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Marc Kreydenweiss, Alsace: 
the influence of terroir, grape variety and biodynamics
Tutored tasting with Marc Kreydenweiss, La Vigneronne, London
27th February 2001

Marc Kreydenweiss has 12 ha of vineyards, including parts of three Grand Cru sites. The domaine is over three centuries old, and was taken over by Marc in 1971. Altogether, six people are employed by the domaine: as well as Marc and his wife Emmanuelle, his oldest son is involved and three full time staff are employed. Marc reckons that Alsace is a difficult region to understand for the novice. The combination of several different grape varieties with a variety of soil types and significant vintage variation makes things quite complicated. This tutored tasting offered a helpful insight into some of the issues involved in producing fine wine in Alsace.

Biodynamics back to top
For the last 12 years the estate has been run on biodynamic lines: 1991 was the first vintage that was entirely biodynamic (estates have to go through a conversion process that takes some years), and it wasn't until the 1995 vintage that the new style encouraged by this technique became apparent in the wines. Marc insists that his conversion to biodynamics wasn't a case of jumping on the bandwagon. It was a lifestyle decision; the adoption of a different philosophy that he feels is closer to nature. Marc insisted that biodynamic viticulture has caused the acid balance in the grapes to change, causing the tartaric acid to go up and the malic acid down. Apparently, if you take a cross-section of the root structure of a biodynamic vine, the roots go deeper than those of conventionally grown vines, and they go down much straighter. He also made it clear that biodynamics is much more than just supercharged organic agriculture, and that the philosophical aspects are very important. [Aside: I've thought and written quite a bit about biodynamics. My conclusion? It's a philosophical approach that while not factually true (some of the claims are fairly absurd from a scientific perspective), helps vignerons become careful, attentive, quality-minded farmers, resulting in many cases in better wines.]

Terroir  back to top
A major legal change is afoot in Alsace. From 2001 a wine from a Grand Cru vineyard does not need to have the name of the grape variety on it. It can be bottled with just the name of the Grand Cru vineyard. Marc thinks this is a great step forward, because it is recognizing that the soil is more important than the vineyard. It also opens up possibility of blending different varieties, something not possible before. What is not clear is whether one of the supposedly 'lesser' varieties, such as Pinot Blanc, can be bottled with the name 'Grand Cru' on the label, something not currently possible even though Pinot Blanc is sometimes grown on Grand Cru sites.

Terroir clearly matters to Marc. His opinion is that great wine only comes from a vineyard with soil type that will give up their minerals, giving lots of dry extract. This dry extract affects the length of the wine on the palate. The dry extract can be measured. For example, the Clos du Val d'Eléon 1999 has 30 g of dry extract: this is a concentrated wine. [Aside: this is quite a literalist view of terroir: I think it is probably more symbolic (or philosophical) than empirical.] Marc stated that he feels that the public is deceived when they think that great wine is just about great wine making techniques, a point on which he has my full agreement.

Recent vintages back to top
2000 was a difficult vintage: one of the more difficult or recent times. There was quite a bit of rain at the beginning of the vintage, so patience in waiting for the right time to pick and selection of healthy grapes was the order of the day. Marc didn't pick the Wiebelsberg vineyard, for instance, until the beginning of November. The majority of wines will be chaptalized in 2000 (this is pretty common in Alsace), but Marc won't be doing this. He hasn't chaptalized since he went biodynamic, more than a decade ago.

1999 was very different from 2000. The picking started early, at the end of September. Even though Marc pruned for normal yields, they were much higher than average because of the increased berry size. Not a particularly good vintage, it seems.

1998 was a good vintage; easy to work. Harvesting was in mid-October, which is normal. The wines took a long time to ferment, many taking as long as four or five months to complete this process.

The wines

FLIGHT ONE back to top

Marc Kreydenweiss Kritt Klevner 1999
Kritt is the name of the vineyard area, and Marc uses the old fashioned name for Pinot Blanc (Klevner) to indicate a vendange tardive wine with botrytis: in Alsace you're only allowed to use the terms Vendange Tardive or SGN for wines made from the 'noble' grapes (Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and Muscat). With 20 g/l residual sugar this is a medium sweet wine with good density and a nice rounded palate. There's not a lot of evidence of botrytis: the nose is gently floral with some sweet honeyed notes, and there's a spicy finish. Apparently this ages quite nicely; it would be a good aperitif wine. Very good+ (La Vigneronne £11.95)

Marc Kreydenweiss Clos Val d'Eléon 1999
This is a vineyard site that was planted until about 1940, when it was abandoned. The site was cleared and replanted in 1980; the soil id schist (decomposed slate). The wine is a blend of Riesling and Pinot Gris, bit you won't find this on the label because the rules state that varietal names can't be used for blends. There is no residual sugar. The pleasant mineral-laced nose has some grapey character and a smoky edge. The palate is bone dry, concentrated and mineralic, with high acidity and some spicy notes. Intense, expressive stuff which needs some time to show its best. Very good+/excellent (La Vigneronne £11.95)

