The Wine Drinker

This is the Dead Letter Office of my wine writing. These stories ended up not fitting on our company's Facebook page (Piedmont Wine Imports) or website,, for reasons that I think are clear once you scroll through a few posts. Less professional musings, impressions that ultimately never got past the rough prototype stage. Um... enjoy!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Rowdy Americans Crash Birthday Party for 70-year-old Alsatian Man
Lunch in Alsace, 2008

My family’s one-day intrusion into the Binner estate was the highlight of this year’s romp around eastern France. Joseph Binner was turning 70, and his son Christian and daughter-in-law Audrey organized a birthday party open to growers of natural wine and the hippies who buy it. So we showed up. A party itinerary including bullet points like “homemade sauerkraut lunch” and “discussion of making Marc (liquor) from Pinot Noir” reeled us in. Really the wines did most of the luring: American importer Jenny Lefcourt dropped by my office a few months in advance with a bag full of organic wines from around France, including show-stopping goodness from the Binner domaine. This estate may be the star in a portfolio that is brimming over with future stars. Jenny is as much fun to be around as any importer I know. She and her partner Francois have assembled a line-up of growers that seem to be actively avoiding the creeping global wine flavor hegemony. How many times a day does that sentence show up on sombebody's blog? Apologies. I slip into polemics occasionally. It's my bad side, or bad two-thirds. My point was, these wines are fiercely local. They actually do what so many estates pay lip-service to: they let terroir express itself. They believe in nature enough to give it the final say in the character of a wine. At Binner this means organic (obviously), minimal filtration, low sulfur, no tricks just solid traditional oenology. And the wines kick booty.

But back to the people. Christian took us on a walking tour of his steep vineyards and, in many instances, old vines. We were nervously sliding, glass of Riesling in hand, (hey, it’s a vacation, and a walking tour) down several of his slopes. Binner has an excellent slice of land in and around the Kaefferkopf Grand Cru, close to his home village of Ammerschwihr. I say it over again: stand with a guy like this in his carefully ploughed organic vineyard, see nature existing, then try to buy wine from the sterile chemical-rich field down the road. Wine tourism must help his cause- so much about wine is obvious on the ground. These steep slopes and their hand-harvested small amounts of fruit cannot be viewed as equivalent to machine-harvested tons of fruit from the fertile plain below. Maybe these wines should be relabeled Vosges wines, and the fruit from the river plain French Rhine wines. Some wall of distinction needs to be raised. So much contrast should not be sold under the same moniker. Since 1981 a group of Grand Cru sites have been selected, but this two-tier Grand Cru or plonk system doesn't tell the story, or really help consumers much at all.

We stayed for lunch, of course. Fat slices of delicious ham, a dizzying cheese tray, cake studded with Marc-soaked cherries. We ate at a long table in the winery; it was a noisy, wine-laden good time. It’s nice to be surrounded by a roomful of like-minded professionals once in a while, if only to recharge the batteries and reaffirm your belief in a message that still needs plenty of evangelizing. The night before they’d raided the cellar and stayed up past any reasonable bedtime drinking wines older than I am. Who can go to bed with thoughts of decades-old Riesling agitating the synapses? My family sat 20 kilometers south, roasting a local chicken and drinking wine made on the hill behind our rental house. Two days of partying with a 7-month-old in tow would have been too much, but, in spite of the awesome time in the winery and vineyard, maybe we picked the wrong day? Maybe every day is great at Binner. Maybe if I go Biodynamic, my life will be continually awesome. . . .

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