Sunday, November 13, 2016

Visit to Marcel Deiss – King of Alsatian Field Blends

(October 2016) The day I visited Domaine Marcel Deiss in Alsace turned out to be a very busy but delicious day. It started with a tour and presentation at the University of Strasbourg in the morning, followed by a lunch with my professor friend, Coralie. She booked a reservation at Restaurant A La Couronne in Scherwiller, where we started with the traditional Alsatian dish of tart flambée (similar to a thin crust pizza with cheese and onions – delicious), and then had three more courses plus a glass of riesling.

It was difficult to move afterwards, especially since I had the pork with mustard sauce and she ordered a mammoth plate of roasted lamb shank.  This was followed by dessert of a berry pie with ice cream.

Pork in Mustard Sauce at La Couronne Restaurant

Marcel Deiss – Harvest in Full Swing

After that lunch it was not surprising that we were one hour late to our appointment at Marcel Deiss, but owners, Jean-Michel and his wife Marie-Helene, were very kind and welcomed us immediately to tour the winery when we arrived.

Domaine Marcel Deiss is located in the fairytale Alsatian village of Bergheim, and is fittingly bedecked with flowers as is almost every other building in town. There is a modern tasting room and a winery located on the back of the property.  Harvest was in full swing when we entered, and we watched fascinated as large plastic bins of riesling, muscat, pinot noir, and other local grapes were moved from a wagon attached to the back of a large tractor and positioned close to the press.

Field Blend of Mixed Grape Varietals at Marcel Deiss (Burg Vineyard)

Walking up to look inside the bins I was shocked to see that there was a mix of white and red grapes. “Why are red and white grapes mixed together here?” I asked.

Marie-Helene smiled.  “Because we specialize in old field blends.  We are a bit like Chateaneuf de Pape in that we include a large number of different varietals in our wines, and like Burgundy, we name them after the vineyard.  This is actually the ancient process of winemaking that was used in Alsace, and we are just reviving it.”

I was amazed to learn this because I hadn’t heard of the practice in Alsace before, but was excited to taste the resulting wine.

As we watched, Marcel’s son, Mathew, who is in training to take over the operation, deftly picked up the bins using a forklift and dumped them into a large bladder press to be crushed as whole clusters. Once finished the juice would be transported to large oak foudres to ferment naturally.

Loading Field Blend of Grapes into Presss

Winemaking – Very Natural with Wines Designed for Long Aging

The large oak barrels are filled with the juice, leaving only 20 centimeters of air on top for fermentation. There is no battonage. The fermentation can last anywhere from 1 month to 1 year – depending on the vineyard, yeast, and vintage.

Once finished, the wine is topped up and left on the gross leaves until ready to bottle. For bottling there is a light filtration and minimum SO2 used – ranging from 10 to 100 ppm. Most wines are designed to age for many years before drinking.

Large Oak Fermentation Barrels at Marcel Deiss 

About Marcel Deiss Winery – “Going Back to the Old Ways”

We continued to tour the winery, and Marie-Helene told us more about the domaine.  Michel-Jean’s ancestors have been making wine in the area since 1744, but he worked in several other professions before settling down to take over the domaine.  Now they have 30 hectares of vineyards and produce around 10,000 cases per year.  They are biodynamic and have 17 employees.

The main philosophy is to “go back to the old ways of making wine in Alsace. “ Marie-Helene told us that they had found some old papers in a building when they purchased the property. The papers described some of the wines that were made in the 1800’s, as being very long lasting and that they traveled well. She explained that this was due to the high acid and tannins that came from the old field blends. It became their desire to recreate and honor the past traditions of winemaking in the region. Therefore they focus on field blends, with up to 13 different varietals, made in the most natural way possible.

Some of the Single Vineyard Field Blend Wines of Marcel Deiss

Tasting the Unique Field Blends of Marcel Deiss

Back in the tasting room, we were treated once another to over twenty wines  (this must be an Alsatian thing!). The wine ranged from exquisite to complex, with a few bordering on bizarre – but they all clearly communicated the unique personality of the vineyard from which they came.

Each wine was name for the vineyard, and the varietal was not listed on the bottle, since they were field blends. A few of my favorites included:

Langenberg 2014 – Delicate white flower nose. Melon and kiwi on palate. Lovely! Vineyard on granite base.

Grasberg 2011 – Hint of diesel on nose.  Palate with nuts, apricot, and hint of curry. Great acidity, complex. Vineyard on red limestone.

Burg 2011 – Very complex nose of herbs, nuts, muted fruit.  Refreshing acid.  Very long.  Made from 13 different grape varietals. Purchased this one!

Altenberg de Bergheim 2004 – tight with racy acidity.  Complex herbs, mineral and honey spice finish. Wow!

Schoenenbourg 2011 – Floral and mineral nose.  Follows through on palate with salty edge. Great texture, Elegant, mesmerizing. 100% riesling. We were told that this wine will last for 3 weeks after opening!

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