Making a Habit of Excellence – Crémant d’Alsace by Jean-Claude Buecher

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit”, wrote Aristotle. I had the great philosopher in mind (as you do) when we visited Jean-Claude Buecher in Wettolsheim near Colmar. A week earlier, we’d sampled one of the domaine’s (excellent) Crémants at a wine pairing dinner organised by Alsace specialist Thierry Meyer of Oenoalsace at the trusty Taverne Alsacienne in Ingersheim. Served as an aperitif, it brought murmurs of delight and surprise from the assembled company, a discerning bunch of wine growers/marketers/makers/lovers, including a number of dedicated Champagne drinkers and Crémant d’Alsace sceptics (there are many).

Buecher Cremant by Sue Style

So what’s special about Buecher’s Crémant? To put things in perspective, you need to remember that in Alsace, almost every wine maker makes almost everything that’s permitted: Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Muscat, Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc/Auxerrois, Pinot Noir. Usually they throw in a bit of Crémant too. Chez Buecher it’s just the opposite. From the start in 1979, when the domaine was founded by Jean-Claude and Sylviane, they decided to focus exclusively on sparkling wine. (The AOC Crémant d’Alsace appellation came into being 3 years earlier, in 1976.) They were joined at the domaine in 2005 by their son, Franck, who has taken the bubbly ball and run with it.

They have 10.5 hectares in and around Wettolsheim, Wintzenheim, Eguisheim and Walbach, including holdings in Grand Crus Steingrubler, Pfersigberg and Hengst. They make about 45,000 bottles a year from Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir and Pinot Auxerrois plus a little Chardonnay (permitted in Alsace only for Crémant). Focusing exclusively on sparkling wine allows them to concentrate fully and work to the best of their winemaking ability. (“Unfortunately, many  growers in Alsace regard Crémant as as a kind of poubelle [dustbin]“, remarks one Crémant maker, who prefers anonymity.) Yields at Domaine Buecher are kept deliberately low (ca. 40hl/ha), mainly through the timing of pruning and the method preferred. The estate is in the process of converting to organic status.

20151128_161930-001

Crémant d’Alsace is a méthode traditionelle sparkler, meaning it follows the same basic procedure as Champagne. At Buecher, accordingly, they first make a base wine, which is fermented in stainless steel tanks (and since 2005, partially in small oak barrels) and then bottled. A judicious dose of sugar and selected yeasts is added to provoke the second fermentation, the bottles are closed with the kind of stoppers used for beer bottles and stacked horizontally in wooden palettes for 24 to 36 months (the officially required minimum for Crémant d’Alsace is 12).

The bottles are then moved painstakingly, two by two, from the palettes to the gyropalette, a special metal crate which over several hours gently rotates the inclined bottles. The objective is to encourage the dead (and by now superfluous) yeasts to collect in a neat little plug in the neck of the bottle, from where it is removed in a step known as disgorging. The last step is to insert the bottle’s proper cork – the one that emerges with a satisfying pop. The wine is ready for market. But here too, Buecher Crémants deviate from the norm. They are matured far longer than is usual in Alsace (most are sold a year after they are made), and disgorged only as the market demands. The disgorgement date is further noted on the back label.

IMG_1340-001

The Buecher Crémant that was so admired at the Oenoalsace dinner was Insomnia (“it never sleeps”), vintage 2004. Still available at the domaine at €20, it’s an excellent product born of repeated and habitual practice. Aristotle would surely have approved.

Crémant Jean-Claude Buecher
31 rue des Vignes
68920 Wettolsheim, FRANCE
+33 (0)3 89 80 14 01
contact@cremant-buecher.fr

Advertisements

Two B&Bs for your Alsace Bucket List

Looking for a place to stay in the vineyards of Alsace, somewhere with character that doesn’t cost the proverbial arm + leg? Here are two we recently test-drove and enjoyed, one in the Haut-Rhin (Eguisheim) and the other in the Bas-Rhin (Boersch/St Leonard).

