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Last summer I spent a few days in Alsace, to get a sense of what the new generation of winemakers has been up to, and to visit a few estates that I have admired for years. I discovered that Alsace is burgeoning with young vignerons who are carrying on their families' traditions of organic and biodynamic agriculture (Alsace has an impressive number of long-time organic estates), and embracing the idea of "natural" vinification (less filtering, no additives, and little or no SO2 at bottling). After numerous tastings and conversations, I realized that the estates I have admired for years were in fact the inspiration for this growing movement in Alsace. There's a direct lineage from winemakers like Pierre Frick, Christian Binner, Patrick Meyer, and Bruno Schueller to the new generation of natural winemakers... and somewhere in the middle, there's Laurent Barth! Perhaps it's because he hasn't been on the scene as long as the old-timers (no Christian, I'm not talking about you!), but has been around longer than most of the younger folks. Maybe it's because he's the most humble and soft-spoken person (let alone winemaker) I know... but somehow the wines don't seem to get the coverage we think they should!
Laurent spent many years learning winemaking far from his roots in Alsace, and returned home to take over his family's estate in the late 90's. At the time, Laurent's father was selling grapes to the local co-op, but Laurent had other plans. He was interested in organic farming, and was impressed with the what he learned from other growers like Patrick Meyer, and Marc Tempé, so he fulfilled the last contract with the co-op, and then transitioned the vineyards to organic viticulture and started incorporating biodynamic treatments in the vineyard. He plows once a year (around 5 cm deep) with a small tractor in the spring, has a weedwacker for weeds, and passes occasionally with a "rollofaquer" (I have no idea how to spell this) - a French made device that pushes over plants to create organic cover and protect the humidity and biodiversity in the soil.
In the cellar, Laurent has different strategies for dry and sweet wines. All his dry wines are fermented and aged without any SO2 added. He typically adds 1g (sometimes none, and at most, 2) at the bottling and does not filter. Sweet wines see the small addition of SO2 after fermentation and at bottling and are normally filtered. He understands his land well, and is both fascinated by and in a great working relationship with the deep deposits of granite that lend a unique minerality and structured finish to all of his wines. Laurent has truly come a long way since his first vintage in 2004, and now, more than a decade later, the Barth vineyards are vibrant, healthy, and teeming with life, and the wines are balanced, mineral, and absolutely delicious! -Eben Lillie
Always around 50% Pinot Auxerrois (fermented separately), with Muscat, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, and a touch of Riesling. The idea here is to make a wine that is easy to drink, says Laurent, and he nails it! There's a subtle touch of spice on the palate, with a crystalline minerality in the finish, thanks to the granite soils. Eben Lillie
Occasionally Laurent will make this old vines Pinot Auxerrois, and it's always a remarkable wine when he does! In 2015, Laurent had some Auxerrois that was meant to be sparkling, but he noticed that the quality was so good that he ended up separating it. On top of that, he also wanted the best juice for this cuvée, so he didn't use any juice from the beginning or the end of the press. The result is a beautifully structured wine, simultaneously charming and serious, with ripe stone fruit on the nose and ample acidity on the palate. A rare and special treat! Eben Lillie
This is an off-dry (semi-sweet) expression of Gewurztraminer from granite soils. White flowers, spice, and mint blossom on the nose, with a silky and subtly sweet mid-palate, and nice structure in the finish. Textbook Gewurz! Eben Lillie
I'm a big fan of this Pinot Noir. It's uniquely Alsatian, and doesn't remind me of Burgundy, or California, or Oregon, or the Jura (or even the Alto Aldige!). 15 months elevage (ageing), half/half whole cluster and destemmed. 2015 was a hot year, so Laurent says he harvested when the grapes were ripe, but not TOO ripe. A lovely Pinot Noir, with notes of fresh rasberries on the nose. Fresh and elegant, with some tannin, structure, and a bit of pepper in the finish ("typical of granite," says Laurent). I think this wine should age nicely. Though I admit to not having a lot of experience in the field of aged Alsatian Pinot, I will definitely be putting some aside to see how they evolve... and of course drinking some soon too! Eben Lillie
Mostly Pinot Auxerrois with some Pinot Noir in the mix, this is a methode ancestrale "Pet Nat" from Laurent Barth... a wine we never knew existed since most of it is sold in Europe and Laurent keeps a fair amount at home to share with friends (and to pour after his Pinot Noirs to prepare your palate for an onslaught of delicious white wines). Lucky for us the fine folks at Louis/Dressner Selections were able to score a handful of cases for the US market! The wine spends 18 months sur latte (sur lie) before disgorging. A fascinating and singular wine, with notes of tangerine and toasted coconut and a long elegant finish. Eben Lillie
This is one of the first Alsatian wines I tasted 10 years ago! Almost all Pinot Auxerrois, with a tiny bit of Pinot Gris. I always thought this was Laurent's big production wine, because it's approachable and a great price, but it turns out that production is miniscule, and grapes are harvested from 3 small parcels that total 70 ares (less than 2 acres). This is a pretty special wine for only $15. Crisp and clean, with pretty orchard fruit on the nose and good ripeness. Equally suitable on it's own as an apero or with salads, cheeses, and seafood. Eben Lillie
This is a classic dry Riesling from Laurent Barth. It's approachable and very easy to drink, but also has emotion and depth, and will likely be a wine that one could keep for a while. 2015 was a hot year, so there's good ripeness here. Plenty of complexity and salinity with nice granitic character in the finish. Laurent uses the word "salivant" for this wine, which I take it has to do with salivating due to the minerality of the wine, but that's open to interpretation! Anyway, it's a fantastic dry Riesling and worth a try for any fan of the legendary grape, or any one new to the wines of Laurent Barth. -Eben Lillie
As implied by the "Vin sec" on the front label, this is a DRY Gewurztraminer, from old vines. Laurent always looks for botrytis, but there was none in 2015 so he made this dry expression, and I think it's perfect! All the aromatic complexity is there, with a touch of salinity in the mouth and a crisp finish. Not just a great wine for educational purposes or curious palates... This is a classy dry white that everyone should try! Eben Lillie
What a delicious wine... Pinot Gris on granite. Elegance and white flowers (Laurent says "Acacia flowers"). 10g RS (residual sugar), with total SO2 at about 30mg/l. When tasting this wine, I remarked to Laurent how it's demi-sec (a bit sweet) on the attack, and dry in the finish, and he said that this is a very typical experience for a wine from granite soils. Enveloping ripe fruit on the nose and palate, with loads of freshness, menthol and acid in the finish. Interestingly enough, I poured this wine for a bunch of people and no one found it to be sweet. Ripe is probably a better word. This is a fantastic wine to pair with food, and should age nicely. Eben Lillie