Every wine lover has their 'Ah ha' moment. The moment you realize wine is not just booze, that there is something special happening in the glass that drives you to seek more. Mine came nearly a decade ago in a bottle of 1998 Tokay Pinot Gris 'Selecions de Grains Nobles' from Domaine Weinbach. At the time I had no idea the greatness I happened to be drinking, but it has stayed with me ever since. Because of this glass, then the many subsequent bottles that have followed through the years, Weinbach has become my wine Nirvana. I've been extremely proud to be able to sell these wines, as they are one of the highlights of our Lifford Wine portfolio, and for years I've been eagerly waiting to visit. The anticipation was finally realized this past January with what seemed like my personal wine pilgrimage to mecca when I visited the estate along with Norman Hardie and his crew as we were traveling enroute to Burgundy.
Weinbach is not only one of the most important wineries in Alsace, but it might be the most important white winery in the world. Names like Trimbach, Zind-Humbrecht, Beyer, Hugel, Mann, etc are all very famous and produce great wines, but there is something special about the Weinbach wines that set them apart from nearly everything else in the world of aromatic white wines. Today the winery is owned and operated by the Faller women: the mother Collette and her daughters Catherine and Laurence. The home estate of Weinbach was first planted with grapes in 890 AD and was established as a monastery for the Capucin order of monks in 1612. The walled vineyard which includes their home and winery is known as the 'Clos des Capucins' and was acquired by the Faller family when all the religious estates were auctioned off to the public after the French revolution. Collette's late husband Theo was at the fore of increasing the quality and reputation of Alsatian wines and helped the movement to include Alsace in the AOC system and classifying the Grand Cru sites. When Theo died in the 1970s the women decided to carry on his legacy and bring the Domaine to greatness. In the years since the Faller women become some of the biggest proponents of biodynamic viticulture and produced some of the most acclaimed wines from the region. They have inspired critics like Robert Parker to regularly rate their wines in the 96-100 range and make remarks like: "Quintessence de Grains Nobles is liquid perfection"..."delivers Montrachet-like portions of flavor and complexity"..."this wine is sure to make your toes curl!"..."Projected maturity: now-doomsday."
The Domaine is nestled in the Kayersberg valley and owns 75 acres including Grand Cru parcels on Schlossberg, Mambourg and Furstentum, producing about 10'000 cases annually from entirely estate owned grapes including Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, Muscat and some Pinot Noir. Their philosophy is to be as minimal as possible: biodynamic viticulture, hand harvesting, very slow pressing from whole clusters, entirely native yeast fermentation, and vinification in large neutral oak casks (1500-6000L) only. Laurence Faller (pictured left with her mother Colette) is the winemaker and viticulturalist, and she spent nearly six hours giving us a thorough tasting and tour, followed by a magnificent lunch with all of their wines.
The tasting included a complete horizontal tasting of their production, as well as verticals of their Grand Cru Rieslings, Pinot Gris, and Gewurztraminers. All the wines and tasting notes are too numerous to list here, but here are a few picture highlights of the visit, and the current availability of these special wines. For more information on Weinbach please check out their website, Lifford Wines website, or leave me a message on the Services page. The wines are not often available in Ontario, but the below three wines are currently in stock with free delivery on 6 bottles or more. If you're a fan of incredibly complex and elegant white wines, I encourage you to become acquainted with Domaine Weinbach, it might change your perception of what white wines can be.