There are few VT and SGN wines.|
|2012||Drink||Spring frosts , extended flowering with isolated hail followed by very dry summer & water stress. Beneficial rains in September. Reduced harvest of mature grapes leading to structured wines with potentially long life. Some compare to 2010 or 2002.|
|2011||Drink||Early start. Cool, wet summer marked by frequent storms. Very sunny end of August. Normal volume after short 2010. Sorting key to quality. Lighter, often delicate wines of lower alcohol & moderate acidity, many with early appeal. Considerable variability.|
|2010||Drink||Mixed spring weather, prolonged flowering, coulure & millerandage. Irregular ripening by variety & parcel. Low yields of concentrated, expressive wines with elevated acidity. Small quantities of very fine VT/SGN across varieties with marked botrytis. Best dry & late-harvest wines will benefit from long cellaring.|
|2009||Drink||Early flowering, hot & dry August. Dry September with cool nights. Healthy, mature wines with higher alcohol, ripe acidity. Grands crus highly successful. Fine October weather, VT/SGN resulting from desiccation of berries (passerillage) rather than botrytis. Exceptional late-harvest Riesling.|
|2008||Drink||Marked variation between early-, late-ripening locales. Damp, cool June extends flowering. Warm but not hot, stormy summer & wet early September. Slow maturation. Structured Riesling, Gewurztraminer from best sites will keep well. Successful VT/SGN wines.|
|2007||Drink||Uneven, long season. Warm spring, wet & cold periods in summer. Notably slow ripening. Dry wines are elegant, tend to be totally dry in ’07 (no residual sugar). Gewurztraminer excelled: rich, highly aromatic. Large number of exceptional VT/SGN.|
|2006||Past peak||Benign season ends with rain, 24 September into early October. Careful sorting required, some unevenness. Very few VT/SGN except Gewurztraminer, picked after rains.|
|2005||Drink||Heat at flowering, many green harvest to limit yields. Best wines are ripe, balanced. Favorable conditions in October for noble rot, exceptional Gewurztraminer.|
|2004||Past peak||Riesling in dry style performed best. High yields resulted in many weaker wines. Hardly any VT production.|
|2003||Past peak||Earliest season since 1893. Record summer temperatures, water stress, hailstorms. Low yields averaged 67 hl/ha. Negligible noble rot, low output of VT, no SGN. Very ripe Pinots, Gewurztraminer. High alcohol & low acidity are common.|
|2002||Past peak||Varying heat & humidity in summer. Uniform flowering, crop thinning controlled potential volume. Riesling stands out. Favorable end of October for VT/SGN Gewurztraminer.|
|2001||Drink/Past peak||Indian summer completes ripening. Riesling particularly successful. Very fine year for late-harvest wines across varieties. Rules for ripeness of VT/SGN revised as of 2001 vintage, increasing minimum sugar levels.|
|2000||Drink/Past peak||Precocious season, ideal spring, hot & dry summer. Ripe, substantial wines with sound acidities. Widespread noble rot, memorable SGN in relatively large quantity (more than 1997, a voluminous year for late-harvest wines).|
These vintage notes have been prepared by Andrew Jefford, Academic Advisor to the Wine Scholar Guild. New vintage information, and any revisions of previous vintage drinking suggestions, are made each autumn. Use the chart as a guide only; in every vintage there will be outperforming and underperforming wines.