New and Natural from Alsace - Hausherr and Beck-Hartweg

1/7/20 -

Whenever I begin speaking about Alsace, I never fail to mention that the region sees over 300 days of sunshine a year. This helps to explain why Alsatians are so friendly and also why the area is so well-suited for making natural wines. Organic and Biodynamic farming is relatively easy in this unique valley, protected by the Vosges Mountains to the west and the Black Forest and Rhine River to the east. There are challenges with retaining water, since it can be so hot and dry, but there are great benefits to the climate in Alsace, which permit farmers to use far less sprays in the vineyard. With a long history of organic farming in Alsace, and with persistent acidity provided by all of the varied terroirs, conditions are great for making wines with little or no SO2 added.

Today we introduce two estates that are relatively new to the US market: Florian & Mathilde Beck-Hartweg, and Hubert & Heidi Hausherr. Both domaines have been practicing organic and biodynamic farming for many years, historically producing varietal (single variety) wines, as is extremely common in the region. Both have been inspired by the dynamic natural wine scene in France and beyond, and have changed their approach in the cellar in the last decade, not just in terms of sulfur use, but also stepping away from the tradition of varietal wines and focusing on terroir expression and parcel-specific blending. For example, instead of separately bottling a Riesling, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir from a specific granitic parcel in Dambach-la-Ville, Florian and Mathilde Beck-Hartweg now make a single wine that is a blend of all the grapes from said parcel, and the resulting wine expresses the intense granitic structure and spice of that site. As the Hausherrs say on their website: "Alsace has been a region of varietal wines since the 1940s. However, our choice to make natural wines has brought us to an age-old [pre 1940s] tradition: the grape varieties from the same locality are harvested, pressed and then vinified together to go beyond the fruit and obtain real local wines." Although this may seem like a simple and inconsequential choice, it is practically unheard of in Alsace, and is for the most part NOT good for sales. When Amanda and I visited the Hausherrs in the summer of 2019, Hubert told us that when they stopped making 'mono-cépage' (varietal) wines in 2007, they immediately lost half of their customers! A similar fate befell the Beck-Hartwegs, though they do maintain some stock of varietal wines in the style of their parents for visitors and tourists who have never heard of a "vin naturel."

These two are some of the nicest and gentlest winemakers we've met. Their little one, Lily, welcomes tourist babies to their little garden as they describe the nature of their granitic soils and their philosophy in the vineyard and cellar to more literate adults. Farming is organic, and they have stopped plowing in recent years, preferring instead to use the "rollofaquer," a farming tool that pushes over plants to create organic cover and protect the humidity and biodiversity in the soil. All wines age in large old barrels of 1000-1500L capacity. Their locality in Dambach-La-Ville is centered around a concentration of granite terroir that lends a fascinating and scintillating minerality and salinity to their wines. I could go on about their interesting experiments with allowing vines to climb trees in their vineyard, but I'd rather get to the wines, so don't hesitate to ask me if you're curious (phone calls or emails are welcome)!

Hubert and Heidi Hausherr have just under 4 hectares (~10 acres) in Eguisheim, a village close to Colmar, with varied terroirs of mostly marl, sandstone, and limestone. They do not use any tractors in the vineyard, relying instead on their trusty horse Skippy for any hauling or plowing they do.

As previously mentioned, they stopped making varietal wines in 2007. After several years of experimenting with lower levels of SO2 use, they started to solely produce wines without any added sulfites in 2011, and received (Biodynamic) Demeter certification in 2012. Their wines are all blends, with the exception of the 2008 Riesling on offer today from their past life, and they are all balanced, aromatically complex, and uplifting. We're excited to have their wines on the shelf!

-Eben Lillie

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