Jean-Michel Deiss, (the son of Marcel Deiss, who established the property in 1949) currently manages the 27 hectares of vines, which are planted on some of Alsace's finest terroirs, including the grand cru Altenburg de Bergheim. Jean-Michel Deiss grows his vines according to biodynamic principles, a philosophy that prohibits any form of chemical treatment and combines an understanding of cosmic rhythms with work on the soil and the vines. The objective? To encourage the vines to develop as deep a root system as possible in the subsoil, thereby giving full expression to the terroir. Despite being an acknowledged master of the art of making single varietal wines such as Pinot Gris and Riesling, this exceptional winegrower has waged a veritable campaign against the traditional Alsace approach of regarding the grape variety as the essence of the wine, and granting negligible importance to the terroir. Thus he has reintroduced ancestral practices such as mixed planting of all of the traditional varieties (Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris) on the same plot, with no sorting at the harvest. The terroir then comes to the forefront, free to fully express itself without the omnipresent constraint of a single variety. After years of campaigning, Jean-Michel Deiss finally succeeded in obtaining authorisation for the application of the terms "Grand Cru" and "Premier Cru" (previously reserved for traditional cuvées) to these "vins de terroir". The names of the grape varieties have not appeared on the labels since 2005.
About the cuvée
Altenberg is the perfect illustration of the work and principles of Jean-Michel Deiss, who has consistently championed terroir over variety in his winemaking practice; his faith in and passion for great Alsatian wine are as deeply rooted in the Bergheim soil as his vines. This terroir sits in a geological faultline of Ribeauvillé, juxtaposing Jurassic limestone and shale-marl; it is a fossil-rich bedrock with poor clay-limestone and ferrous red soil enriched with limestone rock, which favours the development of the vines’ root systems by extending more deeply into the earth in search of nutrients and water. Altenberg has its own warm, dry almost overexposed microclimate, arising from its south-facing slopes and protection from wind and rain afforded by the Vosges mountatins. Fruit maturation is unusal and complicated, compounded by the desired presence of volatile noble rot, and thus the winemaking in this vineyard requires a heightened attention to terroir over grape variety. Terroir is master of ceremonies here, dictating both the selection and performance of rootstocks, varieties, vintages and even the winegrower themselves; this is truly a terroir-driven wine expressing a pure, balanced symphony of place. This cuvée draws upon the ancient tradition of long-ageing and easily transported Alsatian wines which provided the foundation for a thriving culture and economy in the Rhine Valley from the Middle Ages and which continues to this day.
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General : The «bio» designation covers certified wines produced by biodynamic or organic methods, sustainably produced wines, and «environmentally friendly» wines that are not officially certified. These designations apply to recent vintages (the date of certification, if known, is specified in the estate description). See the blog article for more information on this designation.
Biodynamic : The «biodynamic» designation is used for all estates certified as using biodynamic methods, as verified by one of the two official bodies, Demeter or Biodyvin. All wines produced by biodynamic methods are also certified as organic. This designation applies to recent vintages.
Organic : The «organic» designation covers all estates certified as using organic methods, as verified by one of the bodies approved by the Ministry of Agriculture, such as Ecocert. This designation applies to recent vintages.
Sustainable : The «sustainable» designation covers all estates certified as using integrated or High Environmental Value (level 3 Environmental Certification) techniques. This designation applies to recent vintages.
Evironmentally friendly : The «environmentally friendly» designation refers to estates practising environmentally friendly wine-growing techniques, but that have not opted for certification or who are still in the process of converting to organic agriculture or biodynamics. These estates may have adopted biodynamic principles (non-certified) or simply no longer use chemical products. This designation applies to recent vintages.
Natural : Wines which are produced without any added sulfur (or almost any) and with no other inputs. However, given that there is no official body to issue the natural wine label, it is based on winemakers’ statements. This designation applies to recent vintages.