Hameau-Eguisheim Room No. 5
Our room (No. 5) at Le Hameau d’Eguisheim (photo from their website)

Our first stop was at Le Hameau d’Eguisheim, owned by the Pierre-Henri Ginglinger wine-growing family and situated right on the main street. They have 5 cosy guest rooms and 2 gites/apartments. The decor is simple and appealing with plenty of restful whites and greys. All rooms have their own bathroom, TV and wifi; some have a kitchenette. Included in the B&B price (€80 when we were there) is a generously furnished breakfast buffet served in what must have once been one of the domaine’s wine cellars. Or if you prefer, you can totter down Eguisheim’s beautiful main street to the baker, where there will be fresh kugelhopf (both sweet and salty, with bacon and walnuts) in the morning. There’s also a butcher’s shop with some terrific ham, cold meats, tourtes, pies, quiches and sundry other goodies, to eat in or to take home.

20151121_100757-001
Sweet kugelhopf (left, with almonds) and salty (right, with walnuts and bacon) in the window of Eguisheim’s bakery

And then there are all Eguisheim’s famous winegrowers just waiting to show you their wines. Leon Beyer is the town’s best-known and one of the oldest-established, always worth a visit. Also notable are Paul Ginglinger, whose Gewurz Grand Cru Pfersigberg carried off a Regional Trophy in the Decanter World Wine Awards. Eguisheim is also the home of newbies Hubert and Heidi Hausherr, organic and biodynamic growers whose wine we discovered recently at L’Un des Sens (great little wine bar in Colmar – and btw a new entry in the Eating Out Alsace/Basel/Baden page of my other site –  which specialises in quirky, natural, organic and/or biodynamic wines).  The Hausherrs left the local cooperative fairly recently to strike out on their own and I’ve yet to visit them…watch this space.

…..

Our second B&B was a bit further north in the tiny hamlet of Saint Léonard, near Boersch. Clos Saint Leonard  is owned and run by Béatrice Muller-Spindler. If you’re into Alsace at all, the name Spindler will ring bells: Charles Spindler’s atelier here in Saint Leonard was (and still is) world-famous for its marquetry/intarsia, which combines different varieties and colours of wood to create pictures and to decorate furniture. (If you have ever been to the famous Betty’s cafe in Harrogate, Yorkshire, you may remember that there is a whole room downstairs decorated with Spindler marquetry panels.)

20151122_093626-001
Béatrice Muller-Spindler, owner and spirited host at B&B Clos Saint Léonard

Saint Léonard, according to Béatrice, was once a Benedictine abbey, built by a hermit in around 1100 AD and consecrated in September 1109. It later became a school, and continued as such till the Revolution, when it was destroyed and the brothers evicted. The present house, Béatrice’s home, dates back to 1860, built by Victor Laugel , friend of Charles Spindler, whose “Foyer Artistique” was set up next door. Try, if you can (unlike us – we were there on a weekend), to stay here midweek so you can visit the marquetry studios and learn about Spindler’s art.

20151122_093737-001
The front door of Clos Saint Léonard

Even if built as ‘recently’ (well, compared to the original Benedictine abbey) as 1860, the house is deliciously ancient, reeking with character and stuffed with antiques, with magnificently creaky wooden floors, a wonky staircase and a bathroom big enough to swing several cats in. (It’s predictably draughty in winter, so bring your longjohns and/or warm pyjamas.) Besides the B&B suite with two bedrooms and said bathroom there’s also a delightful self-catering apartment on the ground floor, which is fully equipped for a longer stay than one night.

Breakfast, which is included in the price of the suite (€170), is served by Béatrice in the dining room. Expect a mountain of freshly baked croissants and kugelhopf on Sundays, lashings of coffee, gorgeous jams (made by her son) and sundry cold meats and cheese. Apart from the famous Spindler marquetry studios, don’t miss the Romanesque church of nearby Rosheim and the 11th century Dompeter in Avolsheim.

Staying here you’d be within easy reach of two of my favourite Bas-Rhin wine growers: Mélanie Pfister in Dahlenheim (superb Riesling from Grand Cru Engelberg) and Frédéric Mochel in Traenheim (fab Riesling too, theirs from GC Altenberg de Bergbieten, and a late harvest Pinot Gris that never got anywhere near the spitoon), both domaines worth a detour, if not a special journey.