Label of De Gres ou De Force Riesling Catherine Riss

Natural wine in Alsace: Kumpf et Meyer & Catherine Riss

London has gone ‘natural wine’ mad this week, with the opening of the RAW WINE London fair. Two names who won’t be there, but who are making waves in natural wine, or  vin nature as I prefer to call it in English, are Domaine Kumpf et Meyer and Catherine Riss.

I visited the two Domaines with Clos Driver Wine Tours, on my 3-day and 2-night Wine Route (you can find my itinerary on my Strasbourg post). That’s not to say that the other producers we visited did not produce vin nature; it’s just that the Domaines Kumpf et Mayer and Catherine Riss are wedded to it… it’s their passion.

First things first… Kumpf et Meyer and Catherine Riss share only 4 things in common: they produce vin nature, they produce excellent wine (not all vin nature is good), they are lovely people & they are both based in Alsace, one of the top region’s in the world for biodynamic wine… and they’re friends.

So what’s the difference between organic wine, biodynamic wine & vin nature? It’s a sliding scale from left to right.  Vin nature being the most ‘natural’. It’s not just the way the grapes are grown, but how the wine is made. Vin nature can be cloudy, but not always; it can be bad, but when it’s good it’s really good!

Natural wine at Catherine Riss

I don’t ask people’s ages, as I don’t want them to ask mine.  Catherine is definitely a ‘young’ wine producer. She’s only been making her own wine for five years, and already she is exporting to Japan, the US and elsewhere in Europe.

Unlike many other producers in Alsace, she hasn’t inherited vineyards and neither is she managing someone else’s. Instead, she comes from a family of restaurateurs, & picked up the wine bug when matching food with wine.

Catherine Riss logo, Alsace wineBefore setting up on her own, she spent time with Antoine Kreydenweiss (blog to follow) and Lucas Rieffel, two famous Alsatian biodynamic producers. She found her first one-hectare plot of land near the village of Bernardvillé, where the slopes are pretty steep, but the price of buying or renting land is nowhere near the stratospheric cost in Burgundy or Champagne. And she is now expanding.

Among the wines we tried that Friday afternoon, with the grey clouds and the rain outside, were her Riesling De Grès ou De Force, her Dessous du Table, a co-fermented blend of Auxerrois, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, Gewürtztraminer, and the Pinot Noir, Emprente, with Catherine’s finger print forming the face for the sketch of the elegant woman on the label.

I fell in love with the Catherine Riss labels; stylish & witty, by local artist Julien Kuntz. My secret is that I want to be that woman on the label.

Catherine Riss holding up new label of Shieferberg

The label for the new cuvée of Riesling, Schieferberg

Alsace is far more than sweet wine

Back home in London, I mentioned to a sommelier that I’d visited Alsace. She turned up the corners of her mouth at the thought of all the sweet wines she had tasted in her last trip to the region. Now, that was not my experience. Yes, the Vendanges Tardives (Alsace’s late harvest wine) and Sélection de Grains Nobles (grapes even riper than the Vendanges Tardives) are sweet, but when good they’re perfectly balanced with salinity … and excellent with food that requires such wines. The preponderance of Alsatian wines that I tried were not sweet, and none of Catherine Riss’s were.

I also have to thank Catherine for recommending me the Jour de Fête Restaurant in Strasbourg. I ate really well, had good wines & a lot of fun!  Blog to follow.

View from Catherine Riss's cave, Bernardville, Alsace, with French flag, school and vineyards

The view across the road from Catherine’s cellar in Bernardville

Natural wine at Kumpf et Meyer

The first wine producer who we visited on the first day of the three-day trip with Clos Driver Wine Tours was Kumpf et Meyer, where we were met by Julien Albertus, the name behind the domaine. Like many top Alsatian producers, nearly two-thirds of his production goes for export.

The cave is in the outskirts of Rosheim, one of many very attractive villages along the Alsace Wine Route. Don’t expect a chateau when you arrive at the cave; it’s not a magnificent former monastery like Domaine Weinbach, it looks more like a house in the suburbs of a rural village, but the wines are excellent.

A tasting in the cave was followed by a trip to the vineyards. In all, Kumpf et Meyer has 16 hectares of vineyards spread across 70 parcels of land; the domaine was forged by the joining of two families, the Kumpfs and the Meyers, whose lands had been used to grow vines since the 17th century.

There’s not that much to see in winter, apart from the final vines being pruned, but walking round the vineyards always makes for a pleasant walk in the country.

Sebastien Crozatier, left, of Clos Driver Wine Tours with Julien Albertus of Kumpf et Meyer.

Kumpf et Meyer produces the full range of Alsace wines, including two Grand Crus vineyards, Westerberg (producing cuvées of Riesling and Muscat) and Bruderthal (Pinot Noir, Riesling and Gewürtztraminer)

There’s a wine to go with everything. From the Crémant d’Alsace for when bubbles are needed – Prosecco and Cava are not the only alternative to Champagne – to wines made from the 7 key grape varieties in Alsace (Riesling, Gewürtztraminer, Pinot Gris, Muscat, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, Auxerrois for whites and Pinot Noir for reds)  to the sweet wines of the Vendanges Tardives and the Sélections de Grains Nobles.

I came home with a Westerberg Riesling, unfiltered and with no added sulphur, and a naturally pétillant wine, the Restons Nature, made from Pinot Gris… I liked the label, I’m embarrassed to reveal to wine experts – it’s the blue one down below. The Riesling is clear and the Restons Nature is quite full of sediment.

A lot of people don’t like sediment. It’s not how they feel wine should look. I have nothing against a bit of cloud, especially as I have Restons Nature earmarked for a lazy early Sunday evening with some homemade cheese straws and good company. The Riesling, meanwhile, is more for when the asparagus season starts later this spring, and when I rustle up something like a sole meunière, and sit down round the table to eat.

Line of bottles of Kumpf et Meyer's 2014 cuvees

Kumpf et Meyer’s 2014 cuvées

Traditional decoration on the oak barrels – the fish is the sign of seduction, & wine is about seduction.

View across the Kumpf et Meyer vineyards

View across the Kumpf et Meyer vineyards towards the Vosges Mountains

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You can find the full itinerary of my Alsace wine tour with Clos Driver Wine Tours on my post about Strasbourg

For my other posts about Alsace:

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