Olivier Humbrecht of Domaine Zind-Humbrecht at Gordon’s
Last night I attended a pleasurable tasting/class at Gordon’s Fine Wine & Culinary Center featuring winemaker/producer Olivier Humbrecht (pronounced oom-bresht) of very well regarded winery Domaine Zind-Humbrecht of Turckheim, Alsace, France. Gordon’s really is one of the neatest places in my area to attend a formal tasting, wine class, or culinary class (no, I don’t work there). It is so beautifully outfitted for the purpose. Here’s a photo showing the 2 overhead screens. I like this pic as it shows the old nag dragging the plow through one of the vineyards in the domaine:
Olivier Humbrecht is one very smart (and tall) French wine producer who can claim to be have passed the very difficult Master of Wine examination, the first French man to do so. His winery produces a really impressive range of classic Alsation white wines including generic varietal wines, village-level (5), vineyard-level, and 4 Grand Cru level. Varietal wines are made from Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Muscat a Petit Grains, and Pinot Gris. There is also a wine called Pinot D’Alsace which is made from Auxerrois and Pinot Blanc.
The Domaine practices organic and biodynamic grape growing practices. It produces about 180,000 to 200,000 bottles per vintage and employs 25 people (not including more at harvest times). Alsation white wines are generally more spicy, aromatic, and rich than the German counterparts. He explained that his idea of terroir not only includes the land and growing conditions, but the people and culture who inhabit the land. As far as biodynamic practices, he does indeed pay attention to moon cycles, homeopathic practices, and maintaining biodiversity. I’m pretty sure he stated that they do the buried cow manure in the horn thing, and believes that plants communicate with each other in a natural system that is not totally understood. He believes in a lot of up-front effort in the vineyards, and the simplest most non-interventionist vinification possible after harvest. He stated that machine-harvesting of grapes is a completely heinous process (although 6x less expensive than hand-harvesting) which produces ‘pulpy wine mush’ which includes a lot of stems and extraneous stuff that then has to be dealt with by the winemaker (all Domaine Z-H wines are produced from hand-picked fruit).
I managed to, well, ingratiate myself to Olivier by asking if he implemented malolactic fermentation in his winemaking. This is a secondary fermentation process by which tart malic acid is converted to softer lactic acid and CO2 post alcohol fermentation. I thought the 2006 Pinot Gris varietal wine tasted kind of round and buttery. He wanted to know why I asked, and then explained that all the wines we tasted had undergone malo *except* for the Pinot Gris. Well, I knew it was SOMETHING about the Pinot Gris that was different! (I’m telling myself to feel better). There’s a cool presentation of the malolactic fermentation process from Ellen Butz of Purdue University Dept. of Food Science.
In a Q&A session, someone asked Mr. Humbrecht his opinion of Finger Lakes NY wines, and he thought the grapes were grown in the wrong plots of land – the grapes are planted where the potatoes should be and vice-versa. Someone else asked about global warming, and he stated a general trend towards earlier and earlier harvests at his Domaine. When asked about optimum grape ripeness, he stated that the grapes are fully ripe when the pips can grow more vines!
We tasted 10 wines that were all delicious and aromatically extremely exciting. My favorites were the generic 2006 Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot D’Alsace. I didn’t love the Pinot Gris, but was sitting near someone who thought that was the most outstanding, so of course everyone’s palate, opinions, and life experiences are different. The 2005 Riesling Gueberschwihr and Turckheim (2 village-level wines) were extremely delicious. The 2005 Riesling Herrenweg was extremely spicy and perfumed and had a super long finish. The 2005 Gewurztraminer Wintzenheim was so pungent and extracted it reminded us of a liquor, almost.
All in all it’s probably obvious I found this a very interesting and informative tasting. Also Gordon’s had some special pricing which was also quite nice and appreciated.
There are some reviews of some of these wines at the example issue of Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar for those interested.