There is one great advantage of working in the restaurant business that never ceases to amaze and amuse me – yet without it I may not even have stayed in this line of work for so long.
This source of delight is nothing more complex than the fact that importers, producers and regional organisations of wine and winemakers still care to make the effort to invite sommeliers all around the world in order to educate us about wine.
In what other field does your subject approach you with an invitation to come and study them, not to mention offer to pick up the reciepts for travel and lodging?
But I digress.
The latest in a row of invitations has taken me to Alsace on behalf of the Conseil Interprofessional des vins d’Alsace. Six Norwegian sommeliers together with two Alsace wine ambassadors. Four days, one bus, ten miles of vineyards and small villages, 12 visits.
Our first day brought us in contact with two winemakers operating in two very different ways. On one hand you have Maxime of Barmès-Buecher in the village of Wettolsheim. Maxime is only twenty-something, yet was thrust into the drivers seat of Barmès-Buecher a few years ago when his father died unexpectedly. Today he operates the winery together with his mother and sister – continuing a family tradition that has gone on for many generations.
On the other hand you have Julien Schaal, not many years older than Maxime, and a travelling winemaker with projects in both South Africa and Alsace, a cosmopolitan man with neither vineyards nore a winery to call his own. What Julien does have however are 5 year lease agreements with growers in many of the best grand crus, and the backing investors to help transform the grapes of these crus into internationally acclaimed wines every year.
Both Julien and Maxime represent the new generation of Alsace, each in their own way. Educated, soft-spoken, yet firm in their beliefs while at the same time willing to learn from new practices and ideas. Humble is a word that comes to mind.
And the wines?
Barmès-Buecher produce better and better wines each year. A few of the 2012’s struggle with a racy alcohol profil, but the line of gewürztraminer are especially fine and in general the winery not only shows that it has managed to overcome the loss of father and winemaker, but that also that the younger vintages not only cope with aging but practically demand it!
Schaals line of grand cru wines reveal a dense and well-structured profile whilst paying appropriate tribute to the different terroirs. A personal favorite was the 2012 Hengst which benefited highly from the cool year in combination with Juliens winemaking skills.
Oh, and did I mention our well-mannered driver played Fleetwood Mac and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young in the bus the entire first day of the trip? Now that’s a stamp of approval for the region right there…