The Alsace Oz connection

Kaysersberg, Alsace

(Photo: )

Visiting wineries and meeting people for a week in Alsace, I was struck by how many had some connection with Australia. Many winemakers have worked a vintage (‘a stage’) in Australia and/or hosted an Australian stagier in their own winery.

Matthieu Deiss, winemaker son of the iconoclastic Jean-Michel Deiss at Domaine Marcel Deiss (tastings), worked at Grosset (tastings) and Petaluma (tastings). Jerome Keller, chief winemaker at Wolfberger (tastings), worked at Hay Shed Hill (tastings) and Plantagenet (tastings). Paul McKirdy, winemaker at Domaine Zind-Humbrecht (tastings), worked in a Melbourne retail shop, Europa Cellars. Celine Metz, of Hubert Metz, worked at Yabby Lake (tastings), having earlier studied at UTS in Sydney. Valerie Dirringer at Kuehn has twice judged in Canberra’s International Riesling Challenge. Genevieve and Sophie Barmes of the organic domaine, Barmes-Buecher (tastings), came to Australia to take part in the Return to Terroir promotion. Frederick Blanck of Domaine Paul Blanck has visited Australia many times and has close friendships with Aussies including Jeffrey Grosset and Kevin McCarthy (of Quealy and previously T’Gallant).

As well, many Alsace wineries have been influenced by the Australian preference for screwcaps instead of corks. Dopff au Moulin (tastings) uses screwcaps on all its wines exported to Australia where its agent is the powerful Dan Murphy’s chain – even its grand crus now have screwcaps in the Aussie market.

Kientzler (tastings) and Mader (tasting) both use screwcaps on their entry-level wines, thanks to the persuasiveness of the importer they share, David Burkitt of Vintage & Vine. Mader’s business may be small, but he exports half his entire output to Australia.

Frederick Blanck was convinced to use screwcaps by his exposure to Australian wine.

Riesling is, of course, the connecting link in all of this. Blanck told me;

“Our wines are ageing as well under screwcaps as under a perfect cork. Before five or six years, there’s no difference, but after that, when the corks start to fail, then you get a difference.”

Many Alsace winemakers say they’d love to use the screwcap on their wines. When asked why they don’t, they shrug and say the French market is very conservative and would not accept it. The same with many export markets.

What is puzzling is why many wineries use screwcaps on their cheapest wines, but cork on their grand crus. Some, however, are changing. Blanck is one who is starting to put some grand cru under screwcap.

Jerome Mader, who began using screwcap 10 years ago ‘thanks to Australia’, said:

“I have started to use some screwcaps on grand crus, because I want to be able to enjoy my mature grand crus in 50 years time!”

Having tasted his grand cru Rosacker 2013, a truly wonderful wine, I understand his position.

*My reviews on these and many other domaines’ wines from my trip to Alsace will be posted in about three weeks.

3 thoughts on “The Alsace Oz connection”

  1. Terry Chellappah says:

    Huon, Bill Crappsley and I were lucky enough to spend a day with Marc Hugel back in January. He too has several close connections in Australia and has spent quite a lot of time driving around the remote areas of our country on his many visits.

    1. Huon Hooke
      Huon Hooke says:

      A number of people have contacted me adding their names to the list. Felix Meyer from Meyer-Fonne worked for Henschke, and Etienne-Arnaud Dopff reminded me “I was also an Alsace guy in Australia… back in 1999… for the harvest (end of January till May) at McWilliams in Hanwood… and then a complete tour of all the wine regions of the South-East of Australia with an other French guy I met in Griffith (Stanislas Rocher, who was working for Penfolds in Yenda). I was living first at Lynn McWilliam’s home and then at Les and Denise Worland’s home (he is now working for Casella Wines and doing a lot in teaching people about wine).
      “I still have friends there and moreover the Dan Murphy team in Melbourne when they had only 5 shops at the time!! (Steven Donohue and Tony Titheridge).”

  2. Terry hilsz says:

    My grand father albert hilsz migrated to the barossa Valley to sepplets as a cooper from alsace in 1910. We still have family there we have visited.beautiful region ,delightful wines.
    Terry hilsz

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