Meet the Real Winegrowers of Alsace (Slideshow)
Paul Lewakowski is from Michigan, but he manages the famous Rangen vineyards for Zind-Humbrecht. Rangen is one of about 50 grand crus or top vineyards in Alsace and one of the steepest. I discover it’s also a great place for a harvest picnic. Winegrowers Wolfberger and Schoffit also have major holdings on this magic mountain at Thann.
Alain Beydon-Schlumberger runs the family-owned wine firm, one of the biggest and best producers in Alsace. Most vineyards are planted vertically on Alsace’s hillsides, but Schlumberger plants its vines horizontally so they can easier be plowed by the family’s three horses. Stone masons maintain more than 50 kilometers of vineyard walls.
Ludivine & Jean Dirler
About a decade ago, Ludivine Cadé and Jean Dirler merged their families’ holdings in Bergholtz when they fell in love and married. Today, Dirler-Cadé has 45 acres of biodynamically grown grapes, producing both sparkling wine — crémant — and white table wines. They are planting additional pinot noir because of increased demand.
Marie-Hélène Cristofaro has been winemaker and commercial director at Marcel Deiss, which is a pleasantly contrarian family winery. Deiss uses field blends of grapes and names its premium wines by their grand crus vineyards and not by the grapes — which they had to battle to accomplish. Cristofaro calls wines labeled by their variety "alphabet wines that are entry level."
Anne Trimbach is as gregarious as her father, Pierre Trimbach, who has made the family’s wines for 35 vintages, is private. As the 13th generation, Anne joined the F.E. Trimbach family wine business five years ago. Trimbach, which owns 80 acres of vines and purchases another 225 or so acres, is especially known for its rieslings.
We caught up with super-busy Etienne Hugel a week before his second wedding and in the middle of harvest, yet the energetic winegrower insisted we jump into his truck for a tour of the Hugel vineyards. Hugel is very bullish on pinot noir in Alsace, but gets less-excited about the area’s crémant — he and his guests drank 80 magnums of Pol Roger at his pre-wedding party.
Melanie Pfister joined her father and mother at Andre Pfister as the eighth-generation winemaker. Her father pioneered in the early '80s modern techniques such as stainless-steel production, and Melanie has the same scientific bent. It works, as the former national basketball star arguably makes among the best dry wines — white, red, and crémant — in Alsace today.
As a wine geek, it was a pleasure walking the vines with André Ostertag, one of the most-fascinating and most-philosophical winemakers in Alsace. Ostertag makes excellent, modern-style wines often using ancient methods in the vineyards which he admits he can’t always explain. To paraphrase a popular beer commercial — "It’s only weird, if it doesn’t work!"
Albert Seltz is a charming if very egocentric winemaker who insists on doing things his way, leading the fight to have the lowly sylvaner gain its sole grand cru status in Mittelbergheim’s Zotzenberg vineyard. "There are no bad vintages, just bad winemakers," he declares. He loves aging before bottling in his wines and had me taste lovely, older Albert Seltz barrel samples.
Jean-Daniel Boeckel’s family has made wine since 1853 in Mittelbergheim, which, he says, has only 600 people but 25 wineries. After a tour of the Zotzenberg, we had lunch at the Boeckel home and tasting room where mother Christiane prepared a coq au pinot gris to pair with a 1957 Boeckel riesling reserve, proving Alsatians know how to eat and how to make long-aging wines.