Marc Kreydenweiss Riesling Clos Rebberg 1999
Clos Rebberg is Marc's most recent vineyard acquisition. Again, this was once cultivated and then abandoned. The steep slopes of schistous soil are difficult to work. The vines are not all clonal: cuttings were taken from many different sources, and he feels that this adds to the complexity of the wine. With low yields of 30 hl/ha, Marc is looking for finesse, elegance and lightness. This is the style of the domaine. This wine has a slightly reticent limey nose with some mineral notes. The palate is fairly rounded with complex mineralic character and high acidity. Good length. Very good+ (La Vigneronne £13.25)

FLIGHT TWO: Grand Cru Wiebelsberg back to top
Wiebelsberg is one of the three Grand Cru sites that Marc has vines in, and has a pink sandstone soil. The vine age ranges from 12 to 30 years. Apparently, these wines usually age well for 10- 15 years.

Marc Kreydenweiss Riesling Grand Cru Wiebelsberg 2000 (cask sample)
In 2000 there's a sweet edge to the ripe fruit: it is slightly floral and a little simple at present. On the palate this wine is balanced and rounded, with appley, limey fruit. It's not as complex or compelling as the other vintages, still showing too much primary fruit. Very good.

Marc Kreydenweiss Riesling Grand Cru Wiebelsberg 1999
This is better. The richly floral nose shows some spice (perhaps a little botrytis?) with lime undercurrents. Rich, sweetly fruited palate with a spicy finish. Sweeter than the 1998. Good concentration. Very good/excellent
(La Vigneronne £15.95 per bottle)

Marc Kreydenweiss Riesling Grand Cru Wiebelsberg 1998
Rich, evolved limey/spicy nose: very expressive and mineralic. The dry, rich palate is powerful, spicy and balanced. It's concentrated and mineralic, with intense lime fruit. Excellent (La Vigneronne £17.50)

FLIGHT THREE: Grand Cru Kastelberg back to top
Although it's close to the Wiebelsberg site, Kastelberg has a different soil type: in this case Schist. It's a very primary, older sort of Schist than Rebberg, producing backward, mineral wines. Yields are less than 30 hl/ha. According to Marc, this is among the top three or four vineyard sites in Europe. Wines have 15-20 years of ageing potential: apparently the 1971 is drinking very well now.

Marc Kreydenweiss Riesling Grand Cru Kastelberg 1999
A fairly deep colour, this has a reticent, closed nose showing lime and spicy minerals. The palate is complex, powerful, spicy and mineral laced. This has 11 g of residual sugar but the high acidity covers this up: the wine tastes quite dry. Dense stuff with great length, although this is quite austere now it will be superb given time. Very good/excellent (La Vigneronne £22.00)

Marc Kreydenweiss Riesling Grand Cru Kastelberg 1998
The complex, minerally nose is presently quite closed, but shows some lime notes. There is an explosion of flavours on the palate: it is concentrated, dense, mineralic and spicy, with high acidity. Powerful, austere and long. Excellent (La Vigneronne £25.00)

FLIGHT FOUR: Pinot Gris back to top
Two sites: the Rebberg vineyard (see notes above) and the Moenchberg Grand Cru vineyard (Marc thinks that the former is better as it produces longer vines). The Moenchberg soil consists of glacial deposits and pink sandstone. It's hard to pick the grapes from here at under 14 degrees potential alcohol and the site is known for making wines in a warm, soft style.

Marc Kreydenweiss Pinot Gris Clos Rebberg 1999
Deep yellow/gold colour, due to a long fermentation that lasted for a year. Reticent nose showing just some mineral notes. The palate is rich, rounded and spicy with some honeyed touches. There's some residual sugar (15 g/litre) on the finish giving a very rounded mouthfeel. Apparently the grapes were 100% botrytised. Rich textured with some minerally complexity. Very good+ (La Vigneronne £13.25)

Marc Kreydenweiss Pinot Gris Grand Cru Moenchberg 2000 (cask sample)
Youthful, primary nose with sweet fruit and a confected, bubblegum-like edge. On the palate it shows boiled sweets and some spice. Hard to judge this young: currently very simple and new world in style. About 10 g residual sugar. Good/very good

Marc Kreydenweiss Pinot Gris Grand Cru Moenchberg 1999
Attractive bacon fat and spice nose displays the varietal origin, with a nice minerally edge. Rounded palate with some residual sugar, but there's a dry finish and good acidity (the overall impression is dry; 10 g residual sugar). Nicely balanced, but perhaps needs some time to develop real complexity. Very good+ (La Vigneronne £15.95)

Marc Kreydenweiss Pinot Gris Grand Cru Moenchberg 1998
Shy, honeyed nose with some spice. Lovely fat, rich palate showing spice, honey and minerals. The good acidity provides nice balance to the considerable residual sugar -- it's medium sweet (with 60 g residual sugar this is on the verge of being an SGN). Some botrytis but not too much (although Marc tells us this is 100% botrytised). Could develop into something really interesting. (La Vigneronne £14.95)

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