The Alsace Oz connection
